So, this time in Myanmar, I wanted to move by train more often, a thing that ended up not happening as the schedules aren’t convenient at all. Myanmar train rides are fun, but the schedules aren’t.
They told me at my hotel in Naypyidaw that the train to Mandalay departs at 3.30 pm, so I made my schedule to be able to get on that train. I stayed 1 night in Naypyidaw and it was more than enough as I just wanted to sense the creepiness of the so-called ghost city.
The train station is pretty far from the hotel. A long and actually expensive ride that I did on the back of a motorbike that had such shaky foot pads that I couldn’t set my feet on them cause it was causing me tickles. Besides going fast on great roads, it took longer than 30 minutes on that motorbike to get there. Halfway it started to rain a little, but luckily it didn’t last long otherwise all my belongings would be soaked wet.
Once I arrive at Myanmar train station that actually doesn’t look very old and decadent like many others in Myanmar, I go to the ticket counter to find out that the train is after all at 5.30 pm. I was incredulous, cause I had got the information from the hotel, so I thought it was accurate. Lesson number 1: when it is about trains, believe only what you hear in the train station. Information on the web is outdated and sometimes even hotels can’t tell. Well, I couldn’t believe that I would have to wait more than 3 hours for that train- the train actually came at 6 pm.
My destination was Mandalay, but the train was reaching it at 1 am. What a stupid schedule!! I don’t want to get to Mandalay at that hour, and for such a long journey, they had only ordinary class available. Well, I don’t mind ordinary class at all- I actually find it more fun- but sitting on that wooden bench for 6 hours wasn’t sounding any good too. I don’t like anything about the conditions of this train, so I changed my mind and decided to go on ordinary class to Thazi and sleep there, as I ended up reaching it at about 9 pm.
The ticket cost me 900 kyats, which is about 60 cents. Yeah, there is no cheaper way to move around in Myanmar than the train.
The ticket officer was very friendly and helpful, just like usually Burmese people are. He even led me to a tourist toilet. Yeah, I was surprised that there was a toilet with a board stating: tourist toilet, as I’m sure this place doesn’t see many tourists. Anyway, it was super friendly.
Another super sympathetic man that sits next to me, informs me that the train is delayed 30 minutes. I thank him for keeping me posted. Once the train arrives, both of them come in my help, to show me where is my seat. In Myanmar, I always find this sign on the train station that says: please take care of tourists, and they genuinely do.
My seat is occupied by two young girls, teenagers I would say, that immediately stand to let me settle. I see that one of them will be standing, so I tell her to sit next to me. – We ended up being 3 ladies sitting on that bench- And that was the most uncomfortable decision I have made, as we spent 3 hours squeezed into that hard wooden bench where I couldn’t move 1 inch or find a new position. But I don’t regret the decision at all.
They have that typical shy smile of the Burmese and I find them cute. It turned out to be a very pleasant train journey. Ordinary class train journeys give you the best of local interaction.
As I didn’t have lunch, because I spent all afternoon eating snacks, onboard of the train was no different. I pick my popcorn and start eating it. I notice they are watching and offer them my treat a few times, but it was refused. We were 5 people on the right side of the carriage and 4 people on the other side, sitting on the wooden benches and all of a sudden we were exchanging food and smiles altogether. They offered me tangerines, I offered them some cookies. The old man sitting on the hard bench next to us offers me some weird root that he had just bought. I have never seen that thing but dare to try. It was actually pretty bad, and I didn’t try to avoid not showing it with my facial expressions. All a sudden everyone is with a smile on their face watching me chew and do the weirdest faces on earth. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, so I was trying to swallow it when the old man makes the gesture that I was so anxiously waiting for at that moment. I can finally spit that thing out and throw it out of the window. They offered me also a fruit that I had never had before, but this one I like. In fact, after that train ride, that was the fruit I bought most times the rest of the trip. Every time I buy it, I remember that train ride, and a simple look to a fruit puts a smile on my face.
And that’s how those 3 hours squeezed on that bench were spent. Me, and other 8 Burmese that never exchanged a word, but only smiles and food. I shared all the different things I had with me, that were not so many and ended up giving some lollipops to the girls.
My journey might not have been comfortable, but in my sight were people whom I’m sure didn’t have any comfort at all. There were some older ladies sitting in a box. One of them was smoking the Burmese cigar inside the train, ignoring the sign that describes a big number as a fine for the smokers in the area. She, along with the other ladies sitting on the box, is part of the feast settled there on the train with a foreigner girl.
I could not enjoy this uncomfortable train ride if those people weren’t smiling at me in such a warming way. All I can say to them is Shezuba- thank you in Burmese- but it feels not enough. But, among all these nice people, showed up a man, and among the words spoken, I could understand one: foreigner. And he kept on repeating it while staring at me in a weird way, a very unpleasant way that kinda scared me. He sat nearby just saying words to himself while I could understand “foreigner” among them. It was very uncomfortable, way more than the hard seats. No one else was saying anything and was just looking at him. I’m sure he wasn’t saying something nice. After several minutes like this, the lady in the window seat makes gestures as per asking me if I want to move to her seat. I feel backed up and thank her, but I’m not changing. Not much longer it passed until this weird being went away.
Still, it wasn’t for those 5 minutes that felt like 20, that this journey didn’t end up being one of my favorite moments during my Myanmar train trips. And this is why I would rather spend my trips twice the time on a train rather than a faster aircon bus. I like to feel the wind on my face, and the train allows it to happen.
The girls and their, probably Grandma, leave the train one station before me. They leave saying goodbye, still with the same shy smile, but more confident this time. I put on my widest smile for them too. I wished I had more things to offer them at that time.
The hard wooden seat turns more comfortable as I can stretch my legs and my back, but not so happy anymore. It’s fine, 20 or 30 minutes later I was in Thazi where I jump of the train and follow the train line in the darkness until the main street that is not further than 5 minutes walk. I will stay in the same guesthouse as I did the first time I slept there, at that time I was coming from Inle Lake, on the slowest train I have ever ridden, at that time, and my first Myanmar train ride.