The International Steam Pages
Temples of Steam - 2006
This page contains links to our 2006 visits to Burma to research stationary steam engines in the country's rice mills. Summary technical information is available on a separate introductory page.
My wife Yuehong and I visited Burma (Myanmar) in early 2005 for what we believe was the first in-depth look at the stationary steam engines in the country's thousands of rice mills. It was a fascinating experience and we returned for more in 2006. Broadly we wanted to visit 'new' parts of the country but also to develop specific coverage of certain mills and try to see some special engines working which were not active in 2005. I made a flying visit to Burma in April 2006 to complete the purchase and arrange the transport of some large and heavy metallic souvenirs. There was just enough time to organise a couple of days gricing the rice mills in the Yangon area. Just another Marshall describes one of my most remarkable discoveries in this country.
In 2005, we explored Mon State, had a brief look (not reported here) at the mills round Bago and the extreme north-east of Yangon Division before moving on to the rice heartland of Irrawaddy Division based on Pathein (not reported here). In 2006, we went first to Sagaing Division particularly the district of Shwebo. A speculative trip to Katha in the north of the Division drew a complete blank. The overnight train journey there is best forgotten, but we had a day and a half doing nothing in an unspoiled town on the upper Irrawaddy River and an unforgettable (for both the right and wrong reasons this time) boat journey back to Mandalay. These days I confess I no longer enjoy travelling for the sake of it, I need a reason and the boat journey told me that I desperately needed some very positive experiences to persuade me to come here again. Revisiting Dakhondaing in Mon State was one such. You can also get a flavour of the ups and downs of this kind of bash in A Day in the Life, a part account of our visit to the western end of Bago Division. Finally we went back to Irrawaddy Division; first we had a patchy look at the northern end, travelling here was relaxing (if slow), it did provide me with a Burmese 10. Further south, the (steam) mill density is as high as it gets, we had one wonderful day out to see what is thought to be the biggest working engine in the country. I have to say that I did not greatly enjoy our second visit to Pathein, it has become a stopping off point for visitors to the beaches on the west coast, overcharging and begging have become endemic, I shall not be returning there in a hurry. As you will gather, overall, travelling in Burma is not something for the faint hearted....
The very nature and location of the mills would make it ludicrous to contemplate visiting them independently for the first time - although in 2006 we found it very easy to make revisits alone even using public transport. In 2005, we used exclusively private transport, albeit extremely expensive by our normal standards of travel in such a country. In 2006, we used a judicious mixture of private and public transport according to local conditions to keep our costs under control. A local guide is absolutely essential and in this regard we were exceptionally well served in both 2005 and 2006 by Han Win Aung, the experience of such bashes was totally novel to him but he spared no effort at all to maximise the return on our investment.
Kyi Kyi Mint did some extremely significant and valuable background research beforehand, resulting in area lists of mills of potential interest. On the ground we were made welcome in the mills everywhere we went and particular mention must be made of the local boiler inspectors in Moulmein and Sagaing who went out of their way to document which mills in their charge were active and to describe their locations. As I have already mentioned, I have quite deliberately not indicated our other sources or the exact location of particular engines/mills and included pictures of only a small proportion of what we have seen. A lot of hard work has gone into this project and I would hope anyone contemplating a visit such as ours will use the services of our guide to reward him for his efforts (I can put you in touch). Similarly I would welcome collaboration with other serious researchers who are prepared to help in a practical way. Do not even consider a visit if you need 'international standards' when you are on the move, the roads (if they exist) can be endlessly appalling and the hotels basic even by my low standards, the 2005/6 bashes were some of the hardest trips I have done for many years, but also probably the most satisfying. I have no wish ever to revisit Pyapon where the Luxury Restaurant is worthy of the name but the Seven Stars Hotel is my contender for the most grotesquely misnamed establishment in the world. Burma can still be a wonderful place to visit at times and its peoples second to none in their hospitality, but I have to say that they don't always smile as much as they used to......
If you can help us identify unmarked engines or provide information about manufacturers/agents we can reward you with copies of some of our photographs on CD-ROM. I should add the names of John Raby who put me on the track of the mills, regular Burma visitor Manfred Schoeler who introduced me to Kyi Kyi Mint and aided communication with her to set up these extremely successful trips and Ray Gardiner who put his money where his mouth was and joined us for 2 weeks in 2006.
These are the individual pages from the 2006 trip:
Read more about our travels, follow the links in Rob and Yuehong in Burma, 2005 - 10.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson