Myanmar by Rail
Follow in the footsteps of Kipling and Theroux
Discover magical Myanmar along the tracks of its nationwide railway, from bustling Yangon to the ancient temples of Bagan, exotic Mandalay to the placid waters of Inle Lake. We climb aboard for a photographic adventure, following in the footsteps of Kipling and Theroux. Myanmar’s railways are slow but scenic, and highlights of the trip include the slow train from Inle Lake to Kalaw, and a jaw-dropping trip across the Gokteik Viaduct. Along the way we document a country on the cusp of incredible change. Our photographic tour leaders will help you to develop your composition and storytelling skills, and our team of local guides welcome us to the real Myanmar.
This is a premium photographic adventure, and we’ll enjoy beautiful accommodation and delicious cuisine throughout the trip. When not on the train, we travel by spacious and comfortable minibus, with an extra vehicle to transport our luggage between accommodation. At the same time, our close connection to the people of this region, local friendships and many years of experience give us unparalleled access to the authentic life of local Burmese. As working photographers and journalists, with many years of teaching experience, we provide you unique insights and knowledge about Myanmar and photographic storytelling.
Flights arrive at various times of day. We’ll come to pick you up from the airport and take you back to our hotel for check in and orientation. In the evening we’ll have a welcome dinner with the team at a gourmet restaurant in central Yangon. We return to the hotel for a group preview of the tour, and get an early night.
It’s a dawn start for our first photo tour of the trip, and we head out by Circle Line train to the Panzaundaung market area to catch the trade as it starts for the day. The market offers great opportunities to capture portraits and details of Yangonese people and daily life. Then we explore a bustling river dock nearby, where fishermen are bringing their night-time haul. Our final stop is a beautiful golden pagoda near the railway tracks, and unknown to tourists. We’ll photograph not only the pagoda and monks, but also the small village of fortune-teller shops that surrounds it. We catch the Circle Line train and return to our hotel for lunch and a rest. In the late afternoon, we head out to incredible Shwe Dagon Pagoda, and capture sunset as it sparkles on the roofs and spires of the golden temple.
We catch a morning flight out of Yangon, arriving at He Ho airport for Inle Lake. We check in to our lakeside hotel at lunchtime. In the afternoon, we’ll take a boat to explore some of the lake, including several villages on stilts and sunset over the floating gardens. We’ll be taking a close look at the working lives of Inle’s fishermen, and be working to get candid portraits as well as the dramatic landscapes for which the area is famous. Sunset is a special time on the lake, and we’ll set up in a carefully-chosen spot to capture the full effect.
This morning we catch the slow train through the mountains to Kalaw. There are spectacular landscapes along the route, but also plenty of action in the train and at each stop to shoot. Families, saffron-robed monks, labourers and students catch a ride, while at every station, traders appear at the windows and board the train to hawk their goods. The journey gives us a real insight into rural Burmese life away from the tourism and commercial centres, and our pictures will reflect that. In particular, we’ll have many chances to capture portraits of locals wearing the ochre-coloured thanaka face paint. We disembark at the mountain town of Kalaw, and in the afternoon, we’ll enjoy a trek to photograph incredible scenery around the area. We return to Inle Lake before dinner.
We fly out of He Ho airport in the morning, arriving at our hotel in Mandalay at lunchtime. Mandalay is renowned for its handicrafts, and in the afternoon, we explore marble, woodcarving and gold leaf workshops. There will be a special emphasis here on shooting detail shots – not only of the handiwork, but also the people involved in its production. We’ll then head out to Amarapura for magical sunset shots of iconic U-Bein Bridge.
At sunrise we’ll photograph Mandalay’s renowned railway market, where traders set up right on the tracks, only moving their goods when the train rumbles through. Afterwards we take the public ferry from Mandalay to Mingun, where we’ll visit three stunning pagodas, all major pilgrimage centres for regional Buddhists. There is a great deal of local life around all of these pagodas, and we’ll be working on street photography as well as architectural shots and pictures of the pilgrim monks. At sunset we head up to Mandalay Hill, a great spot to catch pictures of monkeys playing in the pools around the monastery.
It’s a very early start this morning to catch the train north to Pyin Oo Lwin. We travel up into the mountains, along high ridges, and around hewn rock faces, jaw-dropping views of the valleys below opening before us as the sun rises. We share our carriage with a wide variety of local passengers, allowing for intimate portraits of authentic daily life. Our train arrives in the quaint hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin at mid-morning, and after a brief shoot around the town train station, we check into our hotel. In the afternoon we explore Pwe Kauk Waterfall, during the colonial period, known as Hampshire Falls.
We pick up where we left off the day before, catching the northbound train at 8:30am for one of the world’s great railway journeys. Now we climb even higher into the mountains, soon crossing the Gokteik Viaduct, a wonder of British colonial engineering. When completed in 1899, this was the world’s highest railway trestle, standing at 250m above the river level below. Travel writer Paul Theorux memorably described it as ‘a monster of silver geometry in all the ragged rock and jungle’, and we’ll be working to capture this incredible view. We arrive in the peaceful hill town of Hsipaw in late afternoon.
Hsipaw’s eclectic Central Market gets going at 3:30am, and we’ll head down as early as possible to catch the hill tribe traders bringing their goods into town. Shan, Kachin and other minorities mingle, barter and trade news among the bustling market stalls, and we’ll be working on a picture story to capture the best of the action. In the afternoon, we’ll take a half-day trek to some of the most scenic spots around the town, visiting several tribal villages and photographing daily life.
We now head back out of the mountains, this time by road; however we’ll be stopping at various spots to capture life along the rail tracks that run parallel much of the way. We’ll set up at a spot overlooking Gokteik Viaduct as the train passes over for spectacular shots of this amazing feat of engineering. There are plenty more spots to stop along the way back to Mandalay for landscapes and pictures of local life, and we’ll arrive back in the district capital in late afternoon.
We catch the morning express ferry to Bagan down the Irrawaddy River, a classic journey offering unique pictures of Burmese riverside life. We pass golden stupas and sleepy fishing villages, occasionally stopping to pick up and drop off more passengers along the way. It’s an all-day journey downriver, and we’ll bring along a delicious picnic for the ride. As well as all the photographic opportunities, it’s a great chance to work on selection and editing of our picture stories from the trip so far. We arrive in Bagan towards sunset.
It’s an early start this morning for Balloons over Bagan, and we’ll be capturing sunrise from the comfort of a basket hanging far above this jaw-dropping temple complex. A champagne breakfast is included with the trip. For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, we’ll have an optional horsecart photo trip around Bagan. In the afternoon, we head out to explore some more of the incredible temples, both the famous spots and lesser-visited ones. We’ll be looking especially closely at daily Burmese life as it’s lived around the temples on the outskirts. Towards sunset, we head up Mount Popa to capture dramatic views of the surrounding countryside.
We have a final morning to enjoy Bagan’s temples or to relax, before catching our flight to Yangon. Back in the city, we’ll explore the busy market streets downtown, focusing on the area around Sule Pagoda. This fascinating corner of the city plays host to pagodas, synagogues, mosques and churches, and the streets bustle with a rich cultural mix. In tea shops and at street stalls selling a diverse menu of snacks, we’ll capture distinctive portraits of Yangon life.
On our final morning in Yangon together, we take a short train ride along the Circle Line to visit a colourful railway market, and then have lunch together at an atmospheric restaurant. We’ll review our picture stories from the trip, and celebrate the end of this adventure. Flights depart at various times of day, with complimentary airport drop-off.
Tour leader Mostafa Mansour is a documentary-style and travel photographer from Cairo who has been living in Southeast Asia for over three years. His work is mainly focused on capturing the daily life of people from different ethnicities, and photographing aspects of culture and street life with a journalistic approach. His photography has most recently featured in Vice Magazine, and he has documented numerous NGO projects in Vietnam and Indonesia.
Mansour has travelled extensively in Myanmar, and led acclaimed photography tours both here and in Vietnam.
What our guests say about Mansour:
Throughout the trip, we stay in comfortable and stylish hotels and resorts with many amenities. All have been carefully chosen based on personal research and experience, and offer top quality service.
Yangon – Jasmine Palace Hotel (paid upgrade to The Strand Hotel available)
Inle Lake – Amata Inle Resort
Mandalay – Bagan King Hotel
Pyin Oo Lwin – Hotel Pyin Oo Lwin
Hsipaw – Tai House Resort
Bagan – Bagan Golf Resort
The trains in Myanmar are slow, creaky, bumpy, and sometimes late, but an unparalleled adventure. We will only be taking relatively short daytime journeys by train, of two to six hours maximum (according to schedule). The longest journey will be from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw (six hours), but this is also the most spectacular one, traversing the immense Gokteik Viaduct. The train journeys in general are a visual feast for photographers, and we’ll soon forget a bit of backache. Bathrooms on board vary in quality, but are generally serviceable. Dining facilities are not great, so we make sure to include as many meals before and after journeys as possible, and bring our own prepared picnics for the longer trips.
We’ll be taking three domestic flights during the trip, from Yangon to Inle Lake, from Inle to Mandalay and from Bagan to Yangon. We use Myanmar’s number one carrier, Myanmar Airways.
Our river cruise from Mandalay to Bagan is on a comfortable, modern tourist boat equipped with AC cabin, open deck and well-maintained bathroom and dining facilities.
At all other times, we travel by comfortable 16-seat, AC minibus.
Pricing and Dates
Prices are per person based on double occupancy and do not include international airfare to/from your destination or internal flights during the tour.
Single supplement is available at $500 per person.
On private tours, surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and are subject to change.
Balloons over Bagan: $325
Enjoy a spectacular hot air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan
Early Bird Bookings
We offer an early bird discount of 10% if tour bookings are made 6 months in advance of departure.
We take an initial holding deposit of $750 per person, which is non-refundable. The remainder is due 3 months in advance of the departure date. We also confirm tour departure at this point, and people can go ahead and book flights.
Tour cancellations incur a fee based on your time of notice before the tour commences.
The time frame and fees for cancellations are as follows
90 to 61 days before departure is 25% of the trip price.
60 to 46 days before departure is 50% of the trip price.
45-0 days prior to departure is 100% of the trip price.
We take a maximum number of 5 guests per 1 tour leader. With larger groups we will split between 2 tour leaders
Tour departures will be confirmed 3 months in advance, and depend on a minimum number of guests. Guests should not book flights until they receive confirmation of the tour departure
This is a small private group tour with designated departure dates. However we can tailor this tour or something similar for your required dates.
Transfers upon arrival and departure
Accommodation as indicated in the itinerary
Meals as indicated in the itinerary
Daily activities and excursions as indicated in the itinerary
What's not included
Airfare to and from destination, as well as internal airfare where applicable
Trip cancellation insurance or any other travel insurance