The International Steam Pages

Return to Dakhondaing, 2006

A Burmese Rice Mill
and its Village.
26th March 2013

One of the highlights of our 2005 visit to Burma was the rice mill at Dakhondaing. We had barely an hour to enjoy it at work and we were determined to return to savour its unique atmosphere properly. 

We spent the first two weeks of our 2006 bash in Sagaing division and the experience left both us and our excellent guide Han Win Aung totally exhausted. He stayed in Bago to recover, watch some football and maybe even spend some time with his new wife whom he had hardly seen since the happy event; meanwhile, we set off in independent mode, always our preferred style.....

The omens were not good, 'Friday the 13th' was looming and the lateness of train 81 to Mottama made it a complete 'no-no' even to the staff at Bago station. So we decamped to a bus which would at least get us to Moulmein the right side of midnight. Hence we had our first trip over the new river bridge where the railway will 'soon' be in use. For anyone familiar with Burma, the sight of the extended elevated system being erected on the east side of Moulmein will come as a shock. The new station will rank third only to the monstrosities in Bagan and Mandalay. The Breeze Guest House is my regular welcoming retreat here and we duly watched the sun go down with a cold beer or two at a near-by watering hole. Next day was a recovery one, the Breeze lent me a bicycle and I set off to check possible activity in the city's rice mills. We took the hourly Theinbuzyat bus at 09.00 from the market in Moulemin a day later, a long retired Korean effort with original advertisements in place. We had been assured that everyone knew Dakhondaing (and its rice mill) and so it proved. Outside Moulmein, the police/immigration were checking some IDs and all foreigner passports. "You know", observed an old man sagely, "They only check the young people, they are trying to stop them escaping to Thailand..." An hour and a half later, we were decanted in the middle of a rubber estate. Daw Ei Ma is an institution here and the merest mention of her name was enough for the trishaw/becak driver to head off in the right (only) direction. Half an hour later, we were at our destination but no-one was to be seen. The mill itself was clearly operable, there were piles of rice waiting to be processed and the engine was lovingly covered in sacking to protect it from the birds. Word quickly spread of our return and ten minutes later one of the lady workers appeared and gestured for us to follow her.

Through the village we went and into the monastery, not quite what we had expected. It was an auspicious full moon day and our good lady had provided a sumptuous feast for the monks and her workers which we were immediately invited to join. Mercifully we had brought along a water melon which was duly chopped and added as 'afters'.


In due course, we were taken for a brief audience with the abbot:


In what seemed like no time we were packed off with enough food for our dinner, we promised to return next day. Back at the junction we boarded a crowded pick up:

In such circumstances it pays to have a 'Plan B' and in this case it was a previously unvisited active rice mill on the outskirts of Mudon which Yuehong had spotted on the way out. The most surprised person of the day was probably the conductor on the bus back afterwards - the same as we had used on the way out! 

Next day we set out earlier, the 07.00 bus may have looked smart:

But inside it was sardine tin territory... The previous day we had been given the seats reserved for the monks, but today one was travelling and that meant Yuehong had to stand all the way. I was actually quite jealous as most of the passengers jammed tight up against her were nubile young Burmese students.

We were glad to escape. Thereafter, it was a case of 'they all lived happily ever after'. I bashed the closed mill in the village and found a piston valved engine which had come off a portable, a real treasure. 

The main mill was in full flow and we spent the next 4 hours like a pair of videots soaking it up, pausing only for a delicious lunch before returning to base. Today we brought the staff some oranges, luxury items in Burma and they were carefully placed on parts of the mill as offerings before being consumed... With places like Dakhondaing, Burma still has some claim to be the 'Golden Land'. 

We retired for a couple of days' rest in Moulmein, before making a very successful further trip south to rectify one of the 2005 cock ups.

The Mudon 'Plan B' mill was nothing special by Burmese standards, just an immaculate smooth running 10" H size Tangye complete with Paris 1878 Gold Medal plate, name your construction date but certainly at least 100 years ago....

Alas the Moulmein scene was a disappointment, it was almost 'no change' since 2005. The great hope was the mill with two compound engines but rehabilitation was still not complete. So this superb tandem Cowie was almost ready for action but not the rest of the kit. At least I logged a pump and a small engine which had escaped me the year before.

No-one expects this cross-compound Marshall to work here but one day it will again somewhere in the country and maybe I will be there to see it! 

In 2005, the only confirmed Foster engine we saw was at Taungpa on the way to Thanbuzyat. The mill boiler was under repair so we shot no video. To make matters worse, in an act of electronic vandalism I accidentally deleted all the still images from my lap top, just one small picture remained which had been converted for use on the website. A pilgrimage of atonement was needed and after the previous bus journey, I got up at some ungodly hour and cycled down to the market in Moulmein to buy a couple of seat tickets for the 08.00 bus. Today there were no students, only moderate over-crowding and it left on time. Taungpa is such a small village that even the bus driver didn't know where the turn-off was, so one of the passengers helped out. Again a trishaw did the job, including the last half mile which was dirt.

There was no smoke, no fire, no activity and worse still, no rice. However, the boiler had 40 pounds on and just after we arrived the engineer added some husks so some action seemed likely 'soon', but in Burma 'soon' means only sometime in the next 24 hours. Suddenly, a Chinese 3-wheeler chugged in out of nowhere, bags of rice were unloaded and the boiler lit up. Half an hour later, the mill was running. Lucky? I have my opinion but I'm an arrogant bastard. Even better, almost immediately, the lady owner appeared in a car, she had travelled down from Moulmein as it happened and would we like to go back with her at 16.00? She obviously also has a good astrologer as she had brought a large cake with her for the visitors! But she did have to send out for the tea to go with it.

This is the boiler it was once united with as a portable engine, the plate identifies it as 14615.

With this sort of lucky streak running, it really was no surprise that I spotted another chimney gushing smoke on the other side of the stream. Either it wasn't there last year or we were blind. That too was about to start work and produced what the owner said was a Marshall. Certainly the cylinders looked the job, but the rest of the machine looked like a very small and very old Tangye, so if it is indeed a Marshall it is very old indeed. Of course, there were no marks on it at all.

Our lift delivered us to the guest house door well before sunset, it had been another wonderful day, the sort you can only have when you travel independently and ride your luck. 

These are the individual pages from the 2006 trip:

Read more about our travels in:

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson