Ah trains! We like trains and had yet to travel on one in this trip, although $1 more each for the train we had heard it was an interesting way to see some of the countryside.
Step one: Waiting for the train- it was right there but they only let people have access 30 mins before. We found out why shortly after. As we were in the sleeper and the train looked to be very long and by the size of the crowd we reckoned it would be very busy. Gav decided to go off and located the sleeper carriages. Turns out there was only one and I’m very glad Gav found it!
So the train. We located our cabin and bunks quickly, discovered the monogrammed sheets and pillows- FYI the sheet doesn’t cover the whole mattress of the bunk just the top surface.
Shortly after getting to our carriage we were joined by our bunkmate- a 63 year old Englishman from London- he seemed mildly peeved he had to share the carriage but defrosted a bit during the subsequent conversations. We got on the train far to early in hindsight- within about 5 mins of us getting on and literally as we sat down to get settled there were children everywhere trying to sell us stuff- from the carriage door and then the window! They seemed particularly keen for us to buy beer for some reason. In the end Gav bought a bottle of coke from one of the girls (the one in the window). She then proceed to ask us for food- our rather small dinner of random bakery items- she got some sweets in the end. Then on the dot of 5pm, we were off! The sound of squealing children and running feet filled the corridor as the young vendors rushed to get off the train as it eased out of the station.
So began our 15 hour journey to Mandalay! It was billed as 13 hrs, but we were reliably informed that time would be lost somewhere and we would arrive late. Later was better for us as we weren’t sure if we could check in early. As the train picked up speed as did the degree of rocking felt in the carriages- the Myanmar railway is a narrow gauge railway, it doesn’t go very fast, and the majority of the journey is quite a nice rocking motion, inter dispersed with random sections of boucing- like doing a horizontal sitting trot for those familiar with horse riding. It was quite fun and we had our own waiter who we didn’t need as we had our own food but was handy for the odd cup of 3in1 coffee (very popular in Myanmar).
So day quickly descended into night as we chatted with our new friend who was telling us all about his travels around the world starting with when he was kicked out of Tokyo after 23 years and his time in some of the immigration prisons in SE Asia- $200 a day for a cell in Thailand apparently, his trips from London overland through the middle east, the trans-siberian railway, journeys through Central and South America (in the 70s). It was just as we were thinking of settling down for the night the windows still open when he decided to tell us about a serial killer in the 70s in India and SE Aisa – he told us that this guy disposed of some bodies out the window of the train, which was a nice bed time story….and despite the lack of a working fan, we closed the windows, leaving it only open a crack for ventilation. We were getting stared at in the door to so we closed that also, leaving the three of us in a very hot and stuffy cabin. It was tolerable when we were moving but we were stopped at the station it was a nightmare as the temperature soared.
As I have said earlier I had gone for the top bunk and managed to position myself with one arm on the side and one under the diagonal support bar. This worked quite well most of the night especially when it was bumpy however it wasn’t the most comfortable. I did eventually get some sleep but was woken suddenly by being catapulted into the air by a particularly bad stretch of the railway. I think I got about 3-4 hours sleep- even with earplugs, every station was incredibly noisy- one even had a band (?? it was about 2 am!) so you woke at the stations too.
Anyway by 5 am the sun was on its way up and the cabin was too bright and I couldn’t sleep anymore so I went to sit by the window-much to Gav’s annoyance as he was still managing to sleep. I spent the remaining hours trying to take some photos, a difficult task with the amount of moving the carriage was doing.
When we eventually arrived into Mandalay, after a night of being the last tic-tac in Michael Flatley’s pocket, we didn’t even manage to get off the train before the local taxi drivers were on us- in our cabin no less. Cheeky chaps wanted 4000 kyat to drive us the 800m to our hotel! We ended up walking it in the end.
Next up Mandalay, Bagan and Inle….