Pyin Oo Lwin and The Lashio Road


The Train Ride to the Gokteik Viaduct.
An alternative to the car journey between Pyin Oo Lwin and the next major town, Hsipaw is the train, a six hour journey through the hills and villages of the high country. The undoubted highlight of the journey is the crossing of the Myitnge River over the century-old Gokteik viaduct, at the time of its construction the second highest in the world.

The train departs Pyin Oo Lwin at around 0815 each day and rattles slowly through the hills passing farms and stopping at small villages along the way. As the train approaches the viaduct, built in 1901, it slows to a crawl to avoid putting stress on the structure. Crossing the bridge with the train doors open to the ravine below is a memorable experience. We recommend that you take something soft to sit on – this is not the world’s most comfortable train. The journey features in the classic travel book ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’.


Four hours further up the Lashio Road from Pyin Oo Lwin lies Hsipaw, a charming small Shan country town situated where the road crosses the Dokhtawady River. Hsipaw was once the centre of an independent Shan Kingdom ruled by a Sao Bwa (Shan Prince). The last Sao Bwa, Sao Kya Seng disappeared in 1962, an event described by his wife, or Mahadevi, Inge Sargent in the book ‘Twilight over Burma: My life as a Shan Princess’.

Hsipaw is laid out around its large market which attracts tribal people from surrounding villages. The market opens very early in the morning and villagers trade by candlelight until dawn lends its light. There are several small factories and cottage industries around the town that can be viewed including our favourite, the popcorn factory. This relaxed, laid-back town is also a base for short river trips and day, and overnight treks into the surrounding countryside to Palaung and Shan villages.

Hsipaw also has the distinction of inspiring our company name. Hsipaw is home to Mr Charles and Mr Kid, the guesthouse owners. You can eat with Mr Food and buy your reading material from Mr Book. Mr Myanmar was ‘born’ here!

Haw Sao Pha.

This European-style Shan Palace, built in 1924 by Saw Bwa Sao Ohn Kya, stands at the northern end of the town. This two storey building boasts bay windows and wide verandas, built so that the family could sit outside and enjoy the view of the river. A spirit house acts as a reminder of traditional beliefs.

Bawgyo Pagoda.

This pagoda, a modern construction has a history at this site dating back 800 years. The four famous wooden Buddha images are displayed only once a year, at a ‘pwe’ (Pagoda festival) held annually around the time of the full moon of Tabaung in February or March. The pagoda is 5 miles along the main road to Pyin Oo Lwin.


Trekking is not a highly organised activity here but day, and overnight treks can be arranged (available guide permitting) to local Shan and Palaung villages, along the river and through hills and farmland. Accommodation is in village homes and Buddhist monasteries.

It is also possible to trek to (or drive to and trek back from) the remote town of Namhsan. This is another ex-Shan Kingdom and has been nicknamed the ‘Switzerland of Myanmar’ due to its altitude, 5,249 feet and stunning scenery of ridges and valleys. The area is home to the Shwe, or Golden Palaung hill tribe and famous for its vertiginous tea plantations.


The major city of Northern Shan State with a mixed Shan and Chinese population and marks the end of the railway from Mandalay. Lashio played an important role in the Second World War as a point of supply for Chinese forces fighting the Japanese. The most important monument here is the large Quan Yin Chinese Temple, dedicated to the merciful female deity. Lashio is the furthest you are allowed to travel towards the Chinese border without a special travel permit.


A small town on the banks of the Shweli River, Muse marks the border with China’s Yunnan Province and is the major border crossing between the two countries. It is possible to stay in this bustling market town, located 190 km from Lashio, whilst travelling overland between the two countries.
Myanmar Cycling Tours  can arrange travel to the Lashio Road region by private air-conditioned car from Mandalay. For a trip taking in Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw we recommend at least four full days including travelling time. If you do not have very much time available we can arrange a daytrip from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin allowing you enough time to take in the highlights of the colonial hill station.

The Lashio Road region can also be accessed from China. Mr Myanmar Travel can arrange the permit, guide and car needed to allow you to cross from Ruili, Yunnan Province to Muse and onwards along the Lashio Road to Mandalay. The whole journey can be completed in two days if you are in a hurry though we recommend you take your time and take in the sights along the way.

Myanmar Cycling Tours also uses the Lashio Road as the springboard for two of Myanmar’s least-known adventures. Our train enthusiast’s trip to the Myanmar Mines Steam Railway at Namtu begins with the (permit only) road trip from Lashio. Another (permit only) adventure starts on the Chinese border at Muse, where an alternative road hugs the border to the old British colonial outpost of Namhkan, and Bhamo – from where we can arrange the Upper Ayeyarwady adventure trip to Mandalay. Please see the ‘Adventure’ box on our homepage for details.

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