Mandalay to Hsipaw train: the Gokteik viaduct
This post is about the Mandalay to Hsipaw train over the Gokteik viaduct in Myanmar. Trains in Myanmar are bumpy and scary. I did read the warnings, but I love train journeys. I could not visit Myanmar without taking the iconic Mandalay to Hsipaw train over the Gokteik viaduct
The Mandalay to Hsipaw train and the Gokteik Viaduct
The train from Mandalay to Hsipaw in Myanmar is a historic railway route that dates back to the British colonial period. The railway was built in the late 19th century to connect the central region of Myanmar to the northern Shan State.
The Mandalay-Hsipaw railway route is known for its scenic beauty, winding through picturesque mountain ranges and crossing over deep valleys and steep gorges. Most famous is the Gokteik viaduct.
The construction of the Gokteik Viaduct was a major engineering feat at the time. The bridge spans a deep valley and measures 689 meters in length and 102 meters in height. It was built using steel girders and was considered one of the largest railway bridges in the world.
During World War II, the Gokteik Viaduct was the target of Japanese air raids, which damaged the bridge and disrupted the railway line. However, the viaduct was repaired and continued to operate after the war.
Although the train line is no longer as important as it once was, it still operates. It is in fact, a popular tourist activity to cross one of the highest railway bridges in Asia.
My experience on the Mandalay to Hsipaw train
The train over the Gokteik viaduct runs from Mandalay all the way to Lashio in the Northern Shan state.
I decided to get off the train at a station earlier in a town called Hsipaw. This village is gaining popularity because you can arrange treks into the southern fringes of the Shan state. An area with green rolling hills and traditional villages.
Taking the train from Mandalay to Hsipaw did mean a very early start. 4 Am to be exact. I left the city of Mandalay in the dark. A cold wind blew through the train and a number of vendors selling food kept me awake.
The sunrise over the countryside was beautiful. The rest of the morning I was allowed to see daily life in the fields passing by. According to the schedule I was supposed to cross the Gokteik viaduct a little bit past 11 AM. Obviously the train was late, but finally around 12 the train stopped at Gokteik station.
The Gokteik Viaduct
Once the train moved again I could see the bridge in the distance. Is it dangerous? The Gokteik viaduct is old and rickety, but the Mandalay to Hsipaw train crosses it every day.
Is it scary? I am afraid of heights so I was torn by looking out of the window to enjoy the views and taking pictures and triggering my fear. I managed to look down once. The Gokteik viaduct is over 100 meters high.
If you are not afraid of heights it is probably not that much fear inducing. I must also say that the train crosses the Gokteik viaduct rather slowly. You have lots of time, about 15 minutes, to enjoy the views.
Things actually got more scary when the train gained speed after crossing the viaduct. Train rides in Myanmar are very bumpy and this is not a joke. I was literally jumping up and down in my seat. Funny at first, but uncomfortable after a while.
Gokteik to Hsipaw
Taking the train is a long day, but the scenery is all worth it. The Gokteik viaduct is a highlight, but so are the views on the rest of the journey. As we got closer to Hsipaw the scenery became more hilly and more green. At every stop, vendors came into the train to sell anything from food to household wares.
I arrived in Hsipaw 14 hours later. The bus would have been much faster, but the train ride is a more exciting way to travel from Mandalay to Hsipaw.
Mandalay to Hsipaw train travel tips
Mandalay to Hsipaw train route
The train stops at several stations. The Gokteik viaduct is in between the Gokteik station and the station of Nang Peng.
Mandalay (04:00) – Sedaw (05:10) – Pyin O Lin (07:52) – Nang Khio (10:23) – Gokteik (11:03) – Nang Peng (11:58) – Kyaukme (13:07) – Hsipaw (14:38) – Lashio (19:05)
Lashio (05:00) – Hsipaw (09:20) – Kyaukme (10:55) – Nang Peng (12:07) – Gokteik (13:13) – Nang Khio (13:45) – Pyin O Lin (15:55) – Sedaw (19:57) – Mandalay (21:15)
Mandalay to Hsipaw Train tickets
You can book your train tickets at the station in Mandalay or Hsipaw. THere is currently no possibility to book your tickets online beforehand.
I bought my tickets the evening before at the Mandalay train station. You can choose between two classes
Upper class: has soft reclining seats. As the journey is quite long I do recommend booking upper class seats, even though the experience is less local. If you don’t mention a specific class they will most likely book you into the upper class as a foreigner. About half the seats were foreign travelers. The other half were wealthy locals.
Regular class: regular class is almost exclusively local. It has hard wooden benches. Not perfect on a 14 hour train ride that can get very bumpy.
The best seats
Most people take the Mandalay to Hsipaw train to see the Gokteik Viaduct. I would say the scenery is also just as beautiful. However, for the best views on the Gokteik Viaduct try to book the following seats.
Mandalay to Hsipaw: right side window seat
Hsipaw to Mandalay: left side window seat
What to expect
The Mandalay to Hsipaw train is a long, but beautiful journey. It is not as comfortable as trains in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan though. Even the lowest class on the trains in Russia (platzkart) are more comfortable than the upper class in Myanmar.
I have never been on such a bumpy train ride and I was literally jumping up and down on my seat. You will thank your butt for booking the soft reclining seats of the upper class.
If you have any dietary restrictions I would bring my own food on the train. Otherwise trying all the different street foods that vendors come to sell in the train is another highlight of the journey.
At every stop, vendors come into the train or you can go outside and buy from the vendors on the railway tracks. Tea leaf snacks, nuts, samosa, fried quail eggs and roasted sweet potatoes are just some of the snacks you can buy.
Is the train from Mandalay to Hsipaw safe? Yes. Just remember that two trains cross the Gokteik viaduct every day. It might be old and rickety, but it is not dangerous.
I felt very safe on the Mandalay to Hsipaw train as a solo female traveler. All the general rules that you should follow everywhere in the world apply. That means that you should watch out for your belongings. Don’t leave your luggage unattended and keep your valuables in a safe place.
Update: As of 2023 the security situation in Myanmar has detoriated. On 1 February 2021, Myanmar’s military took power in a coup, abruptly halting the country’s fragile transition towards democracy. Currently train tickets are not sold to foreigners because of ‘security reasons’. Most governments advise against travel to Myanmar.
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