Gokteik Viaduct -10 

The Gokteik railway Viaduct, one of the worlds great engineering masterpieces and another one of my life's boxes ticked. Even non technical Kate was fascinated with this one.

Constructed as a kit of parts by Pennsylvania & Maryland Bridge Construction Co in the US. in 1899. Erected over the Gohtwin Stream which is located in a steep sided valley in eastern Shan State, NE Myanmar. Amazingly erection of the viaduct took only 8 months. There are 15 towers with the tallest point being 102 metres above the stream bed. Opened on 1-1 1900. Two passenger trains cross it daily in daylight hours. The Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw section of the line which includes the crossing of the Gokteik Viaduct is very popular with overseas tourists. There is a small station on the western side of the viaduct which the train stops at briefly to enable passengers to step off and take images.

Myanmar in the long dry season appears to be covered by an inversion layer which keeps in the smoke from rice stubble and grass fires. You will note in these images hazy light, even up here at altitude in eastern Shan State. Myself, coming from a nation which has mostly very clear air the smoky air took a bit of getting used to.

Attached images illustrate the length, height, method of construction and the current excellent condition of the structure. Look at all those formed hot rivets. Fortunately being a very long way from the sea and in a mostly dry climate corrosive action is virtually nil.

 

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Mandalay - 7 

Mandalay was built mainly in 1857–59 by King Mindon to replace Amarapura as his capital. It was the last capital of the Myanmar kingdom and fell to British troops in November 1885. As an important Buddhist religious centre, it is the home of large numbers of monks (hpongyi). The core of the city includes the moated citadel of Fort Dufferin, the ruins of the royal palace (Nandaw), numerous temples and monasteries, and the old British Government House. Mandalay Hill, northeast of the cantonment near the river, is the location of relatively recent monasteries and monuments. At its foot are the 730 pagodas, or Kuthodaw (“Works of Royal Merit”), authorized by King Mindon as a result of the Fifth Buddhist Council. Buddhist scriptures, regarded by Myanmar Buddhists as orthodox texts, are recorded on 729 white marble tablets, and the tablets are set up in a square, each tablet protected by a small pagoda. Below are some of the pictures I took of this amazing City and of our train trip from Mandalay to Lashio via Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin).

 

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Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo) - 11 

Less than two hour drive up in the mountains to the east of Mandalay is Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin). A former hill station, used by the British in the 1800's to escape the oppressive heat of Mandalay during the hottest times of the year. Visit the beautiful Kandawgyi Gardens. Another must is a visit to Maymyo's vibrant markets, where you can have fun bargaining with the local vendors, for anything from exotic fruit and vegetables to freshly caught fish. During your stay in Maymyo, you will be exilerated by the stuning Dat Taw Gyaint Water Falls in Anisakhan, near Pyin Oo Lwin are an amazing sight.

 

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Mandalay to Lashio - 9 

Mandalay was built mainly in 1857–59 by King Mindon to replace Amarapura as his capital. It was the last capital of the Myanmar kingdom and fell to British troops in November 1885. As an important Buddhist religious centre, it is the home of large numbers of monks (hpongyi). The core of the city includes the moated citadel of Fort Dufferin, the ruins of the royal palace (Nandaw), numerous temples and monasteries, and the old British Government House. Mandalay Hill, northeast of the cantonment near the river, is the location of relatively recent monasteries and monuments. At its foot are the 730 pagodas, or Kuthodaw (“Works of Royal Merit”), authorized by King Mindon as a result of the Fifth Buddhist Council. Buddhist scriptures, regarded by Myanmar Buddhists as orthodox texts, are recorded on 729 white marble tablets, and the tablets are set up in a square, each tablet protected by a small pagoda. Below are some of the pictures I took of this amazing City and of our train trip from Mandalay to Lashio via Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin).

 

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Mandalay-Mingun Bell - 8 

The second largest ringing bell in the world, casting of the bell started in 1808 and was finished by 1810. The bell was said to have been cast on the opposite side of the river and was transported by using two boats, which after crossing the river, proceeded up two specially built canals. The canals were then dammed and the bell was lifted by raising the water level by the addition of earth into the blocked canal. In this way the bell was originally suspended.

The Mingun Bell was knocked off its supports as a result of a large earthquake on 23 March 1839. It was resuspended by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in March 1896 using screw jacks and levers using funds from public subscription. The party to celebrate was attended by many and an hourly boat was required to take visitors from nearby Mandalay.

 

 

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Riley's Burma Adventure  

Our trip to Myanmar

I was very excited to go to Myanmar for a second time as I had been five years ago and I was sure there was going to have been lots of changes.

I was going with a few friends form school we wanted to have a rough outline of what we were going to do for the three weeks so we didn’t miss any important places. Thanks to Burma Travel australia we certainly seen some amazing sights in Myanmar.

We planned to meet in Yangon and hang out there for a few days while we got our bearings. This was sensational as out first day in Burma we got on the back of a few motorbikes and went exploring the countryside around Yangon, meeting lots of locals and trying local products like the beetle leaves and Burmese cigars.

After Yangon we caught a bus to Bagan where we going to spend about 4 days. This was plenty of time to get around and see the biggest most impressive temples, as well as the more remote pagodas which were not as overrun by tourists. The freedom of hiring an E-bike and being able to explore the massive area known as the land of Pagoda's which contained over 2000 some over 1000 years old was amazing!

After Bagan we took a boat to Mandalay, which in itself was an experience. We chugged along the river, and caught glimpses of river life, as well as a massive logging boat with over 40 monks standing around and waving at us! Mandalay is an impressive city, very large and hot with a range of important colonial buildings. A trip to the Mingun bell is well worth it, and the ferry (4000 chat there and back) you catch from the central ferry wharf is an adventure on its own.

Leaving Bagan we headed into the mountains to escape the interminable Mandalay heat. We took a bus to Kalaw and then the slow train up to a small town near Inle Lake. Other people we met had trekked this route but we were feeling lazy and had planned to do treks in other parts of Myanmar (Hsipaw). Inle Lake was interesting, though the local way of life has somewhat been modified to accomodate the massive tourism boom, it is still a very beautiful place. Taking a gentle bike ride around the Lake and jumping in a traditional long boat for a tour was a fantastic experience.

After Inle Lake we headed to Hsipaw which is a bit further north into Shan State. Hsipaw sees less tourists that the other cities we had been to, and for this reason it feels less synthetic. A popular spot for avid trekkers, we did a two day trek with an overnight homestay that was enjoyable even though it was raining. I’d advise doing a longer trek so you can avoid the well trodden routes that a variety of trekking companies offer.

After Hsipaw we wanted to get a train to Pwin Oo Lwin, however the track has been damage in a landslide. Resultantly we caught a taxi to "The Goteik Viaduct" which is the highest viaduct in Myanmar, built in the early 1900's, That was a ripper, I can only imagine going over it on the train would be even better. Pwin Oo Lwin was a former Hill Station and escape of the British nobility seeking to get away from hot Mandalay nights, and as a result has plenty of charm; old Colonial buildings, tight nit terraces and narrow streets, as well as the Purcell Clocktower. A great place to relax for a few days, you can walk around the Botanical Gardens, sip on a local tea or sample the fantastic Indian and many other traditional foods in the area.

On the way back to Yangon we stopped in the ‘new’ capital Nyapitaw which was a hilarious experience. A must see for the politically inclined, Nyapitaw is an empty city that the leader of the former Military regime built on the suggested of a palm reader. All the government servants were forced to move there in the mid 2000s but unfortunately not many other people did. A comedian (who was then imprisoned) famously quipped when they decided to move the Yangon zoo to Nyapitaw “Now they are moving the rest of the animals to the capital as well”. Below is some of the pictures we took of this amazing country the call The Golden Land and we must thank again Burma Travel Australia for making sure we seen most of the highlights that Myanmar has to offer.

 

 

 

 

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Thanbyuzayat 

Images of the recently opened ( 4 Jan 2016) Death Railway Museum at Thanbyuzayat, located in Mon State, SE Myanmar. The museum is located at the former junction of the Death Railway from Thailand and the the Burma Railway which ran north from Thayetchaung to Moulmein.  Construction of the Death Railway commenced from here when approx 3000 Australian POW's were shipped from Changi on Singapore Island to a point on the coast close to Thanbyuzayat. Following airfield and other civil work, railway construction commenced on 15 Sept 1942.

The Death Railway, from Thanbyuzayat in Burma to Ban Pong in Thailand was 415km in length. Constructing it were 60,000 POW's, 180,000 Asians (Romusha) and approx 12,000 Japanese and Koreans. It was completed on 17 Oct 1943. The death toll was 6,904 British( including their servicemen of Asian origin), 2,802 Australians, 2,782 Dutch, 133 Americans and at least 90,000 recruited Asians.The Dutch had the best survival rate as many were from the Dutch East Indies such as Java and more used to the tropical conditions.

111 Japanese officials were tried for war crimes committed during the construction of the Death Railway with 32 receiving death sentences. Many received long jail terms.

The railway was closed in 1947 but a 130 km section in Thailand was reopened in stages during the 1950s.

As well as the new Death Railway Museum at Thanbyuzayat there are two museums relating to the Death Railway at Kanchanaburi in Thailand.

Images of the Thanbyuzayat Commonwealth Graves War Cemetery which is located close to the Museum to be shown next.

Images

The new signage at the actual junction with the name Myanmar replacing Burma. The line in the background sees daily passenger trains.

Coach loads of visitors from both Myanmar and Thailand.

Inside the entrance gates a representation showing Japanese/Korean guards and recruited/coerced Asian workers.

The sign says "ONE LIFE ONE SLEEPER".

A Japanese built steam locomotive which ran on the Death Railway. Note the small tender with cut away sections to provide improved vision for the crew when reverse shunting. The locomotive is surprisingly complete and must have been used on Myanmar Railways until recent times.

This portrait of General Aung San is displayed within the Museum building. His words are still very relevant in today's world of strife and conflict. He is the father of Aung San Suu Kyi who has led Myanmar back into democracy.

 

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Boat trip to Bilu island -3 

a trip by traditional ferry boat over to the island. Ni Ni, our guide, grew up on the island so it was a chance for him to briefly visit family. Early morning  with the ferry boat being initially loaded with motorcycles.

The skipper has his body up through an opening in the roof section and steers the boat's tiller with his feet.

On the journey we passed some interesting water craft. For example this traditional small family fishing boat. Note the 4 HP Honda motor manufactured in Thailand with a long alloy tube attached contains a propeller shaft. The boat is made of Teak and the life of these are 20-30 years. Teak is light in weight and dense in natural oils so is the best of boat building timbers.

The ferry was very well maintained and clean. This image shows the spotless Chinese built diesel engine.

Motor cycles and passengers on the mid deck section on the return to Mawlyamine. 

 

 

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Bilu Island Rice Mill - 4 

 One of the islands attractions is its operating steam powered rice mill. The advantage for Ni Ni, our guide was that I could explain to him the steam boiler and engine workings so that in future he could do the same when showing visitors through. Ni Ni was conversant with the rice milling section as his father had worked in the past at the mill.  

Our visit was on a Sunday, the one day of the week when the mill does not operate. No one was about but we were free to enter and inspect. No security is required to protect the mill from those who do no good. The rice mill is very important to the community providing employment and a local/efficient means of processing the island's rice crop.

The heart of the mill is this single cylinder Tangy steam engine. Ni Ni was told it was installed in the mill during the mid 1930s. Initially a  timber fired boiler, later converted to burn rice milling residue such as the husks. The rice residue burning furnace in background at left, the boiler at right. You may note that it's a dusty environment within the mill structure.

 

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Bilu Island Hat Making and Hospitality - 5 

Hat Making

One of the island's cottage industries is bamboo husk hat making. There is a ready source of bamboo on the island and of course plenty of demand for bamboo hats.  The hat making ladies were not working when we turned up as it was a Sunday. But the lady of the house indicated that she would demonstrate to us how a basic hat including a peak is cut out from 4 husks and initially held together.

4 mostly flattened bamboo husks are held together using bamboo pegs.

Her very sharp hooked knife cuts the four husks to the basic outside shape.

The 4 shaped husks are interleaved together to form the brim.

A thin sharp ended slice of flexible bamboo is pushed through the overlapping husks to basically hold the brim together. 

The peak is then made in a similar way. On the next working day the hat will be stitched up and receive a coating of lacquer to protect the husks from moisture.

Local Hospitality

We were naturally interested in the varying styles of island homes and the materials they were made from. Most were elevated to a degree with some being similar in ways to our older Queenslander homes.

This home was still under construction but being lived in at the time. Note the reinforced concrete stumps with brick walls between. Then timber framing and metal cladding on top and I note no termite caps to prevent timber infestation. Perhaps no termites in this region or the timber is termite resistant.

The next home is still high set but constructed with traditional materials. I was informed that a thatched roof may require a re-thatch every 2 years in this region. Walls if weather protected would naturally last longer. 

We were invited inside this substantial home where we enjoyed a traditional Mon meal. The family who live there cater booked meals for tourists and run a local shop beneath. The small alcove with its blue roof and green window houses Buddha related religious items. 

 

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Bilu Island Rubber band making - 6 

Bilu Island is noted for a number of cottage industries which make productive use of some of the island's resources. Ni Ni , our guide took us via a rubber band making enterprise. There are rubber plantations on the island and nearby mainland and of course there is always a ready market for rubber bands.

The latex has been heated and colour added and we see this timber frame comprised of 6 round legs being pushed down into the mix a number of times until the correct thickness is determined.

The coated frames are then laid out in the sun to initially dry.

The dried coating is peeled off the tubes and hung out to dry further. Later the tubes are placed in an enclosed structure for smoking which toughens the rubber..

A Chinese diesel engine powers via shafting and flat belt this ancient but well maintained and lubricated guillotine. The girl aligns the 4 lengths of coloured rubber tubes and the machine feeds them in at the correct rate for slicing.

The building which houses the latex heating stoves, the barrels of prepared hot dyed latex plus the guillotines.

These lovely young ladies sort out the mixed coloured pile of cut rubber bands into package sized amounts for forwarding onto markets. Note the Thanakha Cream the ladies have applied to their cheeks. Thanakha is made from the ground bark of the Thanakha tree which is found in central Myanmar. We found that most Myanmar females apply Thanakha Cream to their cheeks as it good for the skin, acts as a natural sunscreen and is seen as beauty accessory. A lesser number of men apply the Thanakha cream.  The girls were happy for us to take images which we of course showed to them. In return they handed us a small pack of various coloured natural rubber bands.

 

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Inle Lake - 12 

This series of images brings to an end my coverage of our amazing time at Inle Lake, south eastern Shan State, Myanmar.
 
In the late morning of the second day we travelled by long boat up a stream which feeds into Inle Lake. Every kilometer or so a bamboo wall was built across the flowing stream with a shallow gap in the structure to allow long boats to pass through. Therefore no need for locks to maintain longboat navigation. The dammed water is used for irrigation of the adjacent fields. The first image shows an example of this with an elevated walkway in the background. 
 
At our destination of Inn Dain, which appears to be the top end of navigation, villager's who returned from the same market as us with their produce for sale were disembarking from charted longboats with what remained of their unsold stock to board small trucks back to their villages. Or possibly some of the produce could have been market purchases.
 
At Inn Dain (Indein) is a very old Buddhist pagoda and this one had a particularly long covered walkway leading up to it. There was the usual variety of artifact sellers set up on either side of the walk. One stall had a display of genuine antique items relating to bullock carts. Most were made of timber and had been well used. I could visualise the look of an Australian quarantine officer if I tried to bring one of these interesting items back into the country. Fortunately the stall holder understood my situation.
 
In the grounds surrounding the main pagoda structure are dozens of small stupas. Most were constructed in the 12th/13th centuries. As you will notice in the image a number have been fully restored. Note the "umbrellas" on top of the stupas with small bells dangling from them.
 
All the pagodas we visited displayed signage such as this to advise visitors of appropriate clothing and behaviour whilst inside the pagoda. Shoes were left at the entrance and there was no concern regards theft. Ours were always where we left them on our return. 

 

 

 

 

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Bagan - 13 

 Bagan, previously known as Pagan is located in the central Myanmar, 700 km Nth of Yangon and 300 km SW of Mandalay. The majority of the Buddhist religious structures were built in the 11th to 13th centuries when Pagan was the capital of the Pagan Empire. Mongol invasions saw its decline. Bagan (Old and New) are now towns with a population totaling approx 16,000.

A massive earthquake in 1975 caused major damage to the upper sections of the structures which have since been rebuilt. Visitors to Bagan pay for a permit to visit the Archaeological Zone with the funds directed towards ongoing maintenance. Myanmar visitors naturally pay far less than foreign visitors.

What was surprising is that this region experiences a dry zone climate which is probably the reason these archaeological structures have survived the centuries. I noted on the bus trip into and the train trip out of Bagan the aridity of the country and long distances between villages. The countryside reminded me of Queensland's Eastern Gulf Savannah region with even planted eucalypt trees standing out amongst the local tree foliage. I recall the bus even managing to attain 80 kph on occasions on quiet sections of road.

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Bagan Railway Station is relatively new as the railway south to Yangon and NE to Mandalay were constructed in very recent times. 

Taken from an elevated position on a pagoda where access to the upper levels is allowed.

Looking out to the west with stupas, a temple at right and a monastery in the background.

We made a ground visit to the large brick temple at right the following day. Note the ever present haze due to the constant temperature inversion during the long dry season.

An artist using water colours was happy for me to take this image.

 

 

 

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Andy's Railway Journey - War Cemetary - 1 

“Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, SE Myanmar

A beautifully maintained and peaceful place. Buried here are those who died as POWs whilst working under horrific/inhumane conditions to build what has become known as the Thailand-Burma death railway for the Japanese military.

Buried here are 1,651 British, 1,335 Australian, 621 Dutch 15 Indian Army, 3 New Zealand and 1 Canadian. The American dead were repatriated back to the USA after the war. The cemetery was initially established during the construction of the railway as a hospital cemetery. After the war it was re-established as a Commonwealth Graves War Cemetery and has been maintained by the War Graves Commission ever since.

Thanbyuzayat contains those who died on the Burma section of the railway. A grave survey party early in 1946 travelled from Thanbyuzayat through to Ban Pong in Thailand locating the graves of all but 52 of those buried along the line. Approx. 13,000 POWs died during construction and afterwards during ongoing maintenance of the line. Containers holding the details of those buried, graveyard layouts plus notes on atrocities were secretly buried with the remains as the Japanese were reluctant to interfere with the dead. This made remains identification for the recovery teams somewhat easier.

For Kate and myself plus Ni Ni (our Myanmar guide) it was a time to reflect. The RSL Emerald Sub branch had provided me with a bunch of ceremonial poppies to take with me on the trip. I placed mine on the grave of an Unknown Australian serviceman. Kate who is from Scotland on the grave of a member of an artillery unit in the British Army. Kate’s father had served in the Burma campaign as a signaller in a British Army artillery unit. The remainder of the poppies were handed to Ni Ni who placed them on the grave of an Indian soldier. There was a tear or two shed from each of us.

Later we enjoyed an Asian meal at a Thanbyuzayat food outlet. It was run by a lovely Chinese family and the elder of the family joined our table at lunch. He was in his late 80s and well remembers the Japanese occupation period. He talked about very difficult times for the Burmese people, in particular the Chinese who were persecuted by the Japanese with many fleeing to the mountains during the occupation.

Images: Place your cursor over the pictures below to read about the history.

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Thanbyuzayat-2 

The Death Railway, from Thanbyuzayat in Burma to Ban Pong in Thailand was 415km in length. Constructing it were 60,000 POW's, 180,000 Asians (Romusha) and approx 12,000 Japanese and Koreans. It was completed on 17 Oct 1943. The death toll was 6,904 British( including their servicemen of Asian origin), 2,802 Australians, 2,782 Dutch, 133 Americans and at least 90,000 recruited Asians.The Dutch had the best survival rate as many were from the Dutch East Indies such as Java and more used to the tropical conditions. 111 Japanese officials were tried for war crimes committed during the construction of the Death Railway with 32 receiving death sentences. Many received long jail terms. The railway was closed in 1947 but a 130 km section in Thailand was reopened in stages during the 1950s. As well as the new Death Railway Museum at Thanbyuzayat there are two museums relating to the Death Railway at Kanchanaburi in Thailand. Images of the Thanbyuzayat Commonwealth Graves War Cemetery which is located close to the Museum to be shown next.

The new signage at the actual junction with the name Myanmar replacing Burma. The line in the background sees daily passenger trains

 

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