The headoffice doesn't issue photo permits. Photography is allowed without permit, they say. But apart from the loco foreman in Bago nobody knows about it. Therefore we had some hassle in Pyuntaza. The foreman of Mottama knows the new rule but doesn't like photographers in his shed. See below.Taxis
A big estate car (Toyota Corona) was 7.000 Kyats (1 US-$ = 310 Kyats) per day, a smaller estate car (Toyota Corolla) 6.000 Kyats per day and a very small car down to 4.000 Kyats per day. All prices are plus petrol (350 Kyats per gallon in Bago, outside 400 Kyats per gallon) and plus toll gate fees. We had some problems finding a good driver who can tolerate us more than one day (get up before sunrise, drive all the day, eat nothing when hungry, only when time permits and go to sleep late). The drivers were good anyway (compared with the low speed cars of India or the lazy and not very honest Chinese drivers), they had no objection to bad roads (they don't know what a good road is - they've never seen such a road) and they are fast enough to catch trains twice or more. At least we found one driver who speaks some basic English and who can tolerate us: Mr. Tin Myo, Tel. Bago 21066. He has a Toyota Corona. He was a truck driver some years ago and carried stones from Yinnyein to Yangon - he knows the road very well. Now he also knows the Madauk branch (he doesn't like the bad road to Madauk) and Pyinmana.
The new foreman is also well informed and kind. He sold us the official photographer-ticket for 500 Kyats. Morning light (after 8.30 am) is best for the shed. We found (on different days):
YB 534 in service (Mottama loco - prepared for a special)
YC 622 in service (Mottama loco)
YC 626 in service
YC 630 in service (prepared for a special train)
YD 962 in service
YD 967 under repair
YD 969 under repair
YD 972 cold
YD 974 in service
Further we fond the frames of:
and the demolished cab of YD 964. The complete loco is in Pyinmana.
YC 622 came with a stone train to Bago to fill up the waiting time between two salt trains. The loco was sent back cold with lifted rods to Theinzayat where it took over the salt train next night (dep. Theinzayat after 7 pm, arr. Mottama at 04.45 am). A loco being sent to another place with lifted rods we saw four times.
During our stay we noticed three times a steamloco-hauled stone train from Bago to Yangon (Mahlwagon). Salt trains were running infrequently as before. It is difficult to find out when the next salt train will run. During our stay they went mostly by night or reached Theinzayat or Mottama early in the morning. The information about timings and departures of trains is not very helpful because nobody is really interested in this information in advance. If the train is coming the telephone will ring, that's it. The loco foreman in Bago was the most reliable source for "in-advance-information". The best way to find out what is happening at the moment is to go to train control in the station building in Bago (beside the police office). There is a blackboard with the "estimated" trains and a chart on the big desk where you can figure out, which train is where on the line and which loco is at the head of the train. Watch out for the train numbers! It is more easy to ask at all the stations if you know the train number. Only Bago has such a chart timetable. The next train control office with a chart is in Yangon. Unfortunately there is one problem: If you would like to know early in the morning (for example at 6.30 am) what's going on on the line you may wake up the control staff and find out that they have been asleep since midnight because, the last line on the train graph was drawn at that time. Then you can wait for a while, they have radio contact to all stations along the line and will ask for all the missing trains which have to appear on the train graph. But who likes to disturb the sleep of a man with the hottest information along the whole line? It would not be wise to disturb this VIP!
Trains are numbered with 271 ... 274 are mixed freights to Mottama or salt trains, trains with 651 ... 699-numbers are stone trains from the quarries to Bago/Yangon. In addition to the number, "down" is for trains going towards Yangon, "up" is for trains coming out of Yangon.
I don't like to list all trains we saw because it makes no sense. There is no fixed timetable for the goods trains at all and you need to have some patience if you want to catch a stone train in sunlight. Sometimes there are three stone trains at the same time on the line but otherwise there are days without any freight powered by steam.
The diesel train for stones has airbrakes, steam hauled trains have no brakes on the train. Of course, the trains run slowly, but we were always wondering that there were so few signs of accidents.
The external condition of the locos was good (apart from YC 622) but due to technical aspects most of the locos are ready to go to the scrapyard soon. Some failures happened, so the first three goods trains we saw needed a repair after arriving in Yinnyein, Zingyaik, Theinzayat resp. One loco had a leaking oil tank, the other a leaking boiler valve the third some trouble with the bearings of the rods. All these problems were not so important that they couldn't go back with their train to Bago (or Mottama in case of YC 622 or YB 534). But maybe, the crews like the shed of Mottama. YC 626 spent a full week there before the loco took over the scheduled stone train.
There is no news about the Nyaungkashe passenger except that the railways now charges US-$ or FEC 1 for the ticket from Bago. Locals pay 45 Kyats. Foreigners have to pay all train tickets with Dollar or FEC now. The bus companies are mostly private, there you can still pay with Kyats. It's much cheaper to travel by bus. Unfortunately the long distance buses run only at night.
Best value in Bago is the Myananda Hotel. We paid 2,50 Dollars for a bed in a double without an own bathroom and 3 Dollars per person (this is not the first offered price of course) in a double with bathroom. The shared bathroom has the advantage of hot water. AC and TV are available but there is often no electric power. Nevertheless, the mosque nearby has a generator set and the loudspeaker works properly. The hotel is situated on the main road - you must have a good sleep. In the rooms at the back of the hotel the rats are very active during the night, they run through the hollow ceiling. However, the hotel is clean and a good choice for that money. If you want a better one, go opposite to the Emperor hotel. It is good and charged 12, 14 or 18 US-$ for a twin (depends on which room size you want).
The "Three Five Hotel" is not an hotel, only a restaurant but put simply not the best in the town. The dishes are small and overpriced.
ST 778 preserved
YB 516 OOU
YB 543 OOU
YC 625 OOU
YD 446 OOU, green livery
Also DCA 8516 was there - a tank railcar - the only vehicle in running condition belonging to Mokpalin. Mokpalin is a place that was forgotten by the railway officials. The shed only supplies water to the passing steam locos and diesel for the diesels and the railcar DCA 8516. At the entrance to the shed is a nice (small) roadbridge over the track, and if you have a loco facing to Mottama then you should wait in Mokpalin when it comes back from taking water, passing the bridge. The bridge is a relic of the old road to the former Sittaung bridge. The road passes the station and after several hundred metres this road crosses the rail a second time by a bridge. The condition of the road is poor now but it is possible to go easily by car. It continues to the village Sittaung with its famous, huge pagoda. Take a look, if you have the time. You must not climb up the steps, a car can go up to the entrance.
The guesthouses in the city are no longer licenced to take in foreigners. So you have to go to the mega-$ hotel on the road to the Golden Rock (the people in the city told us 25 - 45 $ per person but we didn't check it) or to continue to the Golden Rock entrance (some kms from Kyaiktho ). There you are in the middle of a tourist centre and you know what that means: Low value for high prices. Not a good choice to go there, even when you enter the area you have to pay 300 Kyats. If you want to go to the Golden Rock you have to pay 6 US-$ (for that), the Burmese average monthly income.
Nice city, big pagodas, ancient capital of the Mon state.
There is a high priced guesthouse a little bit back from the mainroad we didn't try. A good choice was the Zin Yaw Guesthose, No. 61 Min Road near the Shwesaryan Pagoda. It is basic but ok. The morning wake up call comes from the pagoda at 5.00 am followed by the mosque at 5.15 am. It is a barefoot hotel, shoes are not permitted inside. They charged 600 Kyats per person. The rooms are small and the inside walls are wooden.
A good restaurant is the Rangoon Restaurant in a side road near the bus station. Also good chinese food was available in the National Restaurant on the main road, north of the city centre. The rly station has an open waiting hall with video equipment and a noisy (hard rock-) coffeeshop nearby.
YB 533 is in Insein for heavy overhaul. The loco foreman expects it back in one year. The other two locos are YC 622 and the shiny YB 534. The loco foreman knew the new rules that there is no photo permission any more, and he also knew that he had to charge 500 Kyats for the so called "Tour Guide Fees" but his mood was not to let us take pictures and so he wanted us out of his shed. We took a picture outside the shed in the opposite direction but even that was worrying the loco foreman. So I cannot recommend to go there.
The station is worth mentioning: If the salt train is being pulled out of the port then you have a very nice view with a big pagoda behind the train. But you may have a long wait for this rare spectacle. The station master was very helpful and kind - there you can ask for the next train. He also used the wireless to ask for the next train at the Bago train control.
Only one guesthouse has a permit to put up foreigners . It is a Chinese guesthouse with a good Chinese kitchen nearby - but the guesthouse is not good. Noisy, dirty, cramped and overpriced. They only accepted FEC or US-$. After long bargaining we paid 3 Dollars per person.
Loco changes with Bago are often seen here. On different days we found the following locos:
D 1032 preserved (ALCO 70699/1943, MAWD-class)
YB 532 dumped after broken repair
YC 623 under repair
YC 624 cold
YC 626 in service (Bago loco)
YC 627 in service
YC 630 in service (Bago loco)
Only one loco is under steam per day for the Madauk passenger. There were no goods trains running during our stay.
At the northern end of Pyuntaza, behind the bridge, you will find a rice mill. This mill uses a 1921 built English stationary steam engine. If you are hanging around with nothing to do - go there, it's also interesting to watch this machine.
The great disappointment this year: No steam at all! There are problems with the water supply so diesels are hauling all sugar trains, also in Pyu. In the shed we found M 351 plinthed and the frame of YD 963.
If you want to take pictures here, have plenty of time and patience. The following locos were seen:
YB 536 in service, facing south, later north
YD 961 in service, facing south
YD 964 in service, facing south
Yes, there is no ST left! This ST is now in the workshop Insein and steamed up the first time in mid January 1999. It is prepared for tourist specials on the ring railway in Yangon. The service should start in February. Timetable are unknown.
We arrived in the night and entered the loco shed. The workers told us that the next day all three locos would be running to all three places where sugarcane is normally collected (Thawatti in the south, Kyidaunggan in the north and Kantha in the west). The next morning was a disaster: There was an oil shortage, so the locos couldn't run. After a full day doing nothing the oil tank wagon arrived so that the locos fired up in the late afternoon and left one after the other just after sunset. They came back in the middle of the night. Next day was normal duty but no train left before noon. And then the trains were so close to one another that you could catch only one train. Next day there were no empty wagons available so no train was running. We went off to Bago and came back one week later.
Same game: No train the first day we stayed in Pyinmana. We went to the sugar mill and found DD 516 shunting there. A visit inside was refused. So we enjoyed the "Nine Pagodas" in the city. The next day saw normal duty with "three trains - three lines - three locos", the first dep. at 12.30 am, the second at 1.10 pm. The next day only one train to the north was running, departure was not before 2.45 pm, returning at around 7 pm. The following day saw two trains due to YD 961 needing boiler repair. The same loco already got a boiler repair one day before but the tubes were leaking badly.
We had some clouds during our stay in Pyinmana so the few trains we saw didn't produce many good shots. The crews and also the staff in the shed were very friendly and it was always no problem if you ask for a cab ride. Because they didn't allow me to invite them even for a single cup of tea I gave them some packets of 555 cigarettes. This was accepted.
There is no road access to Kyidaunggan - a bridge is broken and the fort is not accessible to for normal cars. After leaving Pyinmana to the north there is a large military camp. It would be better to take no pictures in this area before speaking to a man from the army.
The road to Kanta was described as possible only for bullock carts so we didn't try.
The road to Ela (on the way to Thawatti) is OK but close to Thawatti is a double fenced building with watch towers - whatever this is, it is not wise to handle lots of camera equipment (changing films etc.) while approching this complex.
In Ela there was a 610 mm railway in former times. It went from Ela along the road to Kyaung-E and continues from the end of this village southwest to Nagu. According to the people we asked this line belonged to a timber company, it wasn't a sugar cane railway. When the forest was logged out they closed the line. They had seven locos, class S. Wheel arrangement is unknown.
Near the northern level crossing is the Asia Guesthouse in Bogyoke street. It is even worse than the famous Islam Hotel at Malakwal. If you want to share your bed at night with some small animals, it is the right choice. The Co-Op Motel in the east of the city (just follow the road from the Asia Guesthouse to the east) is a better place to stay (600 Kyats pp.). The best place we found is the Patamya Guesthouse, 319 Bogyoke street, some steps away from the Co-Op. It is a barefoot-hotel and has some rooms with walls. Price between 800 and 900 Kyats pp. Bathrooms are poor but the rest is ok according to Burmese standards.
I cannot remember if I read anything about the sugar mill Nanthi. An official report from 1996 quoted steam from the Mohnyin depot there. Does anybody know anything about it?
If I can afford it I will go to Burma a second time.