Thursday, 5 May 2016

By train to Kalaw


I stayed the night of 3rd May 2016 in Thazi because I wanted to travel on the morning train from Thazi to Kalaw (did I mention my interest in railways?).

The line was built by the British to improve communication with the town of Kalaw, high in the mountains of Shan State and beyond.

As in India, the British found summer heat in the cities on the plains insufferable and they established 'Hill Stations' up in the mountains where temperatures were lower and the climate rather more like England. Probably the best known of the Indian Hill Stations is Shimla, which I visited in 2006 as part of my Round The World Three trip.

The Bitish developed two locations in Burma - Maymyo (now called Pyin-Oo-Lwin) and Kalaw.

I first visited Maymyo in 2009 (described in the post Day trip to Maymyo). The British built a railway linking Mandalay, very little above sea level with Maymyo at an elevation of around 3,506 feet. To allow steam locomotives to work the line, a variety of civil engineering techniques had to be adopted, most unusual of which was the 'Zig Zag' where the train shuffles forwards and backwards over a 'Z' shaped route, gaining height all the time. I travelled on the line to Maymyo in 2013 (there's a non technical report of the trip here or a more technical post here.

Building the branch from Thazi to Kalaw involved similar engineering problems - the line had to rise from Thazi's modest elevation of 700 feet to 4,297 feet at Kalaw and its design incorporated two 'Zig Zags'. Once upon a time huge British-built steam locomotives blasted their way up to Kalaw and beyond but the present-day trains are hauled by a mixture of French- and Chinese-built 2,000 h.p. diesel electric locomotives.

Events of Wednesday, 4th May 2016

The proprietor of the Moon Light Guest House took me by car to the station, where we had a simple breakfast at the inevitable tea shop, purchased the train ticket and installed me in the correct place on the romantic-sounding 7.00 a.m. Mail Train. The actual train was a little more commonplace but, to my surprise, it left at exactly 7.00 a.m. and, in a little under six hours, delivered me safely to Kalaw. I've started to describe this journey in more detail here but I'm afraid this article includes quite a bit of railway technical stuff.

On the Mail Train to Kalaw.

At Kalaw, I was immediately recognised by my guide, Sai Kyaw Kyaw (there weren't many elderly female foreigners on the train) who took me by car to Kalaw Hill Lodge, a little way out of the town, where I was to spend one night. I was charmed by the resort, opened only seven months previously by its Nepalese owner with a number of thatched villas in Nepalese style and a central building with reception, restaurant and bar facilities on a landscaped site of some 30 acres with magnificent views of the hills which frame Kalaw. I managed some internet work in the lobby then had a meal and retired to my comfortable cottage. The cottage appeared semi-detached but the building actually had four rooms, two on an upper floor approached from the other side of the block. But, being low season, I only glimpsed two other guests in the whole of my stay, although there were always a number of staff close by anxious to help. There was a fairly spectacular display of thunder and lightning in the evening, but the rain that followed was fairly light and I had already retired to my room for the night.

I enjoyed an excellent night's sleep.

Kalaw Hill Lodge viewed from the extensive grounds.

Related posts

Next post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

My pictures of the train journey from Thazi to Kalaw are here. They are mainly railway technical shots but there are also 'general' pictures.

All my pictures taken on my trip to Burma in 2016 are in the collection Burma, 2016.