The Myanmar train from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin is the most famous train journey in Myanmar, and I totally get why. Besides being very slow, the views along the journey are more than worth the price or the time. I wouldn’t mind spending more time admiring those landscapes, honestly.
The train departs at 9.30 am from Hsipaw, but it only showed up at 10 am. Bear in mind that the train started its journey in Lashio, so not being in time is perfectly normal. At the hostel, they told me to go there to buy the ticket 1 hour before and that’s what I did. The train is supposed to reach Pyin Oo Lwin by 4 pm and it actually didn’t arrive that much later. For this train ride, you can’t buy the train ticket the previous day.
I walked to the train station with a girl from Israel and when we got there, there were 4 more people before us, I mean foreigners. It doesn’t make a difference for you to go one hour earlier as the ticket seller only started to issue tickets after 9 am. Don’t expect him to be fast, he doesn’t have any computer and needs to check a massive book for an available seat. You need to show him your passport. A screenshot on my phone worked just fine. The price of the upper-class train ticket from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin was 2750 kyats.
The ticket seller is very smiley and sold us the last 2 tickets on the right side of the train, the side with the best view of the Gokteik viaduct that is the highlight of this train ride. We asked specifically if he stills has seats on the right side available, but the right side seats are just for 1 person. If you don’t get a seat on the right side don’t worry that much, you are still able to see the Gokteik viaduct, and switching to the right side of the train to watch the bridge is not a problem.
The seats in upper-class are pretty comfortable and large enough to put yourself in the best position. Doing such a long train ride in ordinary class doesn’t sound so good, besides those being the most fun rides: the ones with locals. Just do it in upper-class and save a shorter train ride for ordinary class.
The scenery is really beautiful and the train passes through so many different types of landscapes. I’m glad it is slow so I can enjoy the view fully. Plus I love the wind on my face, but be careful. In Myanmar the train lines don’t seem to have much maintenance so the probability of having a tree branch or any other unpleasant thing hitting your face is very big. You can totally enjoy the view with your head in. You also don’t need to worry about food. There are plenty of train sellers hopping on and off the train during the journey so you can buy food and drinks from them. They are very friendly!
When the train is reaching the bridge, the cameras from the foreigners are ready outside the window. That is actually pretty annoying because if I want a picture I will have someone else’s camera in my shot. The train stops for a bit before crossing the bridge, so you know that the euphoric moment of this trip is about to happen. The train crosses the bridge very slowly, but it could actually be slower as I wouldn’t mind enjoying that view for longer. In front you see the masterpiece: Gokteik Viaduct, one of the longest bridges of its kind, and the surroundings are limestone cliffs that stand beautifully behind us revealing some orange tones characteristic from the stone, that give even more charm to the landscape. The viaduct is super tall and amazing to watch, so crossing it felt too fast. But even after crossing the bridge, you will have several other moments where you can see it wonderfully placed in a beautiful setting. It’s amazing to imagine how did that bridge ended up there bearing in mind that it was built so many years ago.
The rest of the journey until Pyin Oo Lwin is also very scenic. I would say that 90% of the journey offers enjoyable landscapes. I was planning to stay in Pyin Oo Lwin for at least a night, but the city doesn’t have much to do and the following day is the date when I should pick up my Chinese Visa.
This way, after leaving the train, I hop with 4 German guys into a Myanmar bus (the open truck) and for 2000 kyats we head to Mandalay in a very uncomfortable ride. The bus takes approximately 2h to get to Mandalay and it departs the train station when the bus driver decides it has enough people. Fortunately for us, it didn’t take longer than 10 minutes.
The journey is made with many Burmese people that hop on and off as the bus helper screams “Mandalay”.
People were looking at us intrigued by the fact that foreigners are there, so it is fun to see their faces. We could see the sunset during the ride and we could also eat a lot of dust. Mandalay is still very dusty and my curly hair gets untouchable every day so much is the dirt on it. Going to Mandalay by Myanmar bus ended up being a great decision because the train takes much longer, and being on the train at night is not so much fun cause you can’t see what is outside.
Besides being the most famous train journey in Myanmar, I actually think I preferred my very first train ride- from Inle Lake to Thazi– that was slower than this one, but more authentic, I would say. Anyway, I would do both of them again without thinking twice. They are so scenic and pleasant. Please don’t leave Myanmar without being on a train. You won’t regret it. And, of course, just like other train rides in Myanmar, this one also feels like a roller coaster as the train swings and bounces all over. Super fun!
Here is the video of this Myanmar train ride: