Steam Train Service to Target Bagan’s Upmarket Tourists

By Nobel Zaw 27 November 2014

RANGOON — A vintage steam train will start operations between Bagan and Kyaukpadaung in Mandalay Division next month, seeking to cash in on the expansion of Burma’s boutique tourism sector.

Running each Tuesday from its inaugural service on Dec. 16, the 110-kilometer (78-mile) return journey will cost a staggering US$250 per ticket, pricing out all but the most dedicated rail fans.

The train will take up to 120 passengers at a time and will, understandably, be pitched at high-end foreign tourists.

“I am not only seeking business success but also the improvement of the tourism industry,” said Zaw Weik, director of Bright View Steam Locomotive Tours. “I want the historical record to show that we have had a steam train run in Bagan.”

Included in the price is a short educative stop in a local village, meals and transportation by car to and from nearby Mount Popa once passengers alight at Kyaukpadaung.

A typical return journey from Bagan to Mount Popa by private taxi costs 35,000 kyats (US$34).

Zaw Win Cho, president of the Bagan Tourist Guide Organization, told The Irrawaddy that the locomotive would be a popular draw card despite the ticket price.

“I think the cost is high, but wealthy package tourists will ride it,” he said. “There is a one hour hot air balloon ride here that costs US$360, but tourists still ride it.”

Zaw Weik defended the ticket cost, saying it was a reflection of high operating and maintenance costs for the locomotive.

There have been 240,000 visitors to Bagan so far in 2014, compared to fewer than 200,000 visitors for the whole of last year, according to Zaw Win Cho.