The International Steam Pages


Steamy Burma Days 1997

There are updates available to this report:

Steamy Burma Days 1999 - Steamy Burma Days 1999/2000

This reports updates my main page on steam in Myanmar (Steamy Burma Days 1996) and you should read that first if you have not already done so. I have summarised the major changes, but there are 'blow by blow' accounts of each area to give potential visitors some idea of activity (or total lack of it). Please remember if 'I was told' something, there is a roughly 50% chance of it being correct, (including chimney first directions). Although I was in the country for nearly 4 weeks, I spent a fair amount of time travelling as a 'normal tourist' not least because the available steam seemed to be much more elusive than last year, and the quality of information from operating staff reached an all time low.

Summary and Outlook

Many working locos are in different locations from this time last year! See the Loco Check List.

According to the shedmaster at Bago, 'next month' (i.e. January 1998) would see increased steam activity since his locomotives on loan to Toungoo and Pyinmana for the sugar season would return and there would be much stone traffic for the new International Airport (mentioned in the Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit). However, he said the same thing last year and all the shed records show that the season usually lasts much longer than he suggested (see also 'Loco Check List'). He was expecting YD 970 from Insein Works in 'a month or so'.

Bago steam workings are as before although there seems to be fewer working locos available compared to my visit last year, and I saw diesels (~50%) on stone trains. In this area all locos except YC 626 faced Down (Yangon) - since the turntable was out of action at the moment this will not change in the near future. (In the event 969 was turned at Mokpalin in late December for a railtour. Avoid visiting before and during railtours because the small pool of working locos will be even smaller.)

The Mottama branch has suffered at the hands of the monsoon floods. Four small bridges have been destroyed and their temporary replacements were subject to strict speed limits - adding at least 20 minutes to the schedules of trains which traditionally run rather late anyway!

At Mottama, YBs 533 and 534 are in running order. One of them runs the salt train to Sittoung every 7-10 days, the other may run occasional stone and goods trains through to Bago.

At Pyuntaza, YC 624 (facing Down) appears to be the regular loco on the Madauk branch. YB 532 and YC 623 are 'under repair'.

Toungoo has 2 working locos, YC 622 and YD 974, both face Down. Although, YD 974 was at work at Pyu, just south of the sugar mill at Zeyawadi, in early December, two weeks later YC 622 had returned here and YD 974 had resumed its duties serving Yedashe sugar mill.

Pyinmana was working 'normally' with YBs 508 and 536 (facing Up) and YD 961 (facing Down), YC 629 was stored. The usual turns worked were 536 (Thawatti), 508 (Kantha) and 961 (Kyidaunggan). This meant that nearly all loaded cane trains were worked smokebox first!

At all sheds there seems to have been a scrap drive and a lot of the odd wheels, frames, tenders etc much in evidence last year have vanished.

Finally, it seems that a 300K fee per shed visit has been sanctioned, I was gripped twice in my 4 week stay.

Bago Index

On arrival here on 6th December, I found YC 626 (Heavy Repair Insein 12/96) out on the Nyaungkhashe train which eventually returned tender first at 17.30, 10 minutes after sunset. YDs 962 and 964 were out on stone trains, YC 630, YDs 967 and 969 were in the shed with YC 627 outside. Compared to 1996, locos appeared less clean and YB 529 (Insein), YC 624 (Pyuntaza) and YDs 961 (Pyinmana) and 972 (Insein) were no longer on the roster. This meant that the shed was short of immediately serviceable power and on 7th December a DF12 was seen at Waw on an eastbound stone train in the afternoon (the first of several).

On 7th December, 626 was declared a late failure and by the time 627 had been steamed up, the Nyaungkhashe train left two hours late. For the photographer, this was anything but bad news because it meant that the (chimney first) return departure from Nyaungkhashe would occur in optimum afternoon light. The train may have lost its coach but it had lost few of its customers and none of its charm. Four box vans and an open wagon were stuffed as usual and I was glad of the relative emptiness of the footplate. In the event, the crew were as supportive as ever, I had a run past near the terminus and over the bridge just before the branch rejoins the main line near Abya. Very satisfying because this was an opportunity I had not had in 1996. Both 962 and 964 were still out.

627 on the Nyaungkhashe branch train

967 and the damage special

967 and the damage special

Overnight, 964 had returned and 967 had vanished on to the line. 627 was to run the Nyaungkhashe train again. I had decided to gain merit by visiting the Golden Rock Pagoda at Kyaiktiyo so caught 81 Up to Kyaikto. Just outside Bago we passed 962 on its homeward journey. At Kyaikto, I found 967 running round, preparing to depart with a 'damage' special, a collection of miscellaneous cripples and wrecks which most railways would have cut up on the spot, complete with failed DD920 on the rear. My luck today could not be beaten, but this was a rare (almost the only as it turned out) good day on this line. For the next 3 hours in perfect afternoon light and twilight I had the run of the kind of train dreams are made of. The crew were the same as I had met with 969 in 1996 and my credit was good as they produced a sheath of photos I had sent them. Progress was necessarily slow (and 967 which has never been 'right' since its last heavy repair was in only slightly better shape than its train), but this only served to increase the photographic possibilities. We got just two stations down the line to Kyaiaktha before darkness fell and I had to hop a diesel freight back to Kyaikto. According to station staff, Mottama loco YB 534 had last run a salt train to Sittoung on 30th November and was apparently stopped for repair. As I learned later this was only half correct - it was YB 533 which ran the salt train and, yes, 534 had been stopped. (Well the numbers are nearly the same and it doesn't take much for a Burmese station master to get confused.)

967 and the damage special

967 and the damage special

December 9th was, with hindsight, not a good day to take off for a bit of culture. Kyaiktiyo was indeed as good as the guide books say (despite the enforced foreigner tax of U$6 per head), but an hour after I left on the truck (no buses as such here), 534 rolled through at 10.00 with its salt train from Mottama. During the night, 964 had gone to one of the quarries south and it duly went back through Kyaikto at 16.30, 20 minutes before I returned. Once again, despite being friendly and helpful, the station staff were just not able to give me accurate information of any kind, even though I had asked about activity before I went up the mountain. (After all they are in constant radio contact with Bago control!)

The next day, I was told there was no steam stone train south of Kyaikto, so I took the 11.30 train back to Bago. En route, we found YD 967 on its damage special at Theinzyat, it had managed about 15 miles in almost two days since I last saw it, although DD920 had somehow made it to Bago. No further steam was seen en route, but one outbound diesel stone train was seen in Waw. At Bago, 627 was out on the Nyaungkhashe train, 962 was indeed out somewhere on a stone train, 969 was preparing to go out and 964 was in steam on shed. 626 and 630 were still awaiting minor repairs. This was not the photographic disaster of the day before because the weather was dull and overcast all day.

I returned to Bago at 14.00 on December 24th. 626 was still under repair, 964 was cold and 969 was being prepared for a railtour in early January. 630 was shunting, 627 was out on the Nyaungkhashe train (and yet again failed to return before the light failed). 962 and 967 were on line presumably with stone trains. YB 534 from Mottama was visiting and at 16.00 left for home with a short freight. According to shed staff, this happens occasionally between salt trains.

On December 25th, I took 83 Up to Mottama. We passed a diesel hauled empty stone train at Waw, 967 westbound at Theinzyat and 962 westbound at Mokpalin. Later we saw a DF on a stone train at Zingyaik. At Mottama, I found YB 534 on shed and that YB 533 had left the previous evening on a salt train - the loco must have been on shed at Mokpalin or at the paper factory as I came down. This was nothing short of a disaster as there could not be another salt train before I left.... Shed records for December showed that 533 had worked salt trains on 30th November and 25th December, and had gone out on a goods train on 14th December. 534 had worked salt trains on 9th and 16th December and a stone train on 23rd December. Although I had heard elsewhere that 533 was a wood burner, shed staff said both burn oil. Clearly unless you can get information from Yangon, it is not going to be easy to catch one of these locos working chimney first.

December 26th was a 'tourist day'. I went to Thanbyuzayat which was the western end of the infamous Burma-Siam wartime railway. This was far less impressive than Kanchanaburi in Thailand with the 'Bridge on the River Kwai', as there is only an embryonic museum whose single exhibit is Japanese 2-6-0 C0522. However, as always, the nearby Commonwealth War Cemetery was a sad but impressive monument to the total folly of war. On return to Mawlamyine (Moulmein), I checked out the loco shed. As others have reported, YB 548 and YD 966 are in store, the former allegedly 'in running order'.

Death Railway Museum at Thanbyuzayat

I travelled up to Kyaikto on December 27th, briefly visiting Mokpalin where the station staff told me that YC 630 had worked a stone train the day before but there was no steam activity today.... At Mokpalin shed were the same locos as previously reported, all well out of use, namely YBs 516 and 543, YC 625, YD 446 and STs 778 (preserved) and 768.

I stayed in Kyaikto overnight after Bago control had told me that a steam loco would be leaving Bago during the night. This never happened and at 10.00 I was told it might leave in the afternoon.... I was also told that YB 533 was finally ready to leave Theinzyat and would depart after 81 Up (at about 13.00). Although this would be tender first, it was apparently all that was on offer, so I took a pickup there and found the loco stone cold. 

YB 533

Following an afternoon researching the old Sittang bridge, the loco had still not been lit up, so I took a photograph and hitched a lift back with a group of Karens who were warming up with Christmas Carols for the Karen New Year the next day. Just after I returned I heard a steam whistle from the station, this was 534 from Mottama which would have been very photogenic from 14.00 onwards! At 22.00 there was a second whistle, I learned later this was 533 finally on the way home.

Things could only get better and they did. At 05.00 there was a further whistle and after breakfast I was told that it was 964 on its way to Zingyaik. The loco was apparently still at Thaton, so I jumped on a pickup and a couple of hours later at 10.00 found it still there shunting. Although Zingyaik is less than 20 miles down the line it was 14.00 before we arrived and I could begin to contemplate photography. The location is excellent with a backdrop of pagoda covered hills and 964 spent the next couple of hours shunting (including a trip to the quarry which I opted out of) as the light steadily improved. Finally at 16.30, we had a full departure and I had my fingers firmly crossed that we would make the bridge at Yinnyein before the light failed. The loco crew rose to the occasion and we made it with 10 minutes to spare, after which I was entertained to more shunting and an opportunity to practice my sunset techniques. A very satisfying day indeed, the only problem was that I was more than 40 miles from my guest house in Kyaikto. A curry washed down with several beers at Thaton station sent me to sleep for a few hours in the crew's van and eventually we rolled in Kyaikto at 03.30 having passed 534 on its way home at Mayangon.

964 at Yinnyein

964 at Yinnyein

964 on its stone train

964 on its stone train

On December 30th, I was limited by the need to be in Yangon in the evening for my flight on the 31st. I took a pickup to Mokpalin to photograph YD 446 in good light and found 969 on shed - it had been sent here to be turned for the TEFS railtour. Fortunately, I missed 964 which was still at the top end of the station. Instead, I headed for Waw and waited for the Nyaungkhashe train. I found that 626 was back in working order, but my plans to ride and photograph it changed rapidly when I discovered I would have to share 626 with half a dozen or more Japanese visitors and that 964 was rapidly approaching. 964 then headed west at 14.30, with an optimal arrival time under the signals and past the signal box at Bago of 16.00. Of the other locos only 967 was in steam and appeared to be getting ready to go out on the line. I thanked U Tin Shwe for his hard work and left for Yangon on 90 Down.

964 under the gantry at Bago

Pyuntaza Index

On December 23rd, YB 532 and YC 623 were in the shed officially under repair (along with preserved D 1032). YC 624, facing down and looking very smart was being prepared for the 14.00 to Madauk. This left half an hour late because two railcar trailers had derailed on the shed triangle. Even though the train had gained a second coach it was packed as usual, but smart running got us to Madauk almost on time. 624 ran round the train and I renewed acquaintance with the loco crew with the usual presents of photographs and cigarettes. I also thought that the driver understood that once again I would be waiting outside the station to join the train after I had photographed it leaving. Wrong! In 25 years of gricing, I doubt have ever been so badly abandoned. The reason the train is so popular is that the road in is so bad there is virtually no traffic. So I started to walk, admiring the sunset as I went. Some 7 miles later in the pitch dark by the 'pot' station (Pazunmyaung) I found a truck to get me back to Nyaunglebin by 19.00. It could have been worse. The Bago shedmaster dismissed the incident with "he must have forgotten you were there".

The next morning, I took no chances (and, as I told myself, I had done very well at Madauk in 1996). I borrowed a bicycle and rode out east 3 miles to the river bridge and relaxed before photographing 624 as it crossed a little late at 10.00.

624 on the Madauk branch

Toungoo Index

On my way north on December 11th, in a significant change from 1996, immaculate YD 974 had been shunting cane wagons at Pyu, the first station south of Zeyawadi where the mill is. On the same day YC 622 was receiving active attention from shed staff at Toungoo and only a single diesel was seen at Swa to service the four northern loading points for Yedashe sugar mill.

On December 22nd, I set out from Pyinmana at 08.00 intending to sample steam activity north of Toungoo. However, a late morning visit to Swa saw no signs of bullock carts, cane wagons or likely activity. Checking the station records showed that YD 974 had been a regular visitor over the last week or so, although several visits had been after dark. I quickly rejoined my pick up which was making yet another tea stop (3 hours so far for the 45 miles from Pyinmana) and carried on to Toungoo. Here I found YD 974 in steam but derailed at the top of the shed yard. Even assuming they put it back, there would have been no possibility of interesting daylight action. I was told that YC 622 was now at Zeyawadi sugar mill, so resisting the temptations of the excellent station restaurant and waiting for 12 Down due at 15.00 (which may have been and actually was late), I hopped a south-bound freight at 13.30 much to the surprise (and anguish) of the guard.

622 at Pyu

Just after 15.00 we passed Zeyawadi, but only a small diesel was present. Continuing on to Pyu, I found loading in progress and YC 622 in light steam at the head of a line of empties. The driver was extremely friendly (not least because I understood that no-one else had been to photograph his loco yet). Apparently, the loco is outstationed here and returns to Toungoo for oil every 10 days or so. There is not a huge amount of activity, every morning empties are brought the four miles from Zeyawadi and fulls are taken back when loading is completed. However, of interest is the girder bridge on the outskirts of Pyu, which should make for a good early morning photograph. Ominously, I did not hear 622 going to Zeyawadi during the evening and at 07.00 next morning I found it still in Pyu, with the motion being stripped down, about to be towed back to Toungoo as a failure.

Tim Murray was in Pyu a little later and caught YD 970 on the morning empties and said the crew were very co-operative.

Pyinmana Index

YC 629 is stored as a failure and the active fleet, looking very smart, is YB 508 (Heavy Repair Insein 9/97) and 536 (both facing Up) and YD 961 (facing Down). Arriving on December 11th, I saw no cane loading activity in the Thawatti area and found all steam cold on shed with the mill 'shut down for cleaning'. I was told that service was expected to resume in 'three days time', not totally inconvenient for me as the weather was awful (it even rained overnight) and I was really on my way to Hsipaw and the Burma Mines area. As it happened, early next morning there were bullock carts with cane everywhere and a diesel shunting just north of Kyidaunggan (and shed records showed that steam was used that day).

Returning to Pyinmana at 13.00 on December 18th it was a pleasant change to find warm sunshine after the cold and damp of Mandalay and Shan State. After nearly two weeks in the country, it was time for some serious 'gricing'. Although there was no loco out on the Kyidaunggan side and 508 was cold on shed, 961 was reported on the Kantha branch and 536 on the Thawatti run. Photographically, the latter was the only option (961 would return tender first out of the sun) so as usual I borrowed a bike from one of the shed staff (John Tickner's donated bike was 'not at the shed any more') and headed off for Pyiwin, 5 miles south. The loco was not expected until 16.00 at the earliest so I took refreshment and rested. After an afternoon of full sun, the train arrived at 16.30, 5 minutes after the clouds and 10 minutes after the bike failed. Fortunately, 536 was not feeding oil properly to the burners and the extended wait allowed the sun to reappear as the train departed, the photographic results were excellent. By the time we crawled to Pyinmana with me and bike aboard the train, 961 had returned. According to the station records at Pyiwin recent return workings had occurred randomly between 12.00 and 18.00. Apparently, 961 then did a night run to Kyidaunggan and back.

536 at Pyiwn

536 leaves Pyiwn at twilight

December 19th dawned cloudless and the weather was similar for the rest of my stay. The morning was a write-off for steam activity (at least as a 'computer professional' I take my work with me just for this kind of occasion) and the only activity for the day was 961 to Kyidaunggan and back. (One possible cause of this lack of activity may be that Pyinmana is a double mill and that only one of the two was working.) As usual, 961 did not leave until 12 Down had arrived from Mandalay (due at 12.40 but often late), this was at about 13.45. We swiftly detached empties at Ywadaw and reached Kyidaunggan just after 15.00. Nothing could then be done until 11 Up had cleared (booked departure from Pyinmana is 14.40). While we waited I was again entertained royally by the same crew as last year - fortunately I had brought them a large 10" x 8" picture of them with 964 in 1996. The empties were then shunted into position and the fulls attached for a departure just after 16.00, an operation which was quite photogenic under the station trees. Unfortunately for further photography, the down line was out of use for maintenance and we had to use the up line, the adjacent scrub effectively wiping out what should have been a good session. Shunting at Ywadaw was prolonged because the cane siding was shared by a set of ballast wagons and the sun was down behind the hill before departure at 17.15 - visitors much later in the season would benefit from the extra minutes of daylight here. (Note that the return working from Thawatti should in theory, be able to start much earlier as 11 Up ought to clear not long after 14.00.)

961 leaves Kyidaunggan

YD 964 at Ywa Daw

December 20th started promisingly. 508 and 536 were in steam with 961 under minor repair. By 11.30, 508 and 536 were taking water in the station, bound for Kantha and Thawatti respectively. I joined 536 and prospects for the afternoon looked pretty good until we got to Ela at about 12.30 and found no sign of any loading - today's duty was just delivering empties! So we went on to Thawatti and then returned light engine to Pyinmana, at least they let us run ahead of 11 Up which was running two hours late and we were back by 16.00 and it was good to see that the problems with 536 had been sorted.

536 on empties near Ela

December 21st was one of those rare days in Burma when it must have been more difficult to fail than to succeed. After a late night working, I did not make it to the shed till 09.30. By then all three locos were in steam, indeed 536 was already shunting in the station yard having taken water and it left for Thawatti at 09.45. After a brief shunt at Pyiwin, we rolled into Ela around 10.45. Here we took a break for tea while a couple of trains passed and we arrived at Thawatti by 12.30. At this point we were far ahead of the ideal (photographic) schedule and it got worse when we ran round, collected the fulls and left at 13.00 - the sun was still far too high and the train backlit. In the end, 11 Up came to our rescue. We were looped for it at Ela and had no alternative but to adjourn for liquid refreshment. An hour and a bit later, a far 'happier' crew set out for Pyiwin. While they sorted out the shunting there, I ambled up to the village half a mile north of the station where the light is good in the late afternoon (15.30 onwards). Before the village a line of palms makes a lovely backdrop and the shots emerging from the village with trees behind are also very pleasant. The crew kept the cameras busy and we trundled back to Pyinmana with the bonus of a restart from the home signal because by now (16.15) 961 had just returned from Kyidaunggan which would have made an equally attractive destination for the day if I hadn't already done it.

536 on fulls

You will note that I made no attempt to ride the Kantha line - the light here is such that I would only recommend it for early morning smokebox first empties. (Tim Murray was here also and disagrees and says that he found good sun angles for the YB returning from Luwe.) I had a great 4 afternoons at Pyinmana with a far better strike rate than in 1996. I hope the above experiences will encourage other people to camp out here for a week or so - plan for much less and you risk being disappointed. What I cannot express in words is the total ambience of the area, the friendliness of the people, the atmosphere in the villages and the sheer pleasure to be gained by sitting on a seat attached to the side of the loco as you bounce along in the Burmese countryside.

Loco Check List (only locos potentially active in the short term are included). Index

Of the 23 locos in the list, less than half are working where they were last year! This is probably no bad thing as by common consent, the only man in the country who knows how to look after steam locos is U Tin Shwe, the Bago shed master and some locos return from a visit to Insein with not much more to show for it than a new coat of paint.

Shed staff at Pyinmana said that the previous sugar season 'finished in March 1997'. According to shed records, 534 was sent to Mottama on 25th April and 964 to Pyuntaza on 4th May. 508 arrived from Insein and 961 from Bago on 11th October. 536 and 961 were then first used on sugar trains on 17th October and 508 on 20th October. Some locos I was told are definitely at Insein, but the others are guesses.

Loco

12.96

12.97

508

Insein

Pyinmana

520

Insein

Insein

529

Bago

Insein

532

Pyuntaza

Pyuntaza

533

Mottama

Mottama

534

Pyuntaza

Mottama

536

Pyinmana

Pyinmana

622

Mottama

Toungoo

623

Pyuntaza

Pyuntaza

624

Bago

Pyuntaza

626

Insein

Bago

627

Bago

Bago

629

Pyinmana

Pyinmana(stored)

630

Bago

Bago

961

Bago

Pyinmana

962

Bago

Bago

964

Pyinmana

Bago

967

Bago

Bago

969

Bago

Bago

970

Insein

Insein

972

Bago

Insein

973

Toungoo

Insein

974

Toungoo

Toungoo

The Burma Mines Railway Index

Click here for a brief history and description of the railway.

This was built to serve silver (and lead) mines at Bawdwin in Shan State. It is a 2'0" gauge railway which runs via Namtu (where the main workshops are) to Namyao on the Mandalay to Lashio branch of Myanma Railways. The CRC Indian Narrow Gauge Book lists 47 locos delivered although many have long since perished, and one is now preserved at Mahlwagon shed in Yangon. The Namtu area has always been (and still is) closed to foreigners and only in the last year or two have foreign visitors been officially allowed to visit Lashio without a permit.

A brief 1988 report from a business visitor to Namtu indicated that some steam locomotives remained in service despite the 1970s delivery of a number of OK diesels and a considerable decline in rail traffic. In March 1997, Manfred Schoeler found Bagnall 2-6-2 42 in steam at Namyao and more recently I understand a Japanese visitor got permission to visit Namtu, where he found Kerr Stuart 0-4-2T 13 in near operable condition.

I had hoped to visit Namtu unofficially. However, after travelling up by train from Mandalay, a day and a half in Hsipaw (42 miles south of Namtu) was totally frustrating as it was impossible to find a private or public vehicle which would take me for fear of 'punishment'. However, the town itself is a delight, a traditional Shan market town with friendly people and a nice Guest House.

In the end, I had to be content with a visit to Namyao (sometimes Nanhwyaw). There appears to be no road access and the only way in and out is by rail. This is the first station, (13 miles) out of Lashio, the timetable showing two trains a day in each direction, from Lashio in the morning (05.30 and 06.30) and from Hsipaw in the afternoon (officially 12.17 and 14.56 but likely to run much later in practice). On a dark misty morning I caught the 05.30 from Lashio on December 16th. Although I had been told Namyao was the junction, I could have been forgiven for getting straight back on the train. The station is a tiny halt without even a passing loop and only on close inspection was it clear that an overgrown siding leads north from the east end of the station. (I believe originally the narrow gauge line ran to Manpwe four miles west where there are more sidings.) Walking down the track, I crossed a viaduct over a river before entering the extensive transhipment yards. These had clearly seen better days. Among the decaying buildings, tippers and the rusty rails, there were four or five metre gauge vans, together with a narrow gauge box van and mineral wagon. More importantly, there was also 42, alas cold, but with coal in the tender and a pile of firewood on the footplate. The friendly staff explained that the loco was only steamed when traffic was on offer. This could happen as often as three times a week or as rarely as once every two weeks. In this case the loco had last seen use on December 10th and they had no way of knowing when it would next be used. They also said that mine was only the third recent visit (in addition to the two mentioned above) and that 13 at Namtu was 'in running order'....

Burma Mines 42 at Namyao

Given that the alternative choice was sitting around for up to eight hours with nothing happening before returning to Lashio, I opted to take a few photos in appalling light before quickly hopping the second train out of Lashio to Pyin Oo Lwin. Overall, it had cost me 6 days of my trip, which would hardly have been a worthwhile investment for the first time visitor. However, I had always wanted to visit the Shan State highlands and there was the definite bonus of a ride up the reverses to Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymao) and two journeys across the amazing Gokteik Viaduct - at one time the second highest railway bridge in the World - immortalised in Paul Theroux's 'Great Railway Bazaar'.

If anyone reading this manages to get some nice pictures of 42 (or 13 etc) at work, I would be glad to put them on this page.

Travel Index

I did virtually all my travel by ordinary class on the trains, which were well loaded without being full (exceptionally the Mottama branch trains were crowded with pilgrims to and from Kyaikto). It was extremely easy to get tickets, I just had to go into the back of the booking office and ask, occasionally I had to enlist the station master's help. Obviously, it is a good idea to book the day before you travel, but I found even one hour's (or less) notice no problem. All fares have to be paid in U$ (or FEC), which makes the train more expensive than the bus, but still reasonable (e.g. Bago - Pyinmana U$5, Bago - Mottama U$6, Mandalay - Hsipaw U$4).

For short distances, you can't beat a freight train if there is one passing, the local pickups are very cheap (the view from the roof is never less than interesting) but they are extremely time consuming and not very comfortable. Buses are even cheaper but often very slow indeed.

Travel by train in the country is a constant street theatre, whether it be the hawkers, the occasional 'snake oil' salesman, the travelling libraries or the children throwing 1K notes out of the window, there is always something going on and the views from the window show a life style unchanged in hundreds of years. It is impossible to be bored even on a 6 hour journey.

Hotels Index

In bigger places, these have to be paid for in U$ (or FEC), but in small towns you may be able to pay in Kyat. I have only included small town stops - for big cities see the Lonely Planet Guide. (All prices for single rooms)

Bago - Myananda Hotel (opposite Emperor Hotel) - U$4 for air con room with shared bathroom with hot shower. The best value in town.
Hsipaw - Mr. Charles Guest House - exceptional value at 200K!
Kyaikto - big (mega $) hotel on Kyaiktiyo road but plenty of guest houses in town for 400K maximum. I used the Yadanar by the river bridge.
Mawlamyine (Moulmein) - Breeze Guest House U$7 with breakfast. Only place with foreigners' licence at a sensible price.
Nyaunglebin - San Tay Motel - local guest house, 1000K (the Burmese pay 250K).
Pyinmana - Phoenix Motel claims modern (mega $) facilities. I stayed at the guest house labelled 'Pyinmana Co_Op Motel' on the main road east out of town for 500K.
Pyu - Khaing Guest House (a traveller's stop), 1000K, eat at the adjacent No. 1 Special Restaurant just north of the town.
Thaton - small Guest House in the middle of town - used in 1996, U$6 as I recall.

Currency Index

During my visit the free market exchange rate was around U$1 = 290 - 300K, nearly double last year's rate. Unfortunately, beer prices had risen by about the same proportion so I didn't save much. Still I had no problem staying well within the imposed U$300 currency exchange overall.

Hospitality Index

The quality of hospitality accorded by the loco crews is probably without its equal in the World. If you intend to ride and photograph the locos, make sure you bring plenty of postcards, pictures, cigarettes etc, because they will insist on buying you drinks and lunch. You should be aware that their official pay is of the order of 1000K a month (but everyone has some way of supplementing this) and although they are delighted to see you, it must put a strain on their finances. Fortunately, some of the crews I know well will now let me pay. If you want to get photographs to them, I would recommend you find other visitors who will deliver them personally (I should be happy to help you find someone).

The Nyaungkhashe Branch Index

I believe the following narrative is broadly correct from my researches, but comments and further information would be welcome:

When the Pegu (now Bago) to Martaban (now Mottama) line was built, it followed the present alignment to Abya and then to Nyaungkhashe. Beyond there, it continued, crossing the Sittang (Sittoung) River before rejoining the present alignment just north of Mokpalin station. During World War II the original river bridge was destroyed (by the British to try to thwart the Japanese advance) and it was never rebuilt. Today eight of the original piers remain, it is relatively easy to visit by following the road north from Mokpalin station which ends near a large Pagoda. The walk takes about 20 minutes - I took this way out, having walked down the river bank from Theinzyat which necessitated a paddle and an impromptu ferry and took an hour and a half! After the war, small stations were established on opposite banks (Sittang East and West) where trains terminated and passengers took a boat between them. Around 1962, a new bridge was completed about 3 miles upstream (north) and a new line built, including a station at Theinzyat, and Nyaungkhashe became the terminus of a short branch. I have an interesting photocopy of a 1962 working timetable which shows the new service (handwritten) superimposed on top of the previous arrangements. One feature I would like information on is the apparent railway alignment (several bridge abutments remain) which runs south from the top end of Theinzyat station quite near the river bank. Possibly it was originally used as a long siding from Sittang East to the paper factory by the new bridge, before the new line further inland was built.

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Rob Dickinson

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