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Gokteik Viaduct

Myanmar's highest bridge

We arrived at the train station just before eight to stand in a long line of foreigners buying tickets. If there was one train journey that guidebooks recommended in Myanmar, it was the Gokteik Viaduct over a deep river gorge, the longest railway trestle in the world upon its completion in 1901. At 102 metres high, even today it is the highest bridge in Myanmar. The viaduct stretches 698 metres from end to end. The bridge was built during British occupation by the Pennsylvania Steel Company.

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It took about ten minutes for the line to start moving, but it moved quick enough. We'd debated catching the train from Mandalay, but the price wasn't terribly different and if we caught the train in Pyin Oo Lwin, we departed at a gentler 8:20 am compared to 4:00 am in Mandalay. The train was an hour late anyhow. Once it arrived, something got lost in translation where we were mildly worried that our train was bound for Mandalay and not Hsipaw. But the staff assured us this was going to Hsipaw and that we'd be fine. The couple in front of us asked to switch to the left side, the one recommended by Lonely Planet to get the best views en route to Hsipaw. We asked if we could switch too and they obliged. The downside was a far more worn out seat cushion. The price to pay for photos.

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The train crawled along like a horse carriage in the beginning and gradually worked up more speed. We stopped in small towns where the stations consisted of only a small ticket cabin and locals would hop on and off.

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Eventually, we made it to the Gokteik Viaduct, a gleaming silver bridge across from the plunging gorge and river below. More than a century old, you can only imagine how well maintained the bridge has been, a bit of an eerie thought. The train inched its way down the winding path to the bridge. The long tracks gave us time to take photos of the bridge, peeking out between the trees, and then observe hill as we switched sides about three times. Locals were used to us crazy foreigners jumping around and let us take pictures out their windows too. The final approach had spectacular views of the reddish rocks and viaduct.

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Soon we reached the end of the safe views and headed for the bridge. Luckily, it didn't quite look its hundred plus years old and it had been restored recently enough to inspire confidence. The creaking wasn't as ominous as described since the train had done that the whole time. Below us, the river meandered through forested landscape. Large hills were visible from either side. Out the windows, elbows and hands stuck out attached to smart phones and cameras. An unmarred shot was almost impossible.

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Soon we reached the end of the spectacular gorge and viaduct views. We travelled through a few tunnels. As we neared Hsipaw, more rice terraces dotted the relatively flat landscape.

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We arrived late afternoon. Lily the Home guesthouse was there to pick up its guests so we grabbed a ride to check out their $10 per person rooms with private bathrooms. We pulled up to a hotel-like building and double checked the price. Typically the places we stayed were a little more toward the bottom of the barrel. The room they showed us was nice, clean and had facilities to do laundry, a never ending task for us. Once that was out of the way, we set out to find food since our cinnamon bun and Oreo train lunch hadn't quite filled us up.

At the end of the street, near the river, there was a quaint park. After going inside, we noticed bridges over calm ponds, a children's structure, decaying paddle boats with panda faces. There were plenty of trees for shelter in the area. There were some people but not a whole lot. We left down the main road and saw the digital clock tower.

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We ventured down a street with a few restaurants and settled on Sein restaurant which had a barbeque and cheap enough food. I ordered a skewer of potatoes and one of okra. Ryan had fried rice, a frequent choice of his. The food was tasty and came with teriyaki and spicy sauces. The portions were affordable and a good size. The man working there was friendly and funny too, poking fun at the grumpy tourists walking by without acknowledging his greetings. "Why you come to Myanmar?" He'd jokingly ask. "So angry, why can't they smile?" He was from Southern Myanmar and had just started working at the restaurant a few days earlier.

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Posted by Sarah.M 04:20 Archived in Myanmar Tagged train rice terrace myanmar hsipaw gokteik_viaduct pyinoolwin lily_the_home

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