Foreign visitors are just starting to discover Myanmar as the country slowly liberalises to allow international travellers more freedom to travel around the country independently. Myanmar’s road network has suffered years of under investment and there is a poor network of regional airports. One thing though that Myanmar’s Government has invested in is its railway network which is one of the largest in South East Asia. Myanmar’s railway network, although very slow with trains averaging less than 40 kilometres per hour on most routes, is extremely comprehensive linking major cities in the centre of Myanmar with remote areas high in the hills. Myanmar has over 5,400 km of track connecting to more than 850 stations making train travel the best way to get around Myanmar.
Train travel is very much an important part of every day life for people in Myanmar and a great way for foreign visitors to experience the Burmese way of life. Myanmar’s trains services are basic, and intended to be affordable to a developing nation and a population in large part dependent on agriculture. Myanmar does, however, operate a small number of better quality carriages with air-conditioned carriages and sleeper berths allowing the small number of foreign tourists who come to Myanmar something approximating to the type of good quality train experience that they might enjoy on better quality trains in India, Thailand and Vietnam. Travel by train in Myanmar will take you to most of the places top tourist attractions in the country often as quickly as travel by tour bus and at a fraction of the cost of taking an organised tour. At the moment the foreign visitors who are adventurous enough to travel independently by train in Myanmar have the opportunity to do without seeing thousands of other tourists doing the same thing.
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Popular Destinations in Myanmar
There are lot of great places to visit by train, here are the three most popular destinations on Myanmar’s railway network:
- Bagan: The ancient city of Bagan is Myanmar’s most popular tourist attraction in the same way that Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most visited destination. By train Bagan is 7 hours from Mandalay and 17 to 18 hours from Yangon. The ancient city of Bagan dates back to the 9th Century and covers an area of approximately 400 square kilometres. The Archaeological Zone is estimated to contain over 2,200 stupa, pagodas and temples.
- Inle Lake: Inle lake is a massive inland lake covering around 116 km located in the Shan Hills at an altitude of 880 metres above sea level. This is a shallow body of water with a depth averaging between only 2.1 and 3.7 metres and supporting a diverse and unique range of fish and insects. From November through to January each year the lake attracts tens of thousands of migratory birds. Travel from Yangon to the nearby trains station of Shwe Nyaung takes around 30 hours and the journey itself passes through some incredible scenery as the train slowly makes its way through the mountains to Inle Lake.
- Pyin Oo Lwin: The former British colonial hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin is a relatively short train journey of 4 hours from Mandalay. if you only intend to make a single train journey in Myanmar then this is the one to take. Pyin Oo Lwin is a pretty little town with some great colonial are architecture, however, the big attraction for train fans is the part of the journey where the train cross the 689 metre long Goteik Viaduct bridge, which is 100 metres above ground level at its highest point. The Goteik Viaduct bridge is probably the most photographed part of Myanmar’s railway network.