The train ride from Myitkyina to Mandalay was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. If you ever considering traveling this route and are young and healthy, I’d encourage you to go for it. If you’re less fit, or get motion sickness easily, then just read this post instead! 🙂
The train car we were on was definitely older but still comparable in many ways to what we’d gotten used to in India. We had booked in the train’s only first class sleeper car. Our cabin had two wide, relatively generously cushioned berths on either side (something we’d be really grateful for rather soon!). The two large windows were completely open when we boarded the train, which, in the afternoon heat, suited me fine.
We shared the cabin with a middle-aged Burmese woman and a younger Burmese man who were travelling with a massive bag of longyis – I guess they were bringing these to Mandalay to be sold. They didn’t speak any English, but were SO friendly. We’d barely gotten our things and selves settled into the cabin before they were sharing their food and laughter with us.
Soon after we pulled slowly out of Myitkyina, we discovered what Elmer had warned us about. The ride was smooth and easy at first, but once we reached a rougher patch of the ancient tracks, our car began to sway back and forth like an oversized cradle. Roman and I smiled at each other – this wasn’t so bad at all! Then the bouncing started.
The car started softly jigging up and down, building up momentum until we were literally being thrown a few inches off our seats with each bounce. This is when the thick padding of the berth started to really come in handy. I loved it, being jogged around like a small child on a parent’s lap – it was hilarious and Roman and I couldn’t help but laugh every time we hit another spot of decrepit tracks and got launched into the air.
Even when we were attempting to sleep later that night, we still got the giggles. Like on the boat, the train cars weren’t heated and as soon as the sun disappeared, things got really frigid, even with the windows closed. Unlike in India, the Burmese train didn’t provide blankets, but the sweet woman in our car loaned us one of hers. Even with her generosity and extra layers of clothing, it was still freezing, and Roman and I huddled together on one berth to try and keep warm. When the bouncing would suddenly start, we’d have to hold tight to one another to avoid knocking into each other, and together we’d be flung sometimes up to a foot off of the berth as we bounced along. This happened at least a couple times an hour. Needless to say, we didn’t manage to sleep much that night, but we did laugh a lot!
I need to say that the journey must have been a lot less fun for folks in the normal cars, where people were crowded into hard, wooden seats. The poor woman in our berth had a rough morning – she seemed to have something go out of joint in her back over night and was clearly not feeling that great. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have this be your only travel option if you were sick or infirm – and you could only afford a lower class ticket.
Beauty all around
The train ride was also amazing for us for the incredible scenery we got to see. I savored every moment I could look out the window before the sun went down. Most of the time we were travelling through wilderness or vast farmlands. Dried out rice paddies would stretch golden in the sun till they reached purple hills on the horizon. Occasionally the track would lead us through small villages, where young children would wave enthusiastically as we rolled by. More frequently we’d pass glittering, golden pagodas, at the edge of a village or simply in the midst of the beautiful but empty landscape.
The station stops provided just as much eye candy. The people watching was great and I especially loved the longer stops at night, where the women selling food in the dark station wandered by our open windows, calling out their wares and balancing elegantly on their heads the broad, round trays of fruit, eggs or fried pastries, lit only by a candle stuck in the center. An incredible sight.
As amazing as it was, still I was happy when we pulled into Mandalay the next morning – only one hour behind schedule (which is apparently very good by Burmese standards).
The view from our cabin; the lovely woman who shared her food and blankets with us
One of many pagodas along the route
Crooked picture. I blame the bouncing train.
This butterfly tagged a ride on my windowsill for nearly a quarter of an hour. 🙂