Steam to Bawdwin

Wallah Gorge

Steam in Myanmar (Burma): The Burma Mines Railway 23/11 – 4/12/2011

Additional pictures you'll find here:

The trip report from our Namtu-tour in 2008 you'll find here.
The trip report from our Namtu-tour in 2009 you'll find here.

It’s possible again! After a private investor took over the majority of the mine, the railway and the smelter, it looked as though it would be impossible to ever go back to this fascinating railway again. Recently, even the contact in the ministry of mining disappeared and Namtu seemed to be further away than ever. Two special permits were needed to go to this area, closed to normal tourists.

So we’re extremely happy to announce that it’s now possible again to offer a tour on the spectacular mountain narrow gauge line of the lead and silver mines railway in Namtu. There are still two serviceable, British built, steam locomotives available for charter trains, one of them overhauled with a donation from FarRail Tours. Namtu alone definitely justifies the long journey to Myanmar. The whole railway, including all technical equipment and its locomotives, is running on its very last legs. In Europe officials would have only one “solution” for the line: to shut it down immediately. Fortunately the new investor has decided to keep the line Namtu – Bawdwin alive and they’ve started to refurbish the track. However, progress is very slow in this remote area, so we’ll still be able to experience charter trains which will look fully authentic. It will be hard to say whether these trains were running in the age of regular steam of the early 1980’s or in 2011.

Steam in Burma: Burma Mines Railway in the morning mist

The press publishes many very bad reports about this country. Of course, Burma has no democratic government, this has been known for decades, but on our trip we’ll probably not see anything of what has been reported. We’ll meet lovely, welcoming people, we’ll feel the flair of the country which can hardly be described in words. It’s very easy to become a lover of Myanmar, the former Burma, once you have set foot in this rural country!

The new owner of the mine and railway has “adjusted” the long established government prices. The price for their rather lousy accommodation is close to being ridiculous, but there is no competition in this area: Hence we must agree or give up the chance of great shots on this superb line. We’ve decided yet again that, no matter what the price, this railway is a must go destination. You’ll very likely agree to this once you have been there for the first time.






Individual flight from Europe to Bangkok


Meeting at the airport in Bangkok. Late afternoon flight from Bangkok to Yangon, Hotel Yuzana Garden in Yangon


Late morning visit to the Schwedagon Pagoda (world heritage), afternoon flight to Mandalay and visit to the world famous, wooden U Bein bridge and the temples in Amarapura nearby. Hotel in Mandalay


Morning visit to the King’s palace in Mandalay. Late morning by charter bus to Namtu (ten to twelve hours), Basic accommodation in emergency style, wooden bungalows of the mine company.


Visit to the Namtu Mines Railway: in the morning we’ll take pictures of shunting operations in the area of the railway station and the depot. In the afternoon we’ll take a charter train up to Lopah, hauled by No.13. From there we’ll return in one of the round-shaped truck railcars. Accommodation in Namtu.


In the early morning, before the mist has disappeared, we’ll take a charter railcar to Lopah and board our steam train there. We’ll continue through the fantastic spiral to Wallah Gorge. If possible we’ll take shots of the electric underground mine railway there. Return by truck railcar and accommodation in the guest house of the mine.


Again we’ll enjoy a charter train on the section Namtu – Wallah Gorge. This time we’ll start around 7.30am with the main line loco No.42. In Wallah Gorge we’ll take pictures of both locomotives on the spiral and the very photogenic loading area of the station. Return by truck railcar to our guest house in Namtu


In the morning we’ll go by truck railcar to Wallah Gorge. Here our steam loco is waiting for us. With a short freight train hauled by No.13 we’ll go over the spectacular, steep line to Bawdwin. We’ll return with our steam charter with No.13 to Wallah Gorge and change there to No.42 which will bring us down to our guest house in Namtu.


Before dawn we’ll return by truck railcar to Wallah Gorge. With the first rays of the sun we’ll go again to Bawdwin, hauled by No.13. The line offers completely new opportunities in the morning light. We’ll return with a freight train via Wallah Gorge to Namtu. Late afternoon charter bus to our hotel in Pyin Oo Lwin.


Charter bus back to Mandalay and flight to Yangon, hotel in Yangon


Morning flight to Bangkok and individual flight home – or your take part in our Thailand extension.


Arrival in Europe in the morning


Line description

Namtu is the headquarters of the Burma Mines Railways. The Namtu area is normally restricted. To get a permit to visit Namtu we need to travel in government organised groups. The 2 feet gauge railway used to run from Namyao on the Mandalay - Lashio branch of Myanmar Railways via Namtu to Bawdwin. Silver and lead ore are carried to the smelter at Namtu. Steam was largely replaced in the 1970s and 1980s but today 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. FarRail tours paid for the overhaul of No.13 in 2008. The locomotive is in good technical condition. Since a major repair No.42 is also available to haul special trains along this exciting mountain railway. Besides these two serviceable steam locos, there is a small museum in Namtu with four further preserved locomotives (unfortunately with missing parts). 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, two 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 steam exhaust while the afternoons are pleasantly warm.

Chess players in Wallah Gorge

The spectacular 540 degrees curve is just before Wallah Gorge. The line from here to Bawdwin is extraordinarily exciting with reversals, hairpin bends and mountain views. After five years of negotiations and bargaining, arranging and paying for the overhaul of No.13, we finally managed to get steam up to Bawdwin after almost three decades of diesel only trains to Bawdwin. So we’ll go by steam from Wallah Gorge to Bawdwin! This part was for many years almost exclusively served by lorry railcars and only a few trains would 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. We’ve ordered two trains on this superbly scenic part of the line to use both, the early morning light and the soft afternoon light.

For our trains we’ll use both serviceable steam locomotives. Due to the technical condition of the line and the lack of spare parts for the locomotives it cannot be guaranteed that a certain locomotive will be able to steam up.

No.13 beyond Namtu

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

Despite the very intense steam railway programme, we’ll include some of the most remarkable tourist spots of the country. Whenever, the political situation changes you’ll not get a chance to see these ancient pagodas and other sights without being bothered by herds of other tourists and local vendors. We’ll see almost only domestic pilgrims to the holy places, a situation similar to what Asia used to be before it became one of the main tourism epicentres. At many places we’ll see almost no aggressive vendors as there usually is at many tourist places all over Asia. So enjoy visiting over 1,000 or even 2,000 year old cultural sights to get an unspoiled impression of the culture of the country.

Our very ambitious programme of railway activities is focussed on using the early morning and the late evening light to get the best possible shots. It’s likely that we’ll need to get up at 5.30am occasionally to get the best results in photography and videography. However, at 6pm it’s dark, so we can get to the accommodation quite early. Keep in mind that we’re not going to Burma to spend the day in a pool at the hotel. We want to see as much as possible. We want to experience something which is very close to its expiry date.

As an additional attraction we’ve transferred a serviceable steam road roller from a restricted area near Lashio to Namtu. The road roller was built by Aveling & Porter. In June 2009 the boiler inspector visited Namtu and extended the boiler certificate. That’s why we’re almost sure that we’ll see the steam roller at work during our stay in Namtu. It’s a dinosaur of the age of industrialisation which usually can only be seen in super shine condition in a museum. But we’ll arrange a real working example!

steam roller in Namrtu


Small Print

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

The technical condition of the railway and its equipment is not suitable for guaranteeing anything. It might be possible that some parts of the programme cannot be operated as planned and need to be skipped without replacement or compensation. Paid money will not be refunded by any of the Burmese officials or railways, even if they don’t offer what we have paid for. However, we don’t expect serious difficulties in this matter, on all the recent tours the contractors in Burma tried very hard to fulfil all our wishes.

Charter buses (mostly with air conditioning), airplanes, hotels and trains represent the standard of our host country which may seriously deviate form European or North American 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. Because of the rich culture of the country and the exceptionally beautiful countryside it’s suitable for spouses or girlfriends as well.

steam roller meets steam loco

Our hotel in Yangon (Rangoon) has large rooms, air conditioning, well equipped bathrooms, huge beds and is clean and tidy. However, our accommodation in Namtu is another matter. The nice, old wooden guest house of the mine administration is no more. So we’ll stay in the old, shabby and very basic wooden guest houses with no working shower at all. They’ll provide us with a bucket of warm water for taking a special shower: putting warm water over your head with a little bowl! While rooms are large, the facilities seem to be as old as the railway (they are not). Toilets have a water flush, but the installation seems to be from imperial days. Anyway, the people are very gracious and welcoming and will give you the best service they possibly can. It is a unique experience to get up in the morning to the sound 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. Lack of comfort might be an issue to some.

The quality of roads is poor. The road to Namtu has some wooden bridges where you might be afraid to cross with our tour bus. Be assured that many loaded trucks cross these bridges on a daily basis, and they are at least twice as heavy as our bus. Please note that morning trains have a higher priority than a breakfast in our guest house. So breakfast will be served as a packed box if necessary. Lunch and dinner are planned according to the situation. If necessary we’ll buy some papayas, bananas and oranges instead of risking missing some good pictures with a time consuming lunch stop. Beverages are not included in the tour price.

an ore train in the spiral of Wallah Gorge

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Burma fall short of EU, Australian 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.

Morning mist near Lopah

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 $150 US you should easily be able to cover all expenses.

Charging rechargeable batteries in the hotels is not a problem. Sometimes there’s a power cut, 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 recent trips because of a battery problem.

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

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

on the way to Bawdwin



Myanmar (Burma)
Spectacular 2 ft: Burma Mines Railway 15 to 20 participants £2,170
23.11.2011 – 04.12.2011 10 to 14 participants £2,290
  Single room surcharge £130
Registration Deadline: 04.08.2011


Flight prices vary from airline to airline and depend on your port of departure. On our case the differences are huge (more than 500 Pounds). That’s why we didn’t include the long-haul flight in the tour price. Please let us know your preferred airline, we’ll book an appropriate flight for you.

The price includes:

Not included are:

Prices are based on special booking classes for the airline. If this booking class is not available any more we need to adjust the price. Your early booking is hence appreciated.


As a service to our UK-based clients, FarRail Tours accepts and will continue to accept payments made out in Pound Sterling until further notice. However, please note that from January 28, 2009, all prices quoted in Pound Sterling are indicative only and are subject to change without prior notice. This measure was taken by FarRail Tours due to the unprecedented volatility in the international foreign exchange markets and its impact on the valuation of the Pound Sterling versus other major currencies, namely the Euro as FarRail Tours' accounting currency.

Additional pictures you'll find here:

Nr. 42 steam from Namtu to Lopah


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