Despite a relatively early night it still felt like we hardly had any sleep at all. We were up at 2:30am and at the front of our digs ready to share a taxi to the train station by 3:15am. Traveling round Myanmar is ridiculous, an experience in itself for sure but it takes so long to get anywhere in this country due to the lack of infrastructure. Our train was due to leave at 4am and we had be at the station for 3:30am ready to board.
As we neared the station we ascended the ramp roadway which takes you up one floor to where the ticket office is before you descend the stairs back down to the platform at ground level
As the clock hit 4am in true old British style the green flag was raised, the whistle blown long and hard and the train stretched itself out like a waking snake to the sound of metal on metal before slowly grinding forward. Slowly it creeped forward, the lines and points bent over the years and with the heat, forcing the engine to keep it's speed to a slow crawl until it had finally left the city.
It took a good hour to clear the suburbs of Mandalay despite the city being quite small
We could have easily tried to grab more sleep, drained from the early start but this is one of the the scenic train journeys in the world and we didn't want to miss the sunrise as we slowly started to make the climb up in to the hills of the Shan state. It didn't feel like long before it was full day light and we hit the series of cleverly designed switchbacks that help the train ascend a good altitude over a short distance
Once the kids were dropped off at the village the train continued up along rickety lines draped in vegetation. There is only one train daily in either direction and the plants at the side grow quickly enough at this altitude and climate that they start to encroach the path of the carriages
Around 7 hours after leaving Mandalay the train slowed again and started to snake it's way back downhill through a series of tight bends. As we cleared the undergrowth and a line of tress the famous Goteik viaduct appeared in the distance. Built in 1900 during the British occupation its the most famous of all the landmarks on the Myanmar rail network and probably one of the most well known rail landmarks in the world. It's the highest bridge in Myanmar and in it's time was the largest rail trestle in the world. As we crept towards it I surprised to see just as many locals at the side of the line all pointing their cameras at the train as there were people in the train pointing their cameras out
The Viaduct itself is pretty impressive. No railings either side so you hang out and look straight down at the valley below which it has to be said is a very nice valley indeed. A small river below, several impressive waterfalls dotted about the sides and the remains of a contingency rail track sat hundreds of feet below. Apparently the Myanmar government see the bridge of strategic importance and built a second crossing in the seventies in-case anything happened to the viaduct. It has since been left un maintained and taken over by the tropical jungle below.
The crossing seemed to pass very quickly despite the incredibly slow speed they reduce the train to in order to get it over slowly. The gauge of the tracks here is incredibly narrow but the carriages are now Chinese built carriages that are fairly wide. This makes for a fairly interesting ride as you can imagine
A few more stops later, in particular one where the North bound and South bound trains cross each other which seems to be some sort of train drivers gathering as they park alongside each other for quite a while for a bit chat and we were on the home straight. It hadn't felt like the 12 hour journey that it was. Always something happening, whether it be scenery out the window, insects and vegetation on the inside or the random stops at stations to grab some cheap tasty noodles from the station vendors. Before we knew it were slowly brought to a halt at Hsipaw station deep in the once foreigner restricted area of the Shan state.
Quite the journey and probably the most enjoyable, scenic train ride I've had the pleasure to take so far. Hopefully Hsipaw is just as impressive as the trip to get here.
Early train and the Goteik Viaduct
Monday, August 08, 2016