The rail system in Myanmar was built by British in the late 1940s and has fallen into disrepair over the decades. It is notoriously slow, always late and an extremely rough ride. We were taking the overnight train from Bagen to Yangon, a seventeen hour ride through the jungles of Burma.
We climbed aboard and were joined by a 20-something kid from Singapore. Together we checked out our home for the night; The 50-year old ‘upper-class’ sleeper carriage had four seats underneath a sleeping shelf on each side. With a fight, the seats could be turned into a bed. It had a bathroom with a sink with no water and when you opened up the toilet lid there was just a hole through the floor to the tracks below. We opened the windows wide, were pleasantly surprised when the ceiling fan worked; the train seemed relatively comfortable for being a rolling antique.
At the station, we had loaded up on the essentials; water, snacks and beer. We got out the books, camera and sustenance out and settled in for the long trip.
The train slowly groaned to a start, bumping along the track. It certainly was not a bullet train, we were traveling at about 25 mph. Looking out the window we saw small farms with grass and mud-brick homes. Small kids would stand by the tracks and wave as we passed. We didn’t see a car or paved road for hours.
We tried to sleep on the upper bunks; basically enlarged luggage racks. Every time I drifted off, I was jolted awake by what sounded like someone banging on the floor with a sledgehammer. During the night you’d be woken by the train alarmingly rocking and rolling from side to side; it was like sleeping through a massive earthquake. You were bounced inches in the air off the bed, slammed into the wall and then almost thrown right off. I resorted to sleeping on my stomach, arms and legs outstretched, like a starfish.
We arrived at Yangon almost two hours late. We were tired and dazed, but OK considering we had just been trapped in an over-sized washing machine for nineteen hours. Then we stepped off the train into 106 degree heat.