The Gokteik Viaduct is a vertigo-inducing steel railway bridge that spans a deep river gorge. Built in 1899 and officially opened in 1901, the bridge was constructed as part of the Mandalay to Lashio railway line into Northern Shan State, aimed at expanding the British Empire’s influence in Myanmar.
The viaduct is located in the center of the country, about 60 miles northeast of Mandalay. It measures 689 meters (2,261 feet) long and it is built atop 14 towers that rise up to 102 meters (335 feet) above the gorge. At the time of its construction, the bridge was the tallest railway bridge in the world and was considered to be an engineering marvel.
It was designed in London, and the pieces were manufactured by the Pennsylvania Steel Company. Pieces of the structure were built in the United States and then loaded onto ships for the months-long journey from New York to Southeast Asia. Just under a year after the pieces arrived, the bridge was assembled.
American writer Paul Theroux’s describes the viaduct as “a monster of silver geometry in all the ragged rock and jungle” in his 1975 book The Great Railway Bazaar. Trains still run over this bridge every day, the steel towers suspending riders above the deep ravine.
Know Before You Go
The trains run once per day in each direction. Total journey time between Mandalay to Lashio exceeds 15 hours. Upper class fares for the full journey is about $6, less for shorter journeys. The main towns served by this train are Mandalay and Pyin U Lwin south of the viaduct, and Hsipaw and Lashio north of the viaduct. For Northbound Trains: The viaduct is north of Mandalay and Pyin U Lwin. Take the train from either of those stations. It is best to sit on the left side of the train in this direction. Tickets sellers usually assign upper class seats on the left side without asking. For Southbound Trains: The two largest towns north of the viaduct are Hsipaw and Lashio. It is best to sit on the right side of the train in this direction. Tickets sellers usually assign upper class seats on the left side without asking. Ticket sales begin at the stations one hour before scheduled departure. Foreigners must produce their passports to purchase a ticket.