The very first railway in southwest China opened just over a century ago, connecting Yunnan to Haiphong in Vietnam and thus dramatically reducing travel time on this important international trade route. Spanning a total of 855 kilometers, over half of which are in China, the ambitious project was hailed by international media as an engineering feat in the same league as the likes of the Suez Canal and Panama Canal after it opened. And anyone who enjoys a history-infused hike should put this close to the top of their list.
Construction of the line started in 1904 and took six full years to construct, with numerous geographical challenges for the engineers to overcome - mountainous terrain here meant the track has a narrow 1,000 mm gauge, currently the only railway of this kind found anywhere in the country. The section of the railway that falls within China starts close to the Vietnamese border at Hekou, and climbs over 1,800 meters in altitude as it passes through various counties of Yunnan before arriving in the provincial capital of Kunming.
These days, a disused section of the track that runs between Kebaocun Station and Yiliang makes for an excellent and easy-to-follow path for hikers. You'll find the starting point in the village of Kebao, which can be reached by walking from Yongfengying Station. This route leads you along the tracks through one of the most scenic sections of the entire railway, throughout which fabulous countryside views are interrupted only by occasional old railway tunnels of various lengths. The perfect combination, one might say, of glorious nature and masterful human engineering.
Departing Kebaocun Station on foot you'll soon enter the lush greenery of Shuijingpo Canyon, and as the path continues its descent it begins to follow the Tangchi River, which then flows into the Nanpan River as it approaches the area known as Yangzonghai. After six kilometers of walking, you'll reach Shuijingpo Station from where it's possible to take a public bus (or call a Didi if you prefer) back to Kebao.
But those with surplus energy should continue on for an additional four kilometers and finish at the station in Yiliang, making a tidy ten-kilometer hike. Whilst this section of the railway may be abandoned, it lives on as a hiking route brimming with fantastic local scenery and important Yunnan history.