The International Steam Pages

The Pinbaw Wizard, 2007

In the great game of grice in Burma, now and again you are dealt a bummer of a hand.... We knew before we arrived in the far north of the rice growing area of Burma that pickings would be thin in Kachin State. Portable Paradise records our promising start and Another Luxury Irrawaddy River Cruise describes the start of our journey back south terminating in Katha, infamous as the small town described in George Orwell's 'Burma Days'. We knew all about the limitations of the guest house here and eating out from our previous visit so we were neither surprised nor disappointed.

We needed to get ourselves back north to Mohnyin where more rice mills were reported. The optimal travel arrangements were to use a train from Naba, what was less optimal was the 04.00 start in a taxi from Katha to catch the train. Even worse when we discovered we could have had at least one more hour's sleep before departure, but by then it was too late. Four hours later, we found Mohnyin to be fairly described as 'undiscovered', it is a pleasant enough place, we ate well (Burmese for a change) and the very ordinary guest house needed a mere 10 copies of each of our travel documents to satisfy our friends in the immigration department. Quite why Yuehong and Yiran were smiling for the camera, I have no idea...

As we had been warned, both mills in the town (one with a 12" Marshall, the other with a large Tangye) were well out of use. There were still four more mills reported set out along the railway line to the north to be checked out, the map indicated we need only travel some 40 miles out and the same distance back. So when we were quoted the best part of U$75 for a taxi to do the job next morning we were a little taken aback but it was all that was on offer. It was soon clear why the price was so high, the road was in abysmal state, one of those where the potholes have become so continuous that using the 'hard shoulder' is the best option. And it was drizzling too, something which did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the begging bowl rattlers.

And every now and again the bridge was missing and temporary arrangements needed. 

Alas they are not always suitable for the overloaded trucks

I would hesitate to describe our journey as 'wasted' but we have had far better days. The first mill had a dust covered Robey:

The second mill had a splendid Davey Paxman engine 

And then the wheels fell off the trip as the next two mills were locked and the owners had decamped to Mandalay and Myitkyina. Perched on top of a poorly balance ladder, I judged the next engine to be from T.Shore of Stoke on Trent as seen elsewhere:


The last, which I dubbed 'The Pinbaw Wizard', was even less easy to photograph and impossible to identify. The other side was not observable, the engine appears to have a crosshead pump, the like of which we have not seen anywhere else here.


Finally as we returned to base, we were reminded by the sight of the travelling Chinese Opera that 'New Year' was approaching rapidly, it would mean at least one night without the alternative of eating Chinese food, which in this part of the world is often a marginally better choice than the indigenous offerings. No one ever came to Burma to sample its culinary delights.


From Mohnyin we were heading back to Shwebo where we had enjoyed a pleasant enough few days in 2006. By now the drizzle had turned to the kind of rain familiar from my childhood in the UK's West Country and we again headed for the station. 'Ordinary Class' was all that was available initially, not really the best way to pass a night on a Burmese train. Fortunately, the staff seemed to have learned a lot from their new Chinese friends who had flogged them off a set of coaches which were fit for the scrap heap in China but were luxurious in their new country. 10 minutes after departure we were installed in sleepers at a fraction of the official price. And so our arrival in Shwebo should have seen us in rude good health except that it was 6 hours late owing to a freight derailment in front of us en route and we then found that we would have to settle for the third choice accommodation there, in a guest house which would have given our unfavourite '7 stars hotel' in Pyapon a good run for its money. It was time, yet again, to remind ourselves that this country didn't get where it is today by being efficient. 

These are the individual pages from the 2007 trip:

Read more about our travels in:

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson