Yangon to Bagan:20 hour train ride

Saturday, July 30, 2016
Bagan, Myanmar
The train from Yangon to Bagan was quite the experience. 20 hours in total to travel 389 miles. We boarded at 4pm with our friendly rail attendant ferrying our bags on to the carriage for us and showing us to our seats. The carriage itself wasn't bad at all. Fairly soft padded up-right seats. They didn't recline at all but compared to the lowest class which was just wooden benches we certainly were not complaining.

As we clunked and groaned our way out of the station we settled in and made ourselves comfortable . The carriage was quite empty so we were able to move around to other seats so we could stretch out more. Whenever we travel by train we always use http://www.seat61.com/ website, it's a great source of info for rail travel all over the world, it's the best out there and it gives you all the small details you need to plan your trip. We had read that the trains here are ridiculously bumpy. In fact not even bumpy but down right white knuckle material with stories of people being slammed into carriage walls and rising 2 feet into the air before being thrown back down into their seats! The reason is that despite the fact the British built the lines here (using local Burmese slave labour) they have hardly been maintained since they were first built and they now use Chinese built carriages and bogeys that are a slightly different gauge meaning there is a lot of sideways movement as well as some serious bone crunching kinks in the lines. At this point we looked at our tickets and were both amused and curious to find that 3.6 Kyats of our 6,000 Kyat fare each was for Life Insurance.....Life Insurance?! and only 3.6 Kyats at that. I'm not quite sure how much that would have paid out but 3.6 Kyats is roughly 0.24p..oh well, not quite sure who I would have paid that out to had something unfortunate happened but I doubt they would be retiring early. We had prepared ourselves for the worst but were pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as bad as other peoples tales of doom. Not sure if it's other people expectations or that maybe our driver went a little slower than usual but it really wasn't that bad bar the odd occasion.

Our carriage companions consisted of a very old guard, a couple of Police men who must travel on every train I guess as there were also a couple on the circular line train in Yangon, a mother and her ridiculously cute young boy, another lady sat just ahead of us and a couple of lads up at the far end . I can't speak enough of how friendly these people were. We didn't really have any interaction with the Police or lads at the top end as they never ventured down our end and we didn't head any further up the carriage but the guard, two ladies and young lad were brilliant. As time went on and sunset neared the people started to bring meals out from various random places and all of these people offered to share their food with us which was so generous. We politely declined all bar some delicious belly pork with crackling made by the young lads mam. In return we offered the guard some of our biscuits which he gladly accepted to the point were he assumed the whole packet were for him so we didn't see them again and were unable to offer them to anyone else. Great stuff and quite a laugh, we weren't bothered as they only cost us a few pennies. We had some stickers in our bag that we had bought in Yangon to give out to any kids we came across and the young lad who was only maybe 4 years old was so happy to be given a few. Grinning away as he firmly stuck them onto his wrists and scrambling back to show his mam the new colourful dinosaurs adorning him . This lad became quite a love-able character, popping up every so often to come and sit with us. Eventually it was his bed time and his mam popped him into his pyjamas and stretched him out along the length of a seat, very sweet to see.

We had brought a £2 bottle of whiskey with us in the hope that it would help get us to sleep but after a while we soon realised that any sleep we got would be very short cat naps. As night drew in and with all the windows in the carriage wide open to keep every one cool the entire cast of bugs life piled on board and started to have a party around each of the lights. Absolute swarms of what seemed like every insect known to man boarded our carriage and danced the night away under the bright lights just above our heads. After kicking away a cockroach that wanted to settle down for the night in one of my shoes I was taken by surprise with a quick blur that darted under my seat. A few minutes later another blur shot past on the opposite side. A few more laps and it was clear that we also had our very own carriage rat as a pet to keep us company for the long night ahead. I decided to keep my feet up on the seat as much as I could for the rest of the night just in-case our new little friend got peckish and fancied a nibble on my toes.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. Constantly in and out of sleep but I was awake for sunrise which was nice to see from the train as we ambled through the countryside. Every one is up and about early in Myanmar and it was great to watch kids at school in the middle of nowhere playing football at 7:30am. Farmers out ploughing their fields the old way using a wooden plough and a couple of Ox to drag it along. Ladies with their pointed hats harvesting rice and vegetables at the side of the tracks. Occasionally we would pass stations slowly but rarely stop and we would see youngsters everywhere waving frantically at us as we leaned out of the windows. Beautiful to see. As we pulled into one station it stopped briefly and the lady with the lad offered to go and grab us breakfast. Such a nice friendly gesture and we are starting to see that this is everywhere we go in Myanmar.

The morning seemed long and tiring. As we pulled into a station not far from Bagan the two ladies and the young lad departed bidding their farewells to us. The boy was given a few more stickers which excited him a lot and then we were on our way again past hillsides and mountains with temples hanging precariously on top of them. The landscape was changing from what was fairly flat around Yangon and it looks like a beautiful relatively untouched part of the country.

Eventually, 20 hours later we rolled into Bagan station and stopped with a bang and a judder. At last. As we departed, loaded up with our bags we were greeted by the expected fleet of guys all wanting their taxi fare. The prices being offered were ridiculous though. Considering we had just paid £8 for the two of us to travel 389 miles up the country these drivers wanted the same amount to take us the last 3 miles to our new digs. In the middle of nowhere and with nothing around we did our best to haggle them down but with limited choice and obviously an agreement between themselves we had to settle for paying out £6 to complete our journey.

As we headed down the first road from the station in Bagan we slowed and pulled into the side next to a small hut and a group of people all dressed in blue. The sign outside the hut read that all tourists entering the archaeological area had to pay a fee of £16 to enter. This is something we had read a lot about and were uncomfortable paying this large fee, or any fee for that matter. This is a fee that the government is trying to utilise and it's a grey area as to whether you have to pay it or not. In addition only 1% of this fee goes to the locals and non of it goes to the upkeep or restoration of the temples here. I had prepared myself for this and as soon as I spotted the checkpoint coming up I quickly sorted smaller money into two pockets. One pocket with our taxi fare in and the other only containing around £2. As our driver opened the door to allow the tag team to take our fare I claimed this was all the cash we had and that we could not pay. They looked confused for quite some time insisting we pay the fee but I stood firm by my claim that we had no money to pay for the passes. I do not mind paying my way at all but when it is lining a slightly dodgy governments pockets and not going back into the local economy or towards conservation then I don't agree with it.

Eventually we were waved away by disappointed, confused faces and finally reached our new place. It's been quite the trip from Yangon to Bagan and I'm very excited to see what Bagan has to offer. From the photos I've seen online the place looks like nothing else we've visited or anywhere else on Earth for the matter. As with Myanmar in general I'm expecting big things from this new place.

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