The Yunnan-Vietnam Railway

Kunming-Hekou (Yunnan-Vietnam) Railway
Another World Cultural Heritage in Dream


By Ma Tongchun, a local resident and senior English-speaking tour guide with over 30 years of professional experience. 

In the southern part of Yunnan, a special railway lies in the mountains. It is special due to the history: it was built during 1903-1910 in the very late time of the Qing Dynasty. Because of the one-metre-wide gauge it is called the narrow gauge railway. This special railway was built in mountains through many tunnels and bridges, running through ethnic areas in the south of Yunnan. 

Mengzi, where the Bisezhai Station is located has a dozen of French style buildings constructed after the railway was opened.

In December 1883, the 2-years Sino-French War broke out. Surprisingly, China "lost the war with victory" and France "won the war with defeat". A treaty was then signed in June 1885, the result is that China lost the control of Vietnam and France got Vietnam as its colony. Furthermore France got the right to trade in Yunnan and the authority to build a railway from Hai Phong of Vietnam to Kunming of China.

Hekou, the port connecting Yunnan and Vietnam

The construction of the Yunnan part namely the Hekou-Kunming (Kun-He) Railway started in 1903, completed and opened to traffic in 1910, with a total length of 468 km. The railway was built in the mountains and over the rivers, with 425 bridges, 155 tunnels and 62 railway stations along it. The lowest point of the railway is Hekou Railway Station with the elevation of only 76.4m above the sea-level; while the highest point is Shuitang Railway Station with the elevation of about 2,400 metres above the sea level. The vertical drop difference is over 2,300 metres in a distance of 430 km.

The most attracting part of the railway is the Herringbone Bridge in Pingbian County of Honghe Prefecture. From Wantang to Zhicun Station, the 67-km-long railway had 78 tunnels and 47 bridges built, with a vertical going-up of about 900 metres and another steep climb from Yiliang to Shuitang Station going up about 800 metres.

Most parts of the railway run through Honghe which is home to many ethnic groups. 

The Kun-He Railway runs through many ethnic areas in the south of Yunnan, which covers Kunming City, Yuxi City, Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture where the Yi, Hani, Miao, Yao, Mongols, Zhuang, Dais and other people toil and multiply, and their colorful traditions are big attraction to the passengers from home and abroad and the local delicacies are tasty and really special.


The area the railway runs through enjoys the beautiful sceneries: lofty ridges and towering mountains covered with dense forests, rivers and trickling waters.  Because of the plentiful rainfalls, mild weather, the lands are fertile with good harvest of grains, vegetables, fruits, herbs and many other kinds of products. All of these show visitors a wonderful travel paradise to discover.


World Heritage Status Application
The Yunnan-Vietnam Railway is as famous as the Himalaya Railway in India and Semmering Railway in Austria, both of which have been successfully inscribed into the World Heritage List in 1998 and 1999 respectively, and only the Dian-Viet Railway has left to be applied as a World Heritage site. It is hopeful that great efforts will be made to succeed in the World Heritage Application of the railway and it will be a marvelous tourist attraction in China and the world.

To know more details about the railway, visitors can go to the Yunnan Railway Museum based in Kunming. 


Nowadays, travellers can take a train ride from Kunming to visit the major destinations in the south of Yunnan including Yuxi, Jianshui, Mengzi and Hekou etc.