Nearly 700 metres long and connecting two hills in the heartland of Shan State, Myanmar, you’ll find the jaw dropping Gokteik Viaduct. One of Myanmar’s most stunning man made structures was built over 100 years ago by the British, and still stands strong today.
What is it?
In short, it’s a railway bridge that hovers around 100m above ground level, and as already mentioned is 700m long. It was built to connect the towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio together, but nowadays is more usually used to travel to Hsipaw.
Remarkably when it was first built, in 1900, it was the largest railway bridge in the world and was considered a masterpiece at the time. Quite impressive no?
Why Does it Matter?
OK so that’s the main details out the way, but why should you care and is it worth visiting during your Myanmar trip?
Simply put, absolutely! The Gokteik Viaduct is located halfway between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw and features on the 6-hour train ride between these two towns. The train ride is the perfect way to sit back and enjoy some of Myanmar’s beautiful countryside, with a nice breeze blowing over you from the open windows.
The trains are quite old, and the train tracks are in need of a few repairs so the ride is quite bumpy, but for us, this adds to the entire experience. At each stop, vendors will come on board selling snacks ranging from quail eggs to bananas and much more, while local commuters fall asleep on the benches, or get involved in heated debates.
Instead of driving between these two towns, we’d highly recommend you getting on the train, if not for the Gokteik Viaduct all by itself.
After a couple of hours of travel you’ll finally reach the Gokteik Viaduct. The train slows down to a walking speed as it crosses the bridge, which while being a marvel during it’s hay day, is quite the antique these days, and needs to be taken carefully.
Crossing the bridge is a real thrill and the views are breath taking. As the train slows further to avoid any rocking motion, it's possible to take some remarkable photos of the landscape, the bridge and the train all in one.
In all the crossing takes around 25 minutes, so while we wouldn’t recommend holding your breath, there is plenty of time to soak in this remarkable sight.
The train departs from Pyin Oo Lwin at around 7:30 in the morning, but it’s important to get to the station slightly earlier in order to buy your ticket. We’d recommend buying an Upper Class ticket for around $2. Whether you sit on the right or left hand side of the train doesn’t really matter in our eyes, both sides have brilliant views.
The train ride takes around 6-7 hours in total, and arrives into Hsipaw in the mid afternoon. A book and some good company is definitely recommended, although we’ve found that the ride feels much shorter then it actually is.
Once you reach Hsipaw, if you’ve booked your hotel already then a representative should be waiting for you at the station. If not, then it’s very easy to walk around the town to find a hotel, or even talk with one of the hotel representatives to see if they have any space at the station.
All in all, one of the highlights of Myanmar.