Steam Steam to the Mon State / New Gems

Metre Gauge Steam in Burma/Myanmar 6.10. - 17.11.2021

The end of the main line as a photogenic gem with semaphores, gantries and half-timbered signal boxes is NOT the end of the exciting opportunities available on Burmese tracks! It is true that Myanmar Railways, started re-construction work on the main line in December 2018 and introduced a new timetable in October 2019, which, for the first time, included some line closures. So the photogenic branch line from Nyaunglebin to Madauk is history and the last train that ran on this line was a FarRail Tours steam charter train. The semaphores at Bago and Pyuntaza may be no more, but there ARE still photographic jewels on the network of the state railway, and we will visit some of them on our trip.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

The new discovery of the year 2019 is the town of Letpadan. It is located on the oldest main line of the Burmese railway system from Yangon to Pyay and from Letpadan a line branches off to the formerly important ferry jetty of Tharrawaw, which has several very photogenic bridges en-route. In addition, we will drive far to the south, to Thanbyuzayat, where the death railway to Bangkok started, and on even further south.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Both lines mentioned above have never seen a steam charter train before, so we are entering an exciting new era. Of course FarRail, will, once again, have to invest in infrastructure facilities. In Letpadan they last turned a locomotive at the beginning of the 1990s, when steam locomotives were still seen here, so much must be done. But Letpadan is colonial railway infrastructure at its very best and is therefore right at the top of the agenda for our next visit. Wagons are not a problem following the major refurbishment program we initiated, so we will experience authentic looking trains against an historic backdrop on incredibly photogenic lines most of which haven’t seen steam for decades.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

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Itinerary

Date

Itinerary

06.11.

Individual flight to Yangon

07.11.

Arrival in Yangon by 14.40 hrs (Bangkok Airways PG 707) and bus transfer to a hotel in Letpadan

08.11.

Early morning transfer to the railway station where our charter train with a sleeper coach is waiting. The road conditions are so bad that we can only reach Tharrawaw by train. Here our steam train with a 4-6-2- Pacific class YC is waiting for us and will depart immediately after the scheduled train at sunrise. Stopping for some very photogenic bridges we’ll return to Letpadan. In Letpadan we’ll do shots with the semaphores, the signal boxes and the turntable. Hotel in Letpadan

09.11.

In the morning we’ll photograph our steam train in and around the fantastic station of Letpadan. Semaphores galore and a quite incredible signal box – simply not to be missed! In the afternoon we’ll head south for Yangon. At Taik Kyi we’ll leave our train and continue by charter bus to our hotel in Bago.

10.11.

With a typical stone train, hauled by a 2-8-2 Mikado we’ll go from Bago to Mokpalin, hotel near Kyaikhto

11.11

By charter bus we’ll go to Kyaikkathr, were our train is waiting for us. From here we’ll continue with our stone train to Thaton, the former capital of the Thaton Kingdom and later of the Mon state. Hotel in Thaton

12.11

From Thaton we’ll go with our stone train to Mottama. We try to see the whole line in daylight, hence we need to start at sunrise, again. In the evening our group continues by charter bus to our hotel in Moulmine.

13.11.

In the early morning we’ll continue with a different charter train with a different locomotive. Our mixed train will bring us to the terminus of the former Death Railway in Thanbyuzayat. Here we’ll visit the small museum for the Death Railway which also contains a Japanese 2-6-0, Burmese number C.0522. In the afternoon we’ll continue further south to Karoppi. In the sea salt extraction fields we’ll photograph the sunset. Afterwards our charter bus will bring us back to our hotel in Moulmine.

14.11.

In the early morning we’ll continue with our freight train from Mottama to Thaton. A picture with the sunrise is planned around Thaephygone. The afternoon is planned for the magic pagoda shot in Yinnyein. Hotel in Thaton

15.11.

With our stone train we’ll go from Theinzeik to Mokpalin. It’s likely that we’ll run into the night. After sunset we’ll continue by charter bus to our hotel in Bago.

16.11.

In the late morning we’ll go by charter bus to the airport in Yangon. You can book return flights from 14.00 hrs onwards. If you booked a later departure you could take part in our visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a World Heritage Site.

17.11.

Arrival at home.

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Dampfcharterzüge in Birma/Myanmar

Moon Festival in Taunggyi, Inle Lake and Bagan

Date

Itinerary

16.11.

In the late morning we drive to the airport in Yangon. Afternoon flight from Yangon to Heho. Charter bus to Taunggyi, where we will stay overnight.

17.11.

Taunggyi is the capital of the Shan State with over 260.000 inhabitants of different ethnic groups, spectacularly situated on a rocky plateau. We will visit various sights, including St. Joseph's Cathedral. From the western mountain range you have a fantastic view of the city and the mountainous landscape. In the evening we will attend the (full) moon festival. Hotel in Taunggyi

18.11.

In the morning we continue to Lake Inle, where we will visit the famous floating gardens, villages on stilts, traditional craftsmen such as silversmiths and a lotus silk spinning and weaving mill. Hotel in Nyaung Shwe or, for 80/120 Euro additional costs (double per person/single room), directly on the lake. The hotel on the lake is an experience, but the boats will be rattling past the hotel from around 5am, so earplugs available in the room are there for a reason.

19.11.

Early in the morning we go out on the Inle Lake to watch the sunrise from the water. We have also chartered two fishermen in traditional clothing who will show us their traditional fishing and unique rowing methods on the lake. Afterwards we continue to Heho airport. In the afternoon flight Heho - Nyaung U. We will continue by chartered bus to Bagan where we will stay overnight.

20.11.

From sunrise to sunset we will experience the incredible splendour of centuries-old pagodas and temples in the pagoda field of Bagan and visit the most impressive of them. In the evening you can admire the spectacle of the sunset between hundreds of pagodas. Hotel in Bagan

21.11.

In the early morning those who wish to can observe the whole splendour of Bagan from the basket of a balloon. At sunrise you can fly almost silently over hundreds of pagodas and temples and enjoy a bird's eye view of the largest pagoda and temple field in the world (additional costs approx. 360 US dollars). In the afternoon we drive to the airport and fly back to Yangon. Hotel in Yangon

22.11.

Morning visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda World Heritage Site with its unique spiritual flair. At 98 metres it is not the highest stupa in Myanmar, but the most important in the country. Afterwards we drive to Yangon airport. Return flight home

23.11.

Arrival in Europe, Australia or America

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Dampfcharterzüge in Birma/Myanmar

Line description

Bago (the town was previously known as Pegu) was one of the last steam sheds of Burma. They served two lines, the first of which headed to Mottama, southeast of Bago. Initially it is flat but not without photographic potential. Beyond the mighty bridge over the Sittaung River (photography prohibited for many years but now possible), hills appear. At Mokpalin, there is a small, barely used shed with a turntable, made serviceable again for our group. Locos can take water and can be serviced here. Further on, the railway comes closer and closer to the mountains and between Thaton and Mottama the line becomes very scenic. There are no steep gradients, but the scenery is outstanding, especially in the afternoon with the light from the "right" side. Mottama itself used to have a small loco shed. After the opening of the bridge to Moulmine this shed was almost shut down but still hosts a crane and an armoured railcar. For us they’ve rebuilt the long out of use triangle from scratch to enable us to turn our locomotive there.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Further south to Karoppi we will find large salt lakes for extracting sea salt. This area is a perfect playground for shots with the sunset and in the last light as we expect several of the extraction fields to be filled with water.

The Tharrawaw – Letpadan line runs through the former Irrawaddy riverbed, Burma's largest river. The country is flat, but numerous former tributaries had to be crossed by means of very photogenic filigree, bridges. Letpadan station is the “jewel in the crown” of this trip. Signal boxes decades old complete with rodding probably over 100 years of age. A dense array of semaphores at the northern end of the station, a pagoda and a mosque right at the southern exit and the usual hustle and bustle around the station are the backdrop for some incredible photographic opportunities. Here, we can easily spend a whole day without running out of potential. We have brought the turntable and the access track back to life after almost three decades out of use.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Some of these rarely used locomotives have reduced boiler pressure and so can’t handle the same weight as in regular service days and we must be a little concerned about their staying power. Crews are not so skilled anymore and the overhauls were all done within a tight budget. But they are ready for light passenger trains with around three to a maximum of five coaches and/or a sensibly authentic freight consist. So please expect the possibility of delays not only from the operational perspective (they are very common in Burma), but also from a reliability point of view. It can’t be guaranteed that anything will work exactly as planned but to reduce the risk we’ve ordered two different locomotives at Bago. The second loco can help out if the first fails. Just remember that we’re there more than a decade after the last fire was dropped on regular steam. However, on ALL of our tours since January 2017 everything worked out fine and the three locos performed almost perfectly.

We have three serviceable locomotives. There are two 2-8-2 Mikados of class YD and one 4-6-2 Pacific of class YC.

We have requested and paid for the Myanmar Railways to overhaul a number of wagons and re-paint the passenger coaches we want to use, so our trains should look absolutely authentic!

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Small Print

A chartered tour bus will follow the steam trains. Occasionally we’ll travel by bus and follow our train, but usually we’ll board the train to get to most photo spots. Getting aboard the freight wagons is, sometimes, a bit demanding, but we’ll have ladders available for the non-athletes!

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

We all must accept the possibility of delays and patience and flexibility are essentials for all of us. FarRail has had to accept a contract with these provisos - so must you.

However, we don’t expect serious difficulties. On all of the recent tours everyone in Burma tried very hard to fulfil our wishes. AND on all of the recent tours the photographs were amazing.

Time keeping in Myanmar is “flexible” and there might be delays. However, our charter trains have departed pretty well on time. Charter buses (mostly with air conditioning), local aircraft, trains and accommodation are to the standard of our host country, are somewhat short of European, Australian or North American expectations. While we will try to avoid long walks but some photo positions may require a bit of extra effort. The itinerary is designed especially for both, still photographers and video film makers. To make the most out of the opportunities, we may change our route or hotels/guest houses if necessary.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Usually our hotels are okay, but occasionally the standard of hotels in smaller places may be variable. Please be flexible and tolerant, but after you have seen and felt the quality of the roads, you’ll understand why we don’t drive enormous distances just to get to a better hotel.

Please note that morning trains have a higher priority than breakfast in the hotel, so breakfast may be served as a packed box if necessary. Lunch and dinner are planned according to the needs of the timetable. If necessary, we’ll buy papayas, bananas and oranges instead of risking missing some good pictures because of a time-consuming restaurant stop. Excellent lunches, with local fruit and rice and curries are usually available in the small stations along the railway too. Beverages are not included in the tour price.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. For instance, if you walk on dark streets during the night please take a good torch with you. Neither the local tour operator, Myanmar Railways, nor FarRail Tours can be held responsible, and will not accept any liability whatsoever, in the case of any accident or illness, damage or delay etc. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

We recommend that you take some US dollars with you, and change money at the airport for souvenirs or beverages etc. Most major currencies, such as Euros or British Pounds, are ok as well. With about $120 US you should easily be able to cover all out of pocket expenses.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

Charging rechargeable batteries in the hotels is usually not a problem. Sometimes there’s a power cut, and the hotel’s generator set is not able to deliver the same voltage as the national network. Therefore, recharging batteries can take a little longer than usual but no one has ever missed a picture on our recent trips because of battery problems.

Despite any difficulties we might face, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by this lovely country, it’s friendly and welcoming people and above all an amazing railway infrastructure, preserved for the moment as it was, simply amazing photographic backdrops and with a program of steam activity quite remarkable for 2020.

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

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Price

Burma (Myanmar)
Steam to the Mon State / New Gems 31 to 45 participants £3,170
28.10.2020 – 08.11.2020 20 to 30 participants £3,440
  Single room surcharge £390
Registration Deadline: 20.07.2020
... due to Covid-19

Bookings after the registration period expires are possible at a premium of £80.

As the state railway will recalculate their prices at the end of 2020, the price shown is so far only an indicative price. The price of the cultural part of the journey has not yet been fixed.

The price includes:

Not included are:

Steam charter trains for railway photographers in Burma/Myanmar

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