Steam and Pagodas

Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) 03.12. - 19.12.2007

Thailand and Burma are two of the most beautiful countries in Southeast Asia. Thailand retains several carefully maintained classic woodburning locos, and Myanma Railways run some of the most beautiful locos in the world. A small number of well-kept steam locos from Vulcan Foundry, delivered shortly after World War II dominate the (limited) steam loco scene in Burma, while cute narrow gauge steam locos are available for charter trains in Namtu on the former Burma Mines railway. Burma’s railways, the “Myanma Railway”, use the last Pacifics in the world. However, nobody, even the railway ministry, can guarantee to us that steam will survive until 2008. But serious problems with spare parts of diesel locomotives and two planned heavy overhauls of steam locomotives in 2006 speaks volumes.

Burma isn't a democracy but its government will do all it can to make you feel at home. Of course, they are really only interested in earning your money. The people you'll meet are very friendly and it's all-too-easy to become a lover of Burma. Ancient ruins and pagodas, the traditional way of Asian life, rural villages, the feeling of living several decades in the past and the slow pace of life all create the unique charm of this country.

Despite the standard gauge steam locos (in Burma the metre gauge is 'standard'!) all operating in mainly flat areas, the line to Mottama is lined by big hills. Around Thaton, there are quite a lot of opportunities to get nice pictures of big pagodas, high mountains and a steam train together. Even in the flat areas you'll find plenty of good positions; palm trees, pagodas, villages and bridges can always be found somewhere along the line.

approaching Kali







Departure from Europe or America to Bangkok



Morning arrival in Bangkok and transfer to Tam Krasae, where we’ll take pictures of the afternoon train on the famous trestlework bridges, charter bus to Kanchanaburi (50 km), take part at the River Kwai festival in the evening, hotel in Kanchanaburi



Pictures of the early morning passenger train passing the River Kwai bridge, after breakfast visit to the plinthed locomotives in Kanchanaburi, by charter bus return to Bangkok, afternoon visit to the depots in Thonburi, (Bangkok) hotel in Bangkok



Departure from Europe or America to Bangkok



Morning arrival in Bangkok, afternoon visit to the depot in Thonburi where the steam locomotives for the special train the following day will be prepared, hotel in Bangkok



Every birthday of the King is celebrated by the whole nation who is held in great respect and asteem. Part of the activities is a special train from Hualumpong to Ayutthaya. By charter bus we’ll try to get at least one good picture of the special train. In Ayutthaya we’ll visit some of the most important temples. Early afternoon we return to Bangkok and visit the railway museum in the Chatuchak Park (if closed we’ll head for the technical museum at Ekkamai with one narrow gauge locomotive, a tram and a sectioned steam locomotive. Alternatively you may return to Bangkok by the special train of the King. Hotel in Bangkok.



In the morning flight to Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar, continue by domestic flights W9021/149 to Lashio, departure Yangon 12 hrs, arrival Lashio 15.20 hrs. Hotel in Lashio.



In the morning we’ll take the state railway passenger train to Namyao. Here there is a diesel hauled special train of the Namtu mines railway waiting for our group. We’ll ride on 2-ft gauge track through the jungle towards Namtu. After a visit to the station and the depot in Namtu, we’ll go to the guesthouse of the mine company, for a step back in time to colonial times.



Namtu mines railway: in the morning we’ll start with a charter train and locomotive 42 to the Mill, after we return we’ll take loco no. 13 with a special train to Wallah Gorge, return probably with a loaded ore train. Accommodation in the guesthouse of the mine company.



Namtu mines railway, charter freight train with about three cars to Bawdwin, we’ll start by rail-lorry from Namtu to Wallah Gorge and continue with both steam locomotives, no. 13 and no. 42 to Bawdwin. In the evening charter bus to Kyaukme or Pyin Oo Lwin, hotel there



Morning continue to Mandalay, flight W9 021, departure 14.10 hrs, arrival Yangon 15.10 hrs, charter bus to Bago, evening visit to the Bago steam shed, accommodation in a good hotel in Bago



In the morning we’ll board the passenger train #14 down which is steam-hauled today exclusively for our group (YB or YC 4-6-2). In Yangon we’ll visit the Yangon-Mahlwagon depot, where our loco will be turned on the turntable in front of a big roundhouse. In the evening we’ll take pictures of the steam hauled train no. 13 up from Yangon to Bago. Hotel in Bago.



Today we change the traction for Asia’s most delightful passenger train, train 85 to Mottama is hauled by a YC Pacific or YD Mikado. We follow the train by charter bus. Hotel in Moulmein



Visit to the depot in Mottama, in the afternoon we’ll go to the famous and holy “Golden Rock“ (last four kilometers we need to walk, but the path is well maintained and fascinating). Accommodation is a mountain hotel close to the Golden Rock with a fantastic mountain view.



At sunrise we’ll visit the Golden Rock. Thereafter we’ll return to the state railway. In Zingyaik a stone train will be ready for an afternoon departure. We change the locomotive another time: a YD or YC will haul this train to Thaton. Basic hotel in Thaton.



In the early morning our stone train will continue to Bago. With our charter bus we’ll follow the train for photography. Evening continue to Nyaunglebin and accommodation is a very basic, but clean, guesthouse category: two black holes)



Today we’ll enjoy an ordinary freight train from Pyuntaza to Yangon. Of course, we changed the locomotive again. A YD will bring us in the morning to Bago and in the afternoon from Bago to Yangon. We’ll chase this train by our charter bus and/or travel in the brake van. Hotel in Yangon.



Visit to the workshop Yangon Insein, where steam locomotives get overhauled and many dumped engines survive. In the afternoon we’ll visit the world heritage site, the huge, golden Shwedagon pagoda. Hotel in Yangon



In the morning we’ll make a short sightseeing trip through Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. Afternoon flight to Bangkok, from there international flight home.



Morning arrival in Europe

Line description

Ayutthaya, photo: Hans Hufnagel

C56 15, photo: Hans Hufnagel

The serviceable steam locomotives in Thailand are used exclusively for special events like the King’s birthday train and the River Kwai festival. After several years of negotiations with the authorities we have to admit that it is totally impossible to arrange steam-hauled charter trains. So we’ll take what we can get, therefore we’ll visit Thailand when there are steam locomotives under steam. The King’s birthday train goes over a flat line with only a few reasonable good positions. Both locomotives are coupled tender to tender. Good pictures are possible in the depot, where the steam locos will be prepared for their rare services. The permit for such a depot visit usually arrives just a few days before our group, although we requested such a paper many months in advance, but it will be very worthwhile and interesting.

The railway museum is privately owned and is not open on a regular basis. Even with an official registration it’s possible to meet a closed door. So we have planned an alternative visit to the technical museum at Ekkamai. We will also try to catch some regular service activities on Thai Railways in Bangkok.  They operate an interesting array of diesels, some of them quite elderly.

Bangkok steam shed, photo: Robert D. Turner

The river Kwai festival is well worth a visit, even if the steam loco passes over the bridge only in the darkness. The locomotive is simmering in the station the full day just doing nothing. The history of the River Kwai bridge is well known already, but before the trip it is worth reading again, or watching the movie classic Bridge on the River Kwai. Anyhow, the spectacle in the evening is an impressive show. Certainly we’ll get some nice pictures of the diesel hauled trains on the trestlework bridge.

Our Thailand program offers an inside view of the current opportunities for seeing steam locomotives in service. Unfortunately, currently no more is possible, but the engines are in excellent condition and are very carefully maintained, so seeing them is well worth the effort.

passenger train no. 85

For the rest of the tour we will be in Burma. Bago (the town was previously known as Pegu) has the main shed for steam locomotives. There are two lines served, the first of which heads to Mottama, southeast of Bago. Initially it is flat but not without photographic potential. Beyond the bridge over the Sittaung river  (photography prohibited), hills appear. At Mokpalin, there is a small, barely used shed with a turntable. Locos can take water here and minor repairs are still possible. The entrance to the depot is framed by a nice bridge over the railway. Further down, the railway comes closer and closer to the mountains and between Thaton and Mottama the line becomes quite spectacular. There are no steep gradients, but the scenery is outstanding, especially in the afternoon with the light from the "right" side. Mottama itself has a small loco shed. Beside the regular passenger train, sometimes freight trains run along the line to Yinnein or to one of the other quarries nearby.

We’ve ordered (and paid for) steam to haul tregular passenger train 85 and a stone train. Despite handing the money over, there is no absolute guarantee of steam power for the two days concerned. During the recent tour nearly everything worked as just the way we had requested, although we couldn’t positively guarantee anything beforehand. From the experience of the last trips, the chances of having steam are close to 100 %. The railway was very cooperative.

You might wonder why we’ll spend so much money for an afternoon train for just the section from Zingyaik to Thaton. The reason is because the passenger train which should pass this section of the line in the best afternoon light, is usually late and normally doesn’t reach Yinnyein before sunset. Around Yinnyein are some of the best positions of the whole line, so this way, we’ll make sure not to miss these positions in the best light and have chartered an afternoon stone train. The extra money will be a worthwhile investment.

stone train beyond Kyaikhto

The line from Bago to Yangon (Rangoon) passes through flat countryside with several positions where small rivers, villages and bamboo huts are part of the scene. This main line is double tracked. There is only one short passenger train which a YB Pacific is able to haul. Of course you can charter a train, but an empty charter passenger train won’t offer the same flair or authenticity compared to a regular train. The station in Yangon is a beautiful old building. Here we’ll shoot the departure of the afternoon train to Bago. In the morning we’ll travel aboard the train from Bago to Yangon while in the afternoon we’ll follow the train by bus. Beside the departure in Yangon we’ll probably be able to make a another line shot. The road is not parallel to the line.

In the depot of Yangon-Mahlwagon we’ll visit the plinthed locomotive of the former Burma mines railway. On the photogenic turntable we’ll watch the turning of our passenger train locomotive. The background will be the impressive roundhouse.

spiral near Wallah Gorge

Namtu is the head quarters of the Burma Mines Railways. The Namtu area is restricted owing to fighting between government troops and local tribes. Fortunately, for the last few years it has been possible to get a permit to visit Namtu while travelling in government-organized groups. The 610 mm gauge railway runs from Bawdin via Namtu to Namyao on the Mandalay - Lashio branch of Myanmar Railways. Silver and lead ore are carried to the smelter at Namtu. Steam was largely replaced in the 1970s and today only two steam locos remain in working order. One is Bagnall 2-6-2 no. 42, built in 1928 and the other is Kerr Stuart 0-4-2T no. 13, built in 1914. Both are available to haul special trains along this exciting mountain railway. Beside these two serviceable steam locos, there is a recently opened small museum in Namtu with four further preserved locomotives. The railway also has some very interesting rolling stock and the shed is very picturesque. The rail-trucks or rail-lorries are delightful “critters” in themselves and are a unique feature of the railway. The line is spectacular with hairpin bends, a spiral with a 540-degree curve, some reversals, rural villages, pagodas and steep mountains. The photographic potential is exceptional, so be prepared and bring plenty of film or extra memory cards! In the morning usually one can experience some steam exhaust.

We’ll take the morning train of the state railway to get to the interchange station of the narrow gauge line in Namyao. Here we’ll board a train of the Namtu mines railway. With this train we’ll travel to Namtu. Most of the line winds through lush jungle. There are only a few opportunities for good pictures along this part of the line. From the Mill to Namtu there are some open positions. Because there is no water supply we’ll use a diesel hauled train on the first day. 

Namtu, no. 42

The second day we’ll start with a steam charter freight from Namtu to Mill. After we return to Namtu we’ll go in the other direction towards Bawdwin. On the section from Namtu to Wallah Gorge we’ll enjoy a steam hauled charter freight train. The spectacular 540 degrees curve is just before Wallah Gorge. From there we’ll continue by a lorry railcar to Bawdwin. The line is exciting with reversals, hairpin bends and mountain views. On the third day we’ll go by steam from Wallah Gorge to Bawdwin, This hasn’t happen for more than two decades! This part is almost exclusively served by lorry railcars and only a very few trains will go as far as Bawdwin. On this breathtaking part of the Namtu Mines Railway, which doesn’t need to take second place behind the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, we’ll make many runpasts and photo stops. For our train we’ll use both serviceable steam locomotives. Due to the gradient, a single locomotive would hardly make it with two wagons. With both we may manage three wagons, more is not possible because of the shortness of the reversals.

If you want to come with the group to Namtu, then we will need your personal and passport details three months in advance, to secure the permit.

Small Print

Some difficulties have to be mentioned. Timekeeping is not as important as in Europe or North America. Given this, the scheduled times are a declaration of intent by Myanma Railways and delays of several hours are not unusual.

Steam locos of Myanmar Railways are oil fired and fuel supplies are variable. You should be warned that sometimes steam locos can be replaced by a diesel. We will try to ensure that no fuel shortage will affect our tour but we can't guarantee it. Myanmar Railways bought some Indian diesel locomotives in 2000, so there is no longer a lack of diesel power and Myanma Railways can now survive without their steamers. It's only a question of time before the black beauties are retired. In the not too distant future, it will be impossible to experience real steam trains any more and only charter trains will remain. Although the railways agreed to serve our requests it may be necessary to change the itinerary without notice to co-ordinate our tour with the available steam trains.

departure Thaton (85)

In February 2007 Myanma Railways stated reported eight YD (2-8-2), three YC (4-6-2) and two YB (4-6-2) as serviceable. We suspect that because of the state of the second YB it would probably need a serious repair before we could use it. Although we can’t guarantee a certain class of locomotive, you can be sure we’ll do our best to have all operable classes represented if at all possible.

Charter buses and trains represent the standard of our host countries, which may seriously deviate form European expectations. While we will try to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require a bit of an extra effort. The itinerary is designed especially for photographers and video filmmakers. To make the most out of it we may change our route or hotels/guesthouses without any notice in advance. We’ll be in close contact with the Bago train control to get information about scheduled steam trains.

The standard of the hotels in smaller places is far below a Polish youth hostel. Please be prepared. To give the room type of small guesthouses a rating, we extended the category-system of how to rate hotel’s service and comfort to the bottom end. The guesthouse in Nyaunglebin is rated with two black holes. It could be rated one black hole according to the tiny rooms and beds, all clean and tidy, but the facilities are of doubtful quality.

The accommodation in Namtu is another matter. We’ll sleep in the nice, old wooden guesthouse of the mine administration. While rooms are large and nice, the facilities seem to be as old as the railway. Toilets have a water flash, but the installation seems to be from imperial days. Anyhow, the people are very gracious and welcoming and give you the best service they possibly can. It is a unique experience to get up in the morning by the voices of tropical birds, seeing fog around the hills below our guesthouse, and hearing the first whistle sound from one of our steam locomotives from down the valley. All who have stayed in the Namtu guesthouse enjoyed it immensely and lack of comfort was never an issue.

After you have seen and felt the quality of the roads you’ll understand why we don’t go long distances just to get to a better hotel.

The Golden Rock

Please note that morning trains have a higher priority than a breakfast in the hotel. So breakfast will be served as a packed box if necessary. Lunch and dinner are planned according to the situation of steam trains timetable. If necessary we’ll buy some papayas, bananas and oranges instead of risking missing some good pictures by 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.

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Burma fall short of EU and North American safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. For instance, if you can’t walk on dark streets in the night please take a strong torch with you. FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

We recommend that you take some US dollars with you. Airport taxes and visa fees are payable in US Dollars. To change some money at the airport for souvenirs or beverages, other currencies like British Pounds are ok as well. With about $200 US you should easily be able to cover all expenses.

departure Bago

Charging rechargeable batteries in the hotels is not a problem. Sometimes there a power outage, and the hotel’s generator set is not able to deliver the same voltage as the country’s network. Therefore recharging batteries can take a longer time than usual. However, no one missed a picture on the recent trips because by a battery problem.

Registration period ends September 2nd, 2007.

Bookings after this date will be accepted, of course, but it might be impossible to organise a permit for Namtu and/or a reasonable priced flight.

Despite some difficulties we might face you’ll be positively surprised by this lovely country, and its friendly and welcoming people. 


Steam and Pagodas: 12 to 18 participants £2.280
03.12. - 19.12.2007 Single room supplement £195
Thailand pre-program from 7 participants £85
02.12. - 04.12.2007 Single room supplement £40

Minimum Number of Participants: 8
Maximum Number of Participants: 18 (Namtu), 24 (meter gauge)

The price includes:

Not included are:

Prices are based on special booking classes for the airline. Your early booking is hence appreciated.

level crossing from below


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