At this exciting travel destination, getting from A to B is half the fun
As part of our video blog series, we take you on a fascinating journey through Myanmar – a unique Asian destination that’s quickly becoming a favourite off-the-beaten-track option for adventurous travellers.
One of the highlights is the train trip between Mandalay and Hsipaw, passing over the Gokteik Viaduct. This engineering marvel is the highest railway bridge in Myanmar – and it’s spectacular!
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Train Journey Of A Lifetime
When it comes to unforgettable rail journeys, the ultra-scenic ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw is right up there – despite the fact that many experienced travellers have never even heard of it!
The first thing to understand about trains in Myanmar is that they’re the exact opposite of ‘speed trains’. The Mandalay-Hsipaw trip is only 206 kilometres but normally takes 11-12 hours. It runs daily but there isn’t any kind of online booking system – you will have to buy your tickets in person.
Departure from Mandalay is in the early hours – 4am. If all goes to plan, you should pull into Hsipaw at around 3pm – but arriving up to an hour late is not uncommon.
As dawn approaches, the train starts climbing into the mountains along a series of zigzag stretches until reaching the top of a scenic plateau.
As dawn approaches, the train starts climbing into the mountains along a series of zigzag stretches until reaching the top of a scenic plateau. Shortly after that it makes a stop in Pyin Oo Lwin and then continues on to cross the spectacular valley that’s home to the Gokteik Viaduct.
Built in 1901 by American contractors, this bridge boasted the highest span of any bridge in the entire British Empire when it was constructed. It was renovated in the 1990s. This isn’t one of those ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ tourist attractions: train speed across the viaduct is at walking pace.
If heights aren’t your thing, don’t stick your head out the window and look down. And speaking of heads outside train windows, this isn’t a good habit on Myanmar trains at the best of times, because there’s a chance of getting whacked in the face by a passing tree branch.
Luckily, you don’t have to pay Orient Express prices for this journey. It may be long, slow and a bit rickety, but it’s super-cheap – around 4,000 Myanmar Kyat (pronounced ‘chat’) the last time we checked, which equates to 4-5 Aussie Dollars. This is for an ‘upper-class’ seat.
Just keep in mind that ‘upper-class’ on a Myanmar train is not the same as the equivalent on a German or Swiss train! Rustic is a fair description – your seat-reclining mechanism may work or it may not.
One of the great things about train travel in Myanmar is that it gives you lots of chances to interact with the friendly locals.
One of the great things about train travel in Myanmar is that it gives you lots of chances to interact with the friendly locals. You can either buy a hearty meal onboard for under a dollar, or take your chances with the food offered by the ubiquitous street sellers that approach the train at every stop.
Buying A Rail Ticket In Myanmar
The Mandalay-Hsipaw run is just one of many train adventures awaiting you in this country. However, there’s no national rail website in Myanmar and you can’t book online ahead of time. Buying a ticket is a simple procedure that you will need to do in person at the train station. Reservations are based on written lists – they’re not computerised. Upper-class bookings are normally available 3 days ahead of time and ordinary-class tickets one day in advance.
English display boards in main railway stations will tell you the schedules and fares for various journeys. Just remember that you can only make a booking for a journey that starts at the same station where you buy your ticket.
Myanmar trains can fill up fast, so don’t leave booking until the last minute.
Myanmar trains can fill up fast, so don’t leave booking until the last minute. As soon as you know where you want to go, get down to the station and reserve your seat. For more information on the ins and outs of Myanmar train travel, check out this handy website.
What To See And Do In Myanmar
Myanmar is filled with compelling sights and its people are genuinely friendly toward visitors.
Here are just three exceptional places to think about including on your Myanmar itinerary:
Enjoy the cool, dry country air at Inle Lake where the fishermen row boats with their legs, the floating gardens sell flowers and vegetables, and shy children peek at you from bamboo houses perched on stilts.
Immerse yourself in the local community culture, enjoy peaceful views of the mountains and leave city life behind. Inle Lake is found in Shan State at a thousand metres above sea level.
Nearly 200 kilometres south of Mandalay on the eastern side of the majestic Ayeyarwaddy River is Bagan, the centrepiece of this country’s first dynasty. Built in 1044 by King Anawrahta, it features over 2,000 stupas and temples within a 42-square-kilometre area. The quality of the temple architecture, stucco carvings, Buddha images and mural paintings is superb.
Ngapali is one of the most beautiful coastal attractions in Myanmar – a series of long, white-sand beaches separating quaint fishing villages along the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Clear, blue water, soft, gleaming sand and swaying coconut palm trees make this the perfect place to unwind. Arrange with a local fisherman to visit nearby villages by bicycle or hire a small boat to do some sightseeing or fishing, Myanmar-style.
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