We were taking the long overnight train from Bagan to Yangon, Myanmar. We booked the tickets weeks before for one of the old beat-up British sleeper cars with four sleeper berths. The conductor opened the door, and an English couple were already inside, and he said, “actually we booked all four spots in this car”. The conductor looked at all our tickets, the carriage had been double-booked. The Englishman said again, “We booked all four spots, so sorry”. Clearly there were only 2 of them; We both gave him a look; that’s not going to happen. I thought to myself what a #!?! Was he just going to leave fellow travelers on the platform when they had two spots open? Luckily, before it all kicked off, the conductor looked at his clip-board, and motioned us to the next car that had beds available.
We settled in and a nice kid from Singapore joined us and we chatted about our travels around Myanmar. Later, we were all ready to try and get some sleep, when the train made a stop. I stuck my head out the window and noticed two young local men get into the carriage of our friends next door, the door shut and the train immediately departed. Looks like the young English couple was going to have some company for the evening after all. There was no way to leave the car once the train was moving and there wasn’t another stop until mid-morning.
When the train finally arrived in Yangon, as we passed their carriage, I slowed and took a peek in. The carriage looked well-worn and the women was still packing, looking disheveled and exhausted. She saw me out the window and I gave her a big smile; travel karma got you!
Sunset on the train. Good karma
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.