The train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw (pronounced See-pah) was one of the most raved about things I read to do in Myanmar. The highlight being the Goktiek viaduct – a spectacular railway bridge that was built in 1901, measuring over 100 metres tall and nearly 700 metres long.
The journey from Mandalay to Hsipaw takes a bum numbing 12hours, so I chose to take a shared taxi from my hostel in Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin which took less than 1.5hrs and cost 6000kyat/£3. I jumped on the train the next morning for the 7hr journey to Hsipaw. I stayed the night in Cherry Guesthouse (12,000kyat/night single room, shared bathroom – which was actually really gross, only squat toilets and cold water). Pyin Oo Lwin is a strange little town, which has such a different feel to it that the rest of Burma. Lots of unfriendly military parading around, British colonial buildings and Indian nationals. I did, however, get a fab pair of Levi shorts for 25p in the market though and a delicious curry in a loacal restaurant so big that could probably have fed a few families! There are a few waterfalls, a cave and some botanical gardens worth seeing here if you have time to explore.
Photos from Pyin Oo Lwin on a grey day.
The train was late to arrive in Pyin Oo Lwin, and took roughly 7hrs to Hsipaw. The journey cost a mere 2750kyat/£1.35 in first class (you do need to show your passport in order to purchase a ticket – something about life insurance….encouraging!!). I originally asked for regular class as I wanted the ‘local’ experience, but was glad I was talked into upgrading as the seats were at least padded in First – a luxury I immediately appreciated as the old, museum worthy train carriage bumped at swayed about like a mechanical bull at a carnival fair!
Although the vast greenery and countryside was a pleasure to see, the novelty does wear off after a few hours on the tracks, and as the windows are wound down to allow a well needed breeze, half the cast of ‘A Bugs Life’ were encouraged to settle in my hair and continue their journey beside me.
Food and refreshment vendors walk up and down the carriages and train platform at every stop selling delicious food and snacks. I had some noodles (500kyat/25p), a corn on the cob (300kyat/15p), and some steamed peanuts (200kyat/10p). There was also fruit, meat skewers and huge selection of random pastries and confectionary available for such a tiny price.
As the train approaches it’s main event, The Goktiek Viaduct, it slows to walking pace to avoid the rocking motion that will further damage the bridge (which is now a crumbling antique), and, possibly, plunge the train into the river below. The conductors urge passengers to jump up and rush to the window to take photographs, where most stay for the duration of the 20minute crossing. It was great to see one of Burma’s most stunning man-made marvels built by the colonial British, and even better to say I safely crossed it!
Despite the train being delayed, when we finally rocked up to Hsipaw, there were several hotel shuttle bus services offering free transport to their hotel, I had pre-booked a room at Mr Charles Guesthouse so hopped in the van and waited for it to fill. As we started to drive away, I saw hundreds of goats hopping off of the train onto the tracks – it really perked me up after such a long journey, I love a good group of goats, me!
The drive was short and Mr Charles’ guesthouse was very welcoming, clean and sociable (5.50/night. I booked a trek from here into the Shan villages, which was one of the best things I did during this trip! You can read about it here! (POST COMING SOON)
Besides from trekking, there isn’t a great deal to do, but its definitely still worth a visit! It’s a bit of a sleepy town, but is perfect for renting a bicycle, cycling around and exploring by yourselves.
Things to see include: Little Bagan (hardly comparable to Bagan itself, but cute to pass by), the Shan Palace, Buddhist & Chinese cemeteries, waterfalls, hot springs, lakeside village life & quirky and delicious restaurants (we liked Mrs Popcorn and Mr Shake!)
TOP TIP for the train journey: Do not place any luggage on the overhead compartments unless you want them falling on your heads!