On the rails: Burma’s Goteik Viaduct

The view from the Goteik Viaduct
The view from the Goteik Viaduct

Japan has the bullet train, China has the maglev – even Vietnam has a five-star train service and has started work on its first subway. In comparison with most (oh let’s be honest, all) its Asian compadres, Burma’s railway network is a rickety, trundling, geriatric old mess – and I mean that in the most affectionate of ways. The bottom line is this: if you want to get anywhere in Burma (and especially if you want to do so on time), take the train at your peril.

But getting the train isn’t always about making your way from A to B in the quickest and most efficient manner possible. At the risk of sounding like a sappy motivational poster in a student’s bedroom – sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Little monklets crossing the tracks in Pyin Oo Lwin
Little monklets walking along the tracks in Pyin Oo Lwin

Luckily, Burma does journeys pretty well. In fact, it is the home of one of the most spectacular train rides we know of: the journey over the Goteik Viaduct.

Built at the very end of the 19th century by an American railway company, using parts shipped over from the USA, the Goteik Viaduct (also known as the Gokteik Viaduct) was part of British colonial efforts to expand their influence in remote northern Shan State.

Crossing the Goteik Viaduct
Crossing the Goteik Viaduct

At the time of its construction, the bridge was the biggest railway trestle in the world – and it remains the highest bridge in Burma, standing at 102 metres (335 ft) above the Gohtwin Stream. From one end to the other it measures 689 metres (2,260 ft) and is supported by 15 trestle towers, offering passengers fantastic views across the rolling Shan countryside as it goes! Luckily the train chugs across pretty slowly, so you’ll have plenty of time to admire the views.

Vertiginous views from the Goteik Viaduct
Approaching the viaduct
Approaching the viaduct

Not only is the Goteik Viaduct pretty impressive in and of itself – the destinations along its route are most definitely worth a few days of your time. The train that crosses the viaduct originates in Mandalay, but we recommend riding it for the section that links the lovely hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin with the equally lovely Hsipaw, a location known for its excellent hiking opportunities.

Lovely Pyin Oo Lwin
Lovely colonial buildings in Pyin Oo Lwin
Pyin Oo Lwin station... yep, really!
A local station en route from Pyin Oo Lwin

If you’re interested in making the train journey across the Goteik Viaduct, our Untouched Burma itinerary is an excellent choice. Alternatively, get in touch with one of our Burma experts to plan your own bespoke trip. For more on getting around in Burma, see our recent blog post!

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