I was starting to feel frustrated halfway our 10-hour train ride from Mandalay to Bagan. At that point, I blamed everything; the extreme heat, the bumpy and wobbly train tracks, the water-pumping activities at certain train stops, and the most uncomfy wooden seats ever. I gazed over my buddy and saw him nudging his head on the window and enjoying the countryside Myanmar. He was smiling all throughout, like a child on his first plane ride ever. It was amazing how he’s at peace with all the sheez going on while I was on my grumpiest mood.
Me and my buddy were stuck in Mandalay. It was our third day in Myanmar and we initially planned on exploring Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay – in that order. But because our trip coincided with the Thingyan (Water) Festival, our itineraries changed. During our two-month backpacking trip around Southeast Asia, we didn’t plan on traveling via train but during our Myanmar trip, we endured two long train rides because almost all modes of transportation were suspended. Our only option was to take the train; from Yangon to Mandalay and then from Mandalay to Bagan.
Arriving from our 16-hour overnight train from Yangon to Mandalay, we were expecting to catch the train to Bagan. But after asking around, we learned that the loket (local) train had already left. We were tired, famished and lost.
A nice man came up to me and somewhat knew our ordeal. He spoke good English and immediately understood our situation. He explained that the regular express trains were suspended and that our only option was to take the loket (local) train which will leave early in the morning the next day. He added that we should be early at the train station so as to get a good seat. We couldn’t thank him enough for that information.
We went out of Mandalay Central Train Station and looked for a decent accommodation for the night – Hotel Rama. It was also the second day of water festivities around the country and we joined the festivities around town.
I slept well that night and woke up feeling great. After our light breakfast of some bread and fruits, we dashed to the train station. The first kiss of six-o’clock sun on sleepy Mandalay was refreshing. We passed by some people who were starting to prepare for the third day of the celebration.
Arriving at the train station, we were told at the same ticketing counter as yesterday that the train to Bagan was suspended. It was weird, I thought. I consulted a local who seemed to know the ins and outs at the train station and helped us immediately. He quickly led us down the platforms where a ticket counter can be found in the middle. He noted of its opening which will be around 6:30 in the morning.
It was not too long when two guys opened the counter. We handed him our passports for verification and paid 1,100 Kyats each (US$ 1.04) for the foreigner’s fare, yes, that cheap!
Our train was comfortably resting on its track. It was way too different from our train in Yangon. Its wooden seats looked uncomfortable and people started to fill up the coaches. Reserved seating was never heard of for loket train. We ran to the first coach and chose the seats near the doors for the extra leg room (me wishing to have some amazing time at the window).
Being the best travel researchers in the world, we didn’t know how long the trip would be. We asked some local passengers on the time of our arrival in Bagan. They just said five, I thought he was saying five hours, but no, not really.
The train coughed off, signalling the beginning of our journey. Everyone prepped up for the I dunno how long ride to Bagan and the water-showering activities along the tracks, yes, they didn’t spare us from the water fest.
It started out great and the loket train had few stops on the way. Like it’s really the most local way of going around the country.
Halfway through the ride, I was starting to feel all sorts of emotions. We were famished and the intense afternoon heat didn’t help at all. I was lulled by the slow train ride but couldn’t get the momentum to doze off because of the uncomfy wooden seats. And everyone was on their battle mode as the water festival activities in and out of the coaches were going on at every train stop.
I was starting to fall asleep when a kid came in and poured some water all over me, I was pissed while everyone was laughing. Imagine how shock and furious I was. After that, I covered myself with my bag’s rain cover, bring it on kids, I kept on whispering.
And then I saw my buddy taking some photos of the bucolic countryside Myanmar. He seemed to be happy and I was envious. At that point I succumbed to all the sheez and enjoyed the journey. We’re in the middle of nowhere and I tried to smell the fresh rural breeze. It was daring but fun. Afterwards, I became tolerant of the goings-on inside the train. It was moving, well, our train was, but the way how calm and relaxed the Burmese were in spite of our difficult situation; such a humbling experience.
We’re on a dry field somewhere when the train stopped. I thought we’re in trouble but some local women farmers hopped on our coach with their fresh produce, it seemed that they hitchhiked. They looked extremely tired and rested on the wooden floor. And then there were those peddlers selling some foodstuff during train stops. They sold some knickknacks and we even tried the green mangoes with chilli-salt dip, yummy. At another stop, a Caucasian guy jokingly fired back his water gun at the children who were throwing bucketsful of water at him. Too much happening with that short period of time.
We thought it would only just a five-hour ride, but after getting tired of counting hours, we just relished every moment and never got tired of the view outside and the lovely local scenes inside. It was truly Burmese assimilation at its best.
We arrived in Bagan after ten gruelling hours of train ride from Mandalay. We were tired, famished and again, lost. It was our third day in Myanmar and our third major city stop. We couldn’t wait to explore more.
|Burmese Thanaka - for cosmetic purposes|