On my first trip to Myanmar back in 2011, I decided to take the overnight train from Yangon to Mandalay. Having spoken to the tourist office and ignoring all of the advice on trip advisor, I purchased my ticket at grand station, Yangon. It all seemed easy enough. I was excited at the prospect of traveling in a first class cabin with beds. How bad could it be?
After dragging my bags on to the train, not an easy feat when you are trying to avoid hoards of other passengers’ luggage, running children and cages of live chickens (1 kid you not!) I reached my cabin. It was like stepping back into a 1950’s movie. Shabby chic at best and not exactly the first class comfort I had been dreaming of. But surely this was what experiences are made of…
More ‘northern line’ standards than the orient express. I settled in for the journey, having stocked up on food, water and a fan before boarding. I looked forward to seeing the Burmese countryside role by as I watched through the enormous window that dominated my cabin.
Having boarded the train at 6pm we slowly set off through the middle of the city with its tiny streets and hoards of people and then into the wider, open, green and brown countryside of Burma. There was a camaraderie among the passengers. Everyone took time to lean out of their carriage windows to introduce or smile at their neighbours. It was by doing this, slightly dangerous leaning out of the window, that I discovered in the carriage to my left were two German couples, while the neighbours to my right were local people including a monk. After the initial rush of excitement and greetings
I sat back on my bed, popped in my headphones and simply marvelled at the country that rolled out before me. The trip so far had been slightly bumpy but wonderful.
As evening approached I watched from my rocking carriage as the sun started to set over the Burmese country side, the train slowly working its way through fields and villages, passing rivers filled with monks washing and the ever present children playing.Once the sun went down the darkness was overwhelming. I could see nothing but the moon and stars, only able to vaguely make out small lights occasionally passing from little clusters of houses in the distance. With no street lights or pollution the stars shone clear and bright.
One of the Germans from next door appeared, with a bottle of whisky in hand and asked me to join them for a nightcap. The next few hours were spent getting wonderfully merry, sharing travel stories with my new friends and mainly being flung around the small cabin as the train made its way over very bumpy tracks. I am not a drinker and more than two glasses of anything makes me ready for bed, although the party was still going strong. I decided to excuse myself before things got more wobbly.
Only once I had returned to my cabin, did I suddenly notice how cold it had become now the sun had set. So cold in fact I had to rummage
through my bag for extra layers. Once dressed in two long skirts, four t-shirts, and a shawl (all I could find in the dark) I curled up under my towel and a very thin sheet and went to sleep.
Waking early the following morning, we were still travelling painfully slowly towards Mandalay. It was still freezing cold and I was covered in bruises from the bumpy journey and the steel bed frame. I think the whiskey from the night before had definitely helped to knock me out, otherwise I would not have slept a wink.
Thankfully, the train soon slowed at a small stop, allowing food vendors with steaming cups of coffee and hot snacks to board the train and sell their good. A cup of tea and 30 minutes later the sun began to rise and the whole of Burma appeared to be waking up.
Within the hour we had arrived in Mandalay and disembarked the train. I am not sure I could ever put my body through the same journey again, but it was a wonderful experience that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.