Taking the train in Myanmar
As dedicated readers to this blog (all three of you! ;)) should be aware, I am a bit of a fan of the ol’ train ride, so I thought I’d do a bit of a summary of my time on the trains whilst I was in Myanmar over February and March.
So, I only took the three train journeys in that time – I had the option of taking a night train from Mandalay to Bagan, but it was an overnight journey of 9 or more hours, and the bus took four and a half in the end.
To be honest, not many travellers take the train option for the long journeys, although there is a reasonable network of tracks linking Bagan, Mandalay, Yangon and other places. The train is a hell of a lot slower than most bus options, and share taxis can be even quicker than the buses so, train really doesn’t spring up as a viable option to many. Even I, who really loves a long train journey, decided against relying on rail. And if the trains I did take were any indication of the quality of service and experience, I made the right call.
I took a train up in the hills from Pyin Oo Lwin, across the Gokteik Viaduct, to a station 45 minutes past the viaduct, Niopeng. The viaduct is 100 metres plus up in the air, and the train goes at 3 miles an hour over it to not put any extra strain on the structure. I was surprised by how LITTLE it creaked to be honest with you. This was a train full of tourists, and I paid something like $1.60 US for the ticket, the ride was 5 hours long.
A week later I was heading west to east from Bagan to Inle Lake. I took a bus that took about three hours to a town called Thazi, stayed there overnight and took a train from Thazi to a station around 15 minutes from the lake, Shwenyaung. This train took over 9 hours, around 2 more than it was supposed to, but was a fascinating ride as it used the ‘switchback’ technique to go up the mountains. The train really goes through some beautiful and changing scenery. Stunning in places. Cost was about 2 bucks.
One thing I will say for both of these trains, the carriages are in serious disrepair and need to be replaced, especially for Thazi to Shwenyaung. I took ‘Upper Class’ (that’s the best there is!) in both instances and things were broken, uncomfortable and there were doors that wouldn’t close and holes in the ceiling. Wires and bits of metal sticking out of the chairs. One of my chairs was in permanent recline mode and wouldn’t be moved to sit properly. And they bounced and moved from side to side like I have NEVER experienced before.
Trains are many things in Myanmar, but not smooth. They were both very late. Both had coupling issues and had long stops at stations to check every coupling and tie them up with fencing wire when required! The trains never hit more than about 30 km/h. This is mostly about safety – looking at the tracks the joins were pretty haphazard and one rail was then joined to the next which was far higher or lower. AND earlier in the week there had been an accident at Pyin Oo Lwin station where carriages had uncoupled, and one had fallen over onto its side. Train travel in Myanmar is not without risks!
In Yangon I took the 3 hour circle line around town and back, leaving from the central station. This was even cheaper, and the train was in much better nick with advertising posters stuck inside and out. It was a very interesting ride, getting well out of the city at one point before returning. I got to see life in Yangon and around, as well as life on the train and people brought giant bags of fish and grain, and I saw the takings from each station put into a big green metal box which was kinda cool.
All of these three trips were really just for fun, and also very enjoyable. I think this I took a good option when in Myanmar to avoid the long overnight journeys where I would miss the scenery anyways, but I still managed to get my fill of life on the rails. For me it is still the best way to travel! May the Journey Never End!