The Goteik Viaduct is a highest railway bridge in Myanmar and you can take a heart-racing ride across it as part of the three-hour train journey from the trekking haven of Hsipaw to the former colonial summer hideaway of Pyin Oo Lwin.
Rather than getting another long and tiring overnight bus in Myanmar, and after thoroughly enjoying the commuter train in Yangon, I decided that another local train ride would be a great adventure. As well as being able to observe local life, I would get to hang out the window and revel in the adrenalin of crossing an enormous bridge that, when build, stood as the highest in the world.
The train ticket cost all of $3, for a seat in the second-class carriage. We were told that the seats would be harder and the windows more narrow than those in the $5 first-class carriage, when in fact there was hardly any difference at all.
Hsipaw is a beautiful area for trekking so the train ride out of there into the surrounding plains is just as scenic. However, much of the train ride, while staring eagerly out of the window at the beautiful, untouched country (bar the odd slash and burn episode in the fields) is spent wondering, “When will be cross the bridge?”
You are not told or given any indication of timings as to when your near-death experience will come. The locals don’t batter an eye-lid at the thought, but will let you know if you ask. But that’s all part of the fun, because after a while the green scenery gets a bit repetitive and the shards of shrubbery brutally chopped by the metal frame of your open window begin to hurt a little when they spray on you. Adventure is not always pain free.
After an hour or so, every twist and turn you make and every corner you round, where a large cliff faces conceals your view, will result in you hanging out of the window, camera in hand, ready to embrace the one thing you have waited ages to see. You linger for seconds as the train arrives back out into the vast open space, just as it is about to cross…and…nothing. And so you sit back and wait again, like a giddy child waiting for Santa.
When that railway bridge does come it first pokes through the trees, igniting a nervous fear inside you at the same time as ushering enough excited ohhs and ahhs to expose every tourist lurking in the train carriage. It’s as if you’ve never travelled over a bridge before.
Except you probably haven’t been on one THIS big.
The drop is so huge, and the bridge so immense, that the train slows right down in order to cross safely to the town of Lashio on the other side. For a few minutes your life flashes before your eyes, but you don’t care because you are leaning out of the window to take in the view with complete awe, reaching out as far as possible to snap the sheer drop and enormity of this architectural feat.
The bridge was constructed in 1899 and was so technical it was revered highly by world standards. 689 metres in length from one end to the other, it’s certainly not for those who are faint-hearted – the drop is said to be 102 metres (335 ft) from the track to the ground. Will you dare to look down?
When it’s all over, you are not too far from the end of your journey – maybe half an hour – much of which is spent still talking about the bridge with your fellow travellers and checking that you got a decent photo. Soon enough, a whole new adventure awaits you in Pyin Oo Lwin as you alight from the carriage covered in foliage shards, with a belly full of beer and local food snacks and…a new appreciation for your life and the wonders of Myanmar.