The Burma Mines Railway in Namtu: The Wallah Gorge Spiral

Steam in Myanmar (Burma): The Burma Mines Railway 11/12 – 21/12/2013

The Golden Land: Highlights of Burma: 03/12 - 12/12/2013

Burma Mines Railway: Wallah Gorge

Additional pictures you'll find here:

Since Myanmar (Burma) has started moving towards a democratic system, tourists are flooding the country and causing two main effects: the country is changing rapidly and prices are exploding. The tourist infrastructure is still in its infancy and can't cope with the mass tourism of which we see the first signs right now. That's why prices for hotels and other tourist facilities are hitting the sky; some prices have doubled, some tripled, some even quadrupled since our last tour at the end of 2011. If you want to see the traditional Burma you should not hesitate. It will take a few years before the international hotel chains open new hotels all over the country. Then the flair of Burma will have changed. The international jet set will appreciate the cultural sights and the white sand beaches of Myanmar, when there is no-one any more to give them a guilty conscience and the Anti-Burma Campaign has proved to be useless. When new hotels are built and Burma is in the catalogues of all major tour operators, even more tourists will come and change the present flair of a remote and traditional Asian country.

On our way to some of the highlights of Burma, we'll also stop far away from the beaten track, at places where nothing has been changed for decades. Namtu sees extremely few tourists as it is in a region where you need a special travel permit. Even those few reaching Namtu won't see the corners we're going to. You'll see ancient but well kept industrial sites, some of them more than 80 years old and still in use. The steam roller will be in steam again for our group and last but not least we'll force the weak and tired 2 ft main line loco no. 42 up to Wallah Gorge to see both steam locos in front of the wooden loading facility.

Burma: near Mandalay

On the spectacular mountain narrow gauge line of the lead and silver mines railway in Namtu there are still two serviceable British (Kerr Stuart and Bagnall) steam locomotives available for charter trains, one of them overhauled by a donation from FarRail Tours. Namtu alone definitely justifies the long journey to Myanmar. The complete 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 decided to keep the line, Namtu – Bawdwin, alive and they started to refurbish the track. But the progress is very slow in this remote area, so we’ll 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 1980s, or in 2013. The refurbishment of the line ended when a dam in E.R Valley broke during the monsoon in 2011.

Burma Mines Railway: Spiral before Wallah Gorge

The new owner of the mine and railway has “adjusted” the long established government prices. The prices for their rather lousy - but classy - accommodation is close to being ridiculous, but there is no competition in this area: hence we must agree or give the chance for great shots on this superb line a miss. We decided for another time that no matter what the price might be the railway is a must-go destination. You’ll very likely agree to this once you have been there for the first time. It looks like this word has got around: before we published the tour we already had seven registrations. The number of participants is limited by the available accommodation. We can only take 24 on this tour (plus those who insist on a single room). The quality of the accommodation in Namtu is different between the two guest houses. We'll give the accommodation according to the date of registration. Those who are first will get the guest house no. 1 accommodation, those who are later the guesthouse no. 2. More details you'll find below.

Burma Mines Railway and steam roller








Individual flight To Yangon. Flights can be booked by FarRail Tours.



Arrival in Yangon, afternoon and evening visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, hotel in Yangon



Charter bus from Yangon to Kyaiktho. Transfer to Kimpun camp, truck transfer to the Golden Rock, the last stretch you need to walk uphill which will take about an hour. Visit to the Golden Rock and watching the sunset over the mountains, Kyaikhto hotel on the Golden Rock with fantastic mountain views



Sunrise at the Golden Rock, return to Kyaiktho, by charter bus to Bago via Waw, where we'll take a look inside a traditional rice mill (probably driven by steam), in Bago we'll visit the famous main pagoda, evening visit to a traditional, small tobacco factory, hotel in Bago



Charter bus to Pyinmana, on the way brief visit to the depot of Pyuntaza with many dumped steam locos of the Myanma Railways. Visit to the new railway museum in Naypyitaw, hotel in Naypyitaw



Charter bus to the Inle lake, enjoy the beautiful countryside at the Inle lake, Hotel at the Inle lake



Boat cruise on the Inle lake, watching fishermen at work, visiting a traditional village, hotel at the Inle Lake



Charter bus to Heho, domestic flight to Nyang U, charter bus, evening visit to the temple fields of Bagan, hotel in Bagan



Visit to the temples and pagodas of Bagan, optional balloon flight over the pagoda fields in the morning. Hotel in Bagan



Charter bus to the airport and flight to Mandalay, afternoon visit to the wooden U Bein bridge and the temples near Amarapura, charter bus to our hotel in Pyin Oo Lwin, meeting the “train only group”



Flight To Yangon



Arrival in Yangon, afternoon domestic flight to Mandalay (planned: 6T341 14.00 – 15.23 hrs), charter bus to our hotel in Pyin Oo Lwin



Charter bus to Namtu (about ten 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 with no. 13 in the railway station, visit to the old smelter. In the late morning we'll see a steam road roller at work in Namtu. Today we have no time for lunch and will have a quick snack instead. In the early 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 morning 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 guesthouse 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. It will take us until the afternoon before we reach Wallah Gorge. Return by truck railcar to our guesthouse in Namtu



Before dawn we’ll return 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 E.R. Valley. After a short walk over a broken part of the line we'll continue by a railcar up to Bawdwin. In Bawdwin we’ll visit the fantastic and well maintained ancient machinery of the deep mine. Visit to open cast mine and the concentrator plant. We’ll return with our steam charter with No.13 to Wallah Gorge and from there by railcar down to Namtu. Guesthouse in Namtu.



By railcar we'll go in the morning to Walla Gorge. Morning shunting scenes with No. 13 and No. 42 in the very scenic station and at the loading facilities. Later we'll run with both locomotives through the unique feature of the line, the spiral. In the afternoon we'll return with both locomotives to Namtu. Guesthouse in Namtu



Charter bus to Lashio and flight to Yangon (planned: K7 829 12.50 – 15.15 hrs via Heho), hotel in Yangon



Charter bus to the airport and return flight



Arriving at home


Labmuni pagoda in Eienaing

Line description

Namtu is the headquarters of the Burma Mines Railways. The Namtu area is restricted. To get a permit to visit Namtu we need to travel in 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 repair, No.42 is also available to haul special trains along this exciting mountain railway, but the repair is five years old now and the technical shape of no. 42 is doubtful. Beside 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.

Currently the ebd of the steam-operated line is in E.R. Valley:

Burma Mines Railway: E.R. Valley

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 in the direction of Bawdwin! This part was for many years almost exclusively served by lorry railcars and only a few trains went 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. After the 2011 monsoon interrupted the line we can only go up to E.R valley. From there we need to walk about 200 yards through a valley to reach the other end of the line. A lorry railcar will carry us on to Bawdwin from here.

Yangon: Shwedagon pagoda

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 can’t be guaranteed that a certain locomotive will be able to steam up.

We already transferred some money to Namtu so they can rebuild the line from the station to the old smelter. No. 13 spent its last days shunting in this smelter area. We'll be able to go there with steam again, after many years without. This is how it looks:

Namtu: the old smelter

Two turn tables in the old smelter

Last operations in the smelter building

Here's a view of what we'll find in Bawdwin. First the station with the rail-truck we'll travel on, then a view into the mine and later a view inside the concentrator plant.

Bawdwin station

Bawdwin Mine

Bawdwin Mine

Bawdwin Mine

The concentrator in Bawdwin

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.

Besides the very intense steam railway programme, we’ll include some of the most remarkable cultural spots of the country. In the itinerary for 2001 I wrote: "As soon as the political situation changes you’ll never get another 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 how 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 are at many tourist places all over Asia. So enjoy visiting 1,000 or even 2,000 year old cultural sights to get an unspoiled impression of the culture of the country." Now exactly this is happening. But what we're seeing nowadays is just a prelude. The real mass tourism hasn't started yet. But the location spotters for large tourist companies are there already and it's just a question of time when the tourist stampede will run over the land. Currently you still find moments of tranquillity in the otherwise rushed Asian development.

Burma Mines Railway: beyond Namtu

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 5.30 am occasionally to get the best results in photography and videography. However, at 6 pm it’s dark, so we can get to the accommodation quite early. Keep in mind that we’re not going to the Burma Mines Railway 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 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 and again in January 2013 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 museums. But we’ll arrange a real working example!

The green umbrella

Maker's plate for the plough at the steam roller


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 couldn’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.

Wallah Gorge

Charter buses, 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 beautiful countryside it’s suitable for spouses or girlfriends as well, not only the first part of the tour.

Our hotel in Yangon (Rangoon) has large rooms, air conditioning, well equipped bath rooms, huge beds and is clean and tidy. However, our accommodation in Namtu is another matter. The nice, old wooden guesthouse of the mine administration was renovated two years ago. Although built in the 1950s it is still a British-style guest house with the standards of 1930s. I would rate it within zero stars and one black hole. Simple, basic bathrooms are available. The shower is working, sometimes. We’ll stay also in the old, shabby and very basic wooden guesthouse no. 2 with no working shower at all. They’ll provide us 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. Some of the toilets have no working flush, "bucket flush" is the solution here. However, the people are very gracious and welcoming and 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 walking distance between guest house one and two is about three minutes. The way is not illuminated, a torch is necessary.

Wallah Gorge

Wallah Gorge

We can not offer single rooms in Namtu. However, if you insist on a single room there is a guest house no. 3 which would only warrant the rating three black holes. The shower facilities are the same as in no. 2 guesthouse, but we need to try to find a dry and clean mattress for you, which is not a feature of this guesthouse. Until now we could always find one. The toilet is working with "bucket flush".

The wooden houses we're staying in are somewhat luxurious for many Burmese families. Many locals, especially in the lowlands, have only a bamboo house and share tiny rooms with many family members. They have no facilities at all, and hot water for washing themselves is unknown. Compared to these local houses we'll stay in comfort and almost luxury.

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 guesthouse. 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.

Burma Mines Railway: Wallah Gorge

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Burma fall short of EU, Australian, North American, Japanese - say so called western - 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 or the Burmese Mine Railways 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. In Namtu we need to sign a waver from the railways.

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 $200 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.

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

Reversal near Wallah Gorge

The reversal beyond Tiger Camp (near Wallah Gorge)

This is the way we'll travel:

The reversal beyond Tiger Camp (near Wallah Gorge) from the train



Myanmar (Burma)
Namtu: The Wallah Gorge Spiral 17 to 24 participants £2,220
11.12.2013 – 21.12.2013 10 to 16 participants £2,420
  Single room surcharge £95
Registration Deadline: 03.09.2013
The Golden Land 11 to 24 participants £1,570
03.12.2013 – 12.12.2013 7 to 11 participants £1,620
  Single room surcharge £295
Registration Deadline: 03.09.2013


No single room in Namtu available - except in the guesthouse no. 3 (extra costs 135 Pounds, but in a three black hole accommodation)

The price includes:

Not included are:

U-Bein bridge near Mandalay

Nr. 42 steams from Namtu to Lopah


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 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.


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