The Shan State Express is the sonorous name of a unique train that travels to the north of Myanmar and to the legendary kingdom of the Shan. It passes through some of the most splendid scenery in South East Asia.
We begin in the famous city of Mandalay that has a population of around a million and is a centre of Burmese art. Mandalay was founded around 150 years ago and is therefore a relatively young metropolis. It owes its existence to an outstanding monarch, King Mindon who, wishing to escape from his kingdom’s turbulent past, had a brand new royal city built.
The journey on the Shan State Express begins early in the morning in Mandalay Train Station. Immediately after leaving the city, we encounter wonderful scenery that is strongly influenced by a remarkable backdrop of mountains and unspoiled nature. The railroad travels in a zigzag up the mountains which enables it to negotiate severe slopes that would otherwise be impossible for it to climb vertically.
With the arrival of the railroad, an increasing number of small farming villages developed, most of which were populated by the Shan. Accounting for around 8.5 percent of the total population, the Shan are the largest ethnic minority in Myanmar. Their culture has been a major contribution to the historical development of South East Asia.
At numerous railway stations, Westerners are sometimes a little wary of the various snacks on offer. When a tempting skewer of food suddenly turns out to be a grilled locust, the appetite can sometimes disappear within seconds! The continuing journey on the Shan State Express travels once more into the countryside. Picturesque hills line the route that is close to a famous militarily name, the Burma Road.
The Shan State is truly one of the most colorful areas in South East Asia. Due to the extended train route from Mandalay to Lashio, the time is hopefully not far away when the poverty of this region will be replaced by a new era of well deserved prosperity.