The train for Bagan has a reputation due to the previous old (rocking and) rolling stock that put the wrong gauge carriages on the track and sent the carriages and people in them in all directions for 18hours or so. You spent as much time in the air as in your bunk. If the ‘new’ (read – Chinese second-hand) stock is an improvement, fook knows how bad that old stock really was! There was also stories of late departing trains, late arriving trains, trains being stuck in places, so pretty normal then.
At least we had a loo complete with seat (albeit with chunks out of it), a sink, which emptied the water onto the floor until I put the hose back into it’s proper place – a hole directly onto the track and we had our very own water feature in the luggage space – a steady flow coming through the electrics onto the sodden and buckled wooden floor.
Still, the rest of it was ok and it was only mildy perturbing to be locked in with 3 randoms for the duration. Our only escape being out the windows. On the right were the 2 Kiwis, replete with enough booze to start an offie, and a big bag of KFC to see them through, and on the left, me and Ben from the UK, both suitably layered in long clothing (see previous
blog rant about suitable clothing) for the overnight sleep (hopefully) ahead and with various packets of fruit, water and dried provisions – guess which side had been in the scouts!?!
What was weird was that there were 8 seats but only enough room for sleeping 4 (6 if 2 shared the bottom bunk). Each Indian / Thai / Vietnamese sleeper train I’ve ever been on seats the same number as it then sleeps – simples, so what happens here?
At Yangon girls pestered to sell the foreigners for beer or water at exhorbitant prices, charging the Kiwis 1,000kyat for 2 bottles of water (c400kyat). When they had no takers for anything else then they resorted to feigning hunger, forgetting that their android mobile phones were sticking out of their longyi. Scamming tourists is good money it seems.
We left on time (!) slowly and surely making our way out of Yangon, stopping off at a couple of places, but mainly moving through most of the local stops.
Once out of Yangon we picked up a bit of pace, and as the windows were open, and the train was clickety-clacking, and sounding its horn there was no conversation going on once the introductions were done and dusted. We were in the introverts compartment, everyone either head out of the window watching the world go by, or head in a phone / laptop watching downloaded films and getting pissed up on cans of beer. I had made sure I used the loo first before any attempts by the males in the carriage to pee whilst the train was moving were made. It was a bit disconcerting to go into the loo later and slosh through whatever was on the floor – I’m sure it was just water, mainly. Probably.
Head out of the window meant you started to feel like royalty, as all the kids lined up to wave at you as you went by. Ben and me were waving like loons at anyone and everyone, duty-bound to participate! It was great, even though there was so much dust in my hair I could hardly keep my head upright from the weight of it.
The tracks butted onto either the backs of houses, or onto fields. Quite a lot of harvesting had already been done, judging by the burning that had taken place on some fields, others were still to be harvested, and were almost iridescentgreen. People were out watering or tending to crops, bringing cattle and goats home after grazing, or relaxing playing chinlone or bathing, just getting on with life really. One sad thing to see was all the plastic littering everywhere, either thrown from the train or just blown into piles, or dumped.
As well as farming, there also seemed to be a brick-making industry across swathes of land. Huge two storey piles of bricks being fired from within creating giant kilns. Dotted around them were the homes of the labourers working the sites.
Sunset is about 6.10pm here, so pretty early doors. We were stopping regularly along the way, mainly to load up with deliveries rather than people. At one stop, there were piles of what looked like tractor tyres all wrapped in bamboo being hurled into the train. We stopped for as long as was needed, rather than to a timetable.
All the signalling was manual, so at each road crossing or station there was a man with a flag, or, in the evening, with a lamp. The guard also signalled manually down to the driver, so I imagine he wasn’t going to get much sleep that night. Even late into the night there were people sitting on the platform, bundled up against the cold waiting for a train to arrive, and at the occasional stop there would be hawkers with trays on their heads selling quails eggs or fruit, samosas or bits of (probably) chicken.
We had windows (oo, get us), perspex and filthy, so once they were shut you couldn’t really see anything. I had the bottom bunk which was 4 seats all together that the sheet just about covered. Luckily I had two super-sized scarves and a sleeping bag to see me through. The Kiwis hadn’t brought a thing, and in their near naked state were going to freeze their antipodean backsides off. If that meant I wasn’t going to get another eyeful of arse then I was happy. The bed wasn’t exactly comfortable, being a jigsaw of 8 pieces, plus (randomly) you had to erect the table over it in order to get the bed down. You ended up under the table, or rather curved around the table as us wide-hipped Europeans weren’t designed to fit under it. The track wasn’t smooth and there was a fair bit of jolting but not enough that you feared landing on the floor. So merely cold, uncomfortable and shaken about a bit, oh and noisy. Despite that I still managed to sleep some of the night away, waking about 6.30am with the sun up, nice and warm in my sleeping bag. Looking over to the Kiwis it appeared that beer was not a substitute for bedding and they had had to resort to putting all their clothes on. Yay!
Outside was waking up too, with people heading to market, monks out looking for alms, and the hawkers ready with breakfast at the next stop. Samosas came courtesy of Ben via one of the hawkers. The Kiwis declined, preferring Pringles – you’ll not be surprised to know that they had pizza for tea that night – not sure they’re what you call adventurous with food. Takes all sorts, right?
The day was warming up quickly and we moved into a landscape of palm date trees. At the very top under the leaves were bowls to collect the sap to make toddy.
We were still some way out from our final destination, Nyaung-U, but we weren’t going to be too late arriving in, maybe an hour to 90mins. We pootled along and then suddenly we were there, no announcement, no fanfare (not that I was expecting banners and a party) just an inkling based on the sidings and that a few people were milling around expectantly looking into the carriages and they didn’t have trays of food on their heads. We had to unlocked, which people seemed reluctant to do (!) and then we were out into the mid-morning heat of Bagan and a new town to explore.