Myanmar has a large functional railway network, about a third of which was constructed during the time when Myanmar was a British colony. As Myanmar opens up to tourism interest from foreign visitors in the railway is increasing. The railway network is an exciting, if slow, way to tour the country.
Train Services in Myanmar
Myanmar has one of the largest railway networks in South East Asia with over 10,000 km of track, over 900 active stations across 12 railway lines. The coverage of the country is extensive and, with the exception of some of the coastal regions in the west of the country and the mountainous areas in the north of the country, most of Myanmar’s major tourist attractions are accessible by train. The financial and environmental cost of train travel in Myanmar is far less than using domestic flights to travel around and, as a cultural experience, travel by train in Myanmar is far more rewarding then travelling by air or by point to point luxury tour bus service.
The downsides of using trains in Myanmar are that they slow and for the greater part the facilities on board are basic. The average speed at which trains travel in Myanmar is at best 40 kph, and even slower on some routes. You need plenty of time if you plan to use the railway network in Myanmar. You also need some tolerance for discomfort.
Some of the trains have Upper Class seats and Upper Class Sleepers. They are the only seat types which come close to providing the same level of comfort as on an European train or even one of the intercity train services in Thailand. The next level down in seat type, First Class, features wooden benches with thin plastic covered padding on the bottom of the seat. Nonetheless, for the slowness of travel and the lack of amenities, travel by train in Myanmar is well worth considering if for no other reasons than allowing visitors to pass scenery that you wouldn’t see from the road or indeed at 30,000 feet above sea level on a domestic flight.
Popular Train Journeys in Myanmar
There are lots and lots of different train journeys you can take in Myanmar. The network has been expanded a number of times since the 1960s to provide the people of Myanmar a way to travel cheaply in regions with a poorly developed road network. Foreign visitors tend to only use a small part of the network to travel to the better known part of Myanmar with popular attractions.
The three most popular train routes for foreign visitors to Myanmar are:
- Yangon to Mandalay: A 14 to 15 hours journey with the best quality train services operating in Myanmar. Upper Class sleeper berths are available on this route.
- Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin: A 4 hours journey that passes over the famous and spectacular Goteik Viaduct bridge. Pyin Oo Lwin was a hill station used the British colonial government in the summer and it retains a special atmosphere that makes it a popular destination for Burmese holiday makers and newly weds.
- Yangon to Inle Lake: A gruelling 30 hour journey with a over night stop in a small town on route called Thazi. This is one of South East Asia’s classic train journeys and a must do on the travel itinery of more adventurous visitors to Myanmar.