RANGOON — State-owned Myanma Railways is opening up a new way for sightseers to take in one of Burma’s lesser-known treasures, offering the opportunity to charter a rail gang car (RGC) across the Goteik Viaduct, a towering bridge that spans more than 2,200 feet of a canyon in western Shan State.
The RGC, which is normally used for railroad track repairs, has been modified to allow tourists to better experience the journey across the viaduct and the picturesque panorama of the surrounding Shan hills.
Myanma Railways is charging 100,000 kyats (US$100) for a one-way trip in the 20-seat RGC, according to reports in state-run dailies last week. Sightseers are transported more than 2,200 feet between the stations of Naung Cho to Naung Pain, located at the two ends of the viaduct.
“Foreigners are already visiting the Goteik Viaduct by ordinary train, but they are not very satisfied,” said Htein Win, manager of Myanma Railways No. 3 Division (Transport). “It is also dangerous for them to take pictures out of the windows. That’s why we have arranged a special vehicle to attract them.”
Guardrails have been fixed to the RGC to ensure the safety of tourists, he said.
The bridge is located in Nawnghkio Township, part of a set of railway tracks linking the towns of Pyin Oo Lwin, the summer capital of the former British colonial administrators of Burma, and Lashio, the principal town of northern Shan State. It is the tallest bridge in Burma and, at the time of its completion, was the largest railway trestle in the world.
Construction of the bridge was overseen by Sir Arthur Rendel, an engineer for the Burma Railroad Company. Work on the bridge began in 1899 and was completed in 1900, consisting of 16 steel towers and 2,260 feet in track length. Its tallest tower is more than 800 feet high.
In line with an overall increase in the number of tourist arrivals to Burma over the past three years, more foreign visitors are visiting the viaduct, said Htein Win. On average, there are 50 foreigners visiting the viaduct by train monthly. Some travelers take the train from Pyin Oo Lwin, while others begin at Lashio, he said.
“I welcome the move targeting foreign travelers. It is good for foreigners who come in groups,” said Tin Tun Aung, chairman of the Myanmar Travel Association.
“However,” he said, “they should get a level of service equal to the amount they pay; otherwise, they will choose something else.”
The Asean Tourism Forum was held on Jan. 25 in Naypyidaw and was attended by President Thein Sein, tourism ministers from Asean countries, senior figures from the World Tourism Federation and Word Tourism Council, and tour operators from the Asia-Pacific region.
Thein Sein in his speech stressed the important role of the tourism industry in job creation, income generation and economic development, calling for “responsible tourism” to ensure environmental and cultural conservation.
The number of foreign tourists to Burma has risen steadily over the last three years, with over 1 million arrivals in 2012, about 2.14 million in 2013 and more than 3 million in 2014. Burma’s government is targeting more than 5 million foreign tourists in 2015.