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The Goteik Viaduct is the highest railway bridge in Myanmar and you can take a heart-racing ride across it as part of the three-hour train journey from the trekking haven of Hsipaw to the former colonial summer hideaway of Pyin Oo Lwin.
Rather than getting another long and tiring overnight bus in Myanmar, and after thoroughly enjoying chugging along on the Yangon Circle Line Train, I decided that another local train ride would be a great adventure. As well as being able to observe local life, I would get to hang out the window and revel in the adrenalin of crossing an enormous bridge that, when build, stood as the highest railway bridge in the world.
How Much Does it Cost to Ride Across the Goteik Viaduct?
The train ticket to ride across the highest railway bridge in Myanmar costs $3, for a seat in the second-class carriage on the Mandalay – Lashio train route. We were told that the seats would be harder and the windows more narrow than those in the $5 first-class carriage, when in fact there was hardly any difference at all.
The carriages are unkempt and stuffed full to the brim of household belongings in wicker baskets, and beloved garden friends like the chickens. At station stops you’ll witness a feat of acrobatics and athleticism as locals haul their wares onto the carriage and seem to wait until the last moment to take the last few seconds to run with the train before jumping on in one grand swing. The scent of baked goods and sugary treats fill the air, as does the sound of a dozen people in a cacophony with the trains slow, pumping clunk on the rails.
This is a daily routine for the Burmese, but for us a spectacle. The organised chaos is the joy of Myanmar rail.
There are only two trains (one in each direction) that pass through here each day, leaving Mandalay at 4 am and arriving in Pin Oo Lwin at 7.40 am. Time moves slowly in Myanmar, but an adventure comes along quickly.
Hsipaw is a beautiful area for trekking so the train ride out of there into the surrounding plains is just as scenic. However, much of the train ride, while staring eagerly out of the window at the beautiful countryside (bar the odd slash and burn episode in the fields) is spent wondering, “When will we cross the bridge?”
Is Crossing the Goteik Viaduct Dangerous?
If the Goteik Viaduct crossing is dangerous we would know about it by now. I’d say it’s more heart-racing and adrenalin fulled than it is any kind of question about safety.
You are not told or given any indication of timings as to when your near-death experience will come. The locals don’t batter an eye-lid at the thought but will let you know if you ask.
But that’s all part of the fun because after a while the green scenery gets a bit repetitive and the shards of shrubbery brutally chopped by the metal frame of your open window begin to hurt a little when they spray on you. Adventure is not always pain-free.
After an hour or so, every twist and turn you make and every corner you round, where a large cliff face conceals your view, will result in you hanging out of the window, camera in hand, ready to embrace the one thing you have waited for ages to see. You linger for seconds as the train arrives back out into the vast open space, just as it is about to cross…and…nothing. And so you sit back and wait again, like a giddy child waiting for Santa.
When that railway bridge does come around it first pokes through the trees, igniting a nervous fear inside you at the same time as ushering enough excited oohs and ahhs to expose every tourist lurking in the train carriage. It’s as if you’ve never travelled over a bridge before.
Except you probably haven’t been on one THIS big.
Why Riding on Myanmar’s Highest Railway Bridge is the Thing to Do
The drop of the Gotiek Viaduct is so huge, and the bridge so immense, that the train slows right down in order to cross safely to the town of Lashio on the other side.
For a few minutes your life flashes before your eyes, but you don’t care because you are leaning out of the window to take in the view with complete awe, reaching out as far as possible to snap the sheer drop and enormity of this architectural feat.
The bridge was constructed in 1899 and was so technical it was revered highly by world standards. 689 metres in length from one end to the other, it’s certainly not for those who are faint-hearted – the drop is said to be 102 metres (335 ft) from the track to the ground.
Will you dare to look down?
When it’s all over, you are not too far from the end of your journey – maybe half an hour – much of which is spent still talking about the bridge with your fellow travellers and checking that you got a decent photo. Soon enough, a whole new adventure awaits you in Pyin Oo Lwin as you alight from the carriage covered in foliage shards, with a belly full of beer and local food snacks and…a new appreciation for your life and the wonders of Myanmar.
Planning to Ride the Highest Railway Bridge in Myanmar?
Just back from Burma today, and I went here too – funny that I spoke to a few people who had chosen to go to Hsipaw because they had read this very post 🙂
I’m glad I’m doing my job well, and that other people got to experience this too 🙂
Gilles Barbier says
Thanks for sharing! I am heading to Myanmar in February and this will definitely be part of my itinerary!
I actually did not know there were trains running in Myanmar – This is by far the mode of transport that I prefer. Are the trains that unreliable, as describes the Lonely Planet, or is this just an exaggeration?
Unreliability depends on ones ability to accept ‘Asia Time’. It might be cancelled and you wait for the next one. It might be on time or really late. Key is to go with the flow and always have a plan B out here. I never had any problems, and even buses had a different scheduled to what was listed. You get from A to B in the end, just enjoy the journey in between as much as you can 🙂
Your blog has been such a great resource for my planning (or lack thereof) for my trip to Myanmar. I leave for Myanmar Saturday and it was a quick decision as I just got my visa in Bangkok. Was there much to do in Pyin Oo Lwin? Thanks again for all the great info!
Backpacker Becki says
Not really, although there is some waterfalls nearby and some beautiful gardens if you are into that. It was more a stopping off point after the train but well worth a look and to visit the local community.