Getting around Myanmar isn’t exactly easy or enjoyable. Majority of the night buses (which are hard enough to sleep on) leave at 7-9pm and arrive between 3-5am, with most hostel check ins at 2pm. The day buses, although less busy, take up too much daytime exploring, as most journeys are roughly 6-10 hours. Because of this I wouldn’t usually write a post on a specific travel route, however the train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw deserves recognition.
If I’m honest I was at first extremely reluctant to take this journey. After a week of night buses and barely any sleep, the thought of getting up at 2.45am to make the 4am train, which I would be on for 11 hours, wasn’t exactly appealing. However I put on my positive hat, got a variety of Myanmar snacks and had a solid six hours sleep before the journey began. Being my usual organised self, I arrived at the train station at 3.20am and found my carriage and window seat. I had purchased my handwritten ticket the day before from the sweetest man who was so happy I was taking the train he shook my hand and thanked me straight after I bought it. From reading articles online, I opted for first class, which only set me back £2.30. The difference between the classes is the seats – first class had soft individual seats, while normal class had plastic benches. Surprisingly the train, which looked like it was from the 1940s, departed at exactly 4am. Chugging out of the station, I couldn’t quite believe how slow it was. But knowing I had 11 hours I cracked open my snacks and sat back to enjoy the dawn. The only hindrance at this time of morning was the mosquitoes and other morning bugs, who gnawed my poor legs to shreds. Note: if you ever take this train, wear bug spray (and maybe mouse repellent). Rolling through villages and countryside the views were stunning, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the outside world and was by then thankful for how slow the train was moving. People would be getting on with their daily lives, while the kids would run out of their houses to wave the train through. Knowing that they most likely see this train everyday, I couldn’t believe their level of enthusiasm at waving to everyone on board. On a few occasions it appeared the train driver had gone the wrong way as we’d stop, go backwards and then reverse onto a different track. As we went further into the mountains, I funnily ended up with branches whacking my face and arms, as well as bugs crawling down my t-shirt. However I was enjoying the ride too much to care, so giggled it off instead. Along the way we’d stop in small towns, where we were greeted by women and children selling fruit, rice/noodle dishes, as well as hot drinks on their heads. At one stop I had an older gentleman call up to me to ask if I was British. I nodded and he continued to tell me I looked like Doris Day, then asked me to sing. I didn’t know any songs so said I couldn’t sing, to which he started to sing to me. It was such a lovely experience and interestingly not the first time I’ve been likened to Doris Day – personally I can’t see the resemblance. One of the reasons I wanted to take this train, was to see the world famous Gokteik Viaduct, an incredible railway bridge which sits 689 metres between two mountains and over 100 metres from the ground. When it was built by the British in 1900, it was the largest railway trestle in the world. Although it’s now lost that title, it is still the highest bridge in Myanmar.
The Gokteik Viaduct was originally built for the British empire to expand their power within Burma. Nowadays this spectacle of man made architecture attracts hundreds of tourists (and locals alike) to take this extremely long ride to marvel at it’s magnificent structure. Honestly you can see why…Although the journey was long and hot, the carriage was dirty and full of bugs/mice and I had barely slept, I would still do it all again. For me, it was a highlight of my time in Myanmar.
Jessica Storm ✌️