Tuesday, January 8

Myanmar - train ride over the Gokteik viaduct

I like travelling by train. You can get up and move around which you can’t do on a coach or bus and the scenery’s more interesting than from a plane. There aren’t any railways on Raro though so I have to make the most of them when I’m overseas and that’s what I did in Myanmar.
The railroad was built by the British when they colonised Burma in the mid to late 1800s, and I don’t think much has changed since then. Burmese trains are narrow gauge and very old. They rattle and roll and quite often jump and bang as well, all at the same time. However, they are still running so we took one from Pyin Oo Lwin to Naung Pain in northern Myanmar. This particular route crosses the Gokteik gorge over the Gokteik Viaduct that was once the second highest railway bridge in the world when it was constructed in 1901.
The Japanese occupied Burma in 1942 and the Americans bombed railroads and bridges, including the Gokteik; it was repaired after the war and is still standing in spite of a lack of maintenance reported in some guide books.
We caught the train at Pyin Oo Lwin station and it was a bit disconcerting to see railwaymen levelling up the tracks with pickaxes while we waited.
We were in an upper class carriage but that's not as grand as it sounds as it was well past its use-by date. The seats were wide but they no longer reclined and the seat padding must have seen many thousand backsides! Our guide said that only foreigners are allowed to travel upper class (on this particular train anyway) but that doesn't apply to the military, police and railwaymen. One policeman joined our carriage - in full uniform, wearing a helmet that he never removed and a webbing belt with a vicious looking knife, and carrying an AK47. He sat just opposite us and it rather cramped my style when it came to shooting video. I made a point of not aiming the camera anywhere near him. Actually he looked like a pleasant young man but you don't take chances with people carrying large guns!
The viaduct is about 700m long and 100m high and the train travels very slowly, at about 5km per hour, as it crosses.
The scenery was spectacular and it was a great experience, one of many in Myanmar.