Train Across Gokteik Viaduct – Scene Outshines Famed Engineering

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Aha! The first glimpse of the famed bridge
Reading guidebooks and travel forums, the famous train from Mandalay-Pyin oo Lyin – Hsipaw – Lashio got on our short list of must-do’s within our limited 28-day Myanmar Visa.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
When you look out the train window you find many of your fellow passengers are doing the same
Marvel of British engineering? Not exactly.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Looking down the gorge as the train slowly crosses it
First, it was built by American contractors in 1901.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
The Gokteik Viaduct presented engineers with a challenge in the early 20th Century
Yes, along the path there is a steep gorge with thick forest.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
The volume of chatter of the train builds and builds during
Yes, it is scenic and the slow, slow, slow crawl over the Gokteik Viaduct gives you plenty of time for photo opps.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Serendipity along the tracks
Train and bridge fans will find much to like about it.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
These two Buddhist nuns on the seats across from us were not unlike "The Odd Couple". When one started smoking the other rolled her eyes and held her nose. This prompted the smoker to imitate her companion chewing on betel nut and spitting it everywhere.
But even they might agree that for the foreigner taking an “ordinary train”, as they call it,

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
You get to glimpse Myanmar life at the small stops along the way
it’s more the scene on the train and in the stations that makes the 8+/--hour ride so enjoyable,

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
From the train you get to see people's days unfolding as they shuttle along the roads crisscrossing the train track
Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
While much of the ride is through unpopulated forests and wide expanses of farms, there are occasional town glimpses
albeit bumpy to the point of sea sickness at times.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Friendly food hawkers ciruclate on th Pyin Oo Lyin platrom as we wait for the train to arrive
Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
The posted timetable in the station seemed to have no correlation wtih the expected train arrivals
You may have paid the equivalent of US$4 for a mile or so taxi ride in a pickup truck to get to the train station. The 8-hour train ride though only costs $1200 kyet, roughly the equivalent of US$1.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Pyin Oo Lyin's train station
When you get to the Pyin Oo Lyin station you join a long chaotic queue for foreigner tickets. (Warning: our hotelier had told us that our seats had already been reserved, which was not true.) The wait time gives you a chance to ponder how miraculous it is that much of anything gets done. Not only are the ticketers not working with computers, but they seem to have several files and pages to reference and then they need to confer again and again with their colleagues to eventually find empty seats and then need to hand write out your ticket details in carbon duplicate.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Most of the people who take the Mandalay to Lashio train are natives and not tourist
Like us, you too may be knocking knees on the train with other tourists facing you, usually European. Cameras come out to jockey for best window positions. Some go to the doors between trains for the best views. But most of the “ordinary train” goers are Burmese, not foreign, giving you a chance to see family dynamics, mingle with Buddhist nuns, and perhaps chat up a local with a good command of English.

Though your seats are reserved, it’s likely that someone coming on to the train at a later stop will be inclined to take any empty seat they find. That makes for awkward moments if you are trying to keep reserved seats for your partner and newfound Westerner friends.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
A family of eight sits in the seats for four. Full of smiles and mirth, like many people in Myanmar they became stone-faced when we asked to take their picture
What is the family of eight Burmese people thinking as they look at you sitting next to three empty seats while their eightsome is squeezed into four seats across the aisle? One thing you can expect in a situation like this, because you see it almost all over Myanmar, is that with the stares come warm smiles.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
The parade of food vendors on and off the train keep you guessing on what the next set of treats will be
When the food hawkers stroll by the whole train perks up a bit.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
It's not unlike a lively market scene on the train-- except with a lot of bumps along the way
Cooked meals, junk food snacks, juice drinks, fresh fruit, Myanmar beer and more- it’s a moving restaurant with hawkers getting on the train at one stop and getting off at the next.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
A mother and daughter jockeyed successfully for best position in between trains to get the best view of the Viaduct and bridge
But the HUGE excitement comes when the train slows to a stop at the Gokteik Viaduct and then does a slow crawl across the gorge.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
When the train slows to cross the gorge many passengers pile out of the train to take a picture of it crosing the gorge
The Burmese and other language chatter gets noticeably louder, as if it were an amplified stethoscope beeping extra heartbeats of excitement. Cellphones are whipped out for selfies at the train door showing the drop below into the gorge. People move from one side of the train to the other to get the best view. And this buzz continues until you reach the other side of the gorge, maybe fifteen minutes later.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
The size of the hamlets we rode through suggested that the train rolling by was a relatively major part of the day
Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Mile after mile, vistas of bucolic farmlands
Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Looking out the window at a train stop
Our short leg of this train ride—from Pyin Oo Lyin to Hsipaw—took eight hours.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Rice paddies amid other wide expanses of farmland along the route show you the beauty of the landscape
Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Scenes of daily life unfold before you, as though the entire train ride is the opening sequence of a movie
Or, for those so inclined, you could follow the example of our young Norwegian IT specialist seat companion who is on a year-long sojourn in Southeast Asia, and start drinking your 8 Myanmar beers in mid-morning to while away the time.

Gokteik Viaduct Myanmar
Nuns and monks get on and off the train

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