October 22, 2014

epic. train. ride.

i'd heard all the stories about the Yangon to Bagan rail service.  it's considered the craziest train ride in Myanmar and after carefully considering my choices the bus [less expensive, shorter time and more reliable] or flying [more expensive, very fast and more reliable] i decide i will take the train which is notorious for excessive swaying and bumps having something to do with double track carriage on single track route and because it is frequently delayed due to uncoupling of carriages because of the bumps.  the adventure starts when i show up in the morning to buy a ticket and it's pretty chaotic.  eventually i get a ticket - it takes about 30 minutes because everything is done manually with paper and carbon copies.  thank god for the guy who keeps track of all the railway informmation for us travelers ... http://seat61.com/.  i find his information to be quite good.   the guy at the counter has badly decayed red teeth, which many of the men have here, from chewing the betel nuts.  when it's finally my turn at the window, i push my
passport over say 'Bagan' and mime a person sleeping.  as i walk away with my ticket in hand it feels like i've won the lottery.  it's hard to explain the euphoria i feel every time i susccessful navigate one of the scenarios where you understand NOTHING the other person is saying.

at 3:30 i wander over to the train station and find out the 4PM train is delayed probably two hours they say.  as i'm looking for a place to squat i see three other westerners.  all women.  so i ask them if they are going to Bagan and they are.  it turns out we are all in the same sleeper car so we commence the getting to know your travelmates ritual.  it is hot and humid and i am sweating just sitting still.  we do our best to ignore the heat and humidity by engaging the kids around us.  they are bored as well and interested in the white people.  they love having their picture taken and always want to see the photo afterwards.

the train arrives at 6PM and we board and leave around 6:30.  i'm sure at one time this was a grand train.  like maybe in 1930, now it feels pretty dingy.  it's supposed to be a 12 hour overnight train and the cost is $17US.  about an hour into the trip we get the first few bumps and then some more. it's like severe turbulance in an airplane.  all you can do is hang on.  it's amusing for about five minutes then the reality sets in.  the cabin boy stops by and says we'll be into Bagan at 3PM the next day - i'm doing the math in my head and it's more like a 21 hour ride.  it seems like it would be impossible to sleep.

eventually, i crawl up into the top sleeper which is hot and cramped and try to sleep.  it's crazy but i actually did sleep.  the windows were open and in the middle of the night at one of the stops we hear voices and it's vendors right outside the window trying to sell us something.  even without the jumping up and down the swaying back and forth is so severe that you can feel the carriage actually leaving the tracks and settling back down.  it's insane because the only thing keeping the carriage from tipping over completely is the connection to the other cars on the train.  somehow we make it through  the night and the rest of the ride is comfortable in comparison.  the jumping stops on the second half of the trip although i'm not sure if it's because the tracks are better or if it's because the train is moving slower.

Myanmar moves slowly past us as we settle in for the rest of the trip.  between the four of us we have plenty of snacks which is fortunate because i can't even figure out what the vendors are selling along the way.  it's really hot and the fan in our room has stopped working so the only way it is bearable is to stick your head out the window.  some passengers throw things out the windows for the kids that run along and up to the train.  there is trash everywhere in Myanmar and it's amazing to me how much trash is thrown out the windows of the train.

as all train rides do, this one ended and exactly when the cabin boy said it would.  3PM in Bagan.  i think this train will be gone soon.  replaced by a newer version and there will only be a memories of how truly horrible this train ride wass.  as we pull into the station i feel like a deserve a badge.  an 'i survived the Yangon - Bagon train ride' badge.  it was worth every bit of the $17US i paid.  i'm hot, tired, sweaty and ready for a cool swim in the pool at the hotel i booked in advance.  before we part the four of us, the only westerners on the train, agree to meet up later for dinner.  what an epic train ride.

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