So this train ride, wow, what a train ride it was. I had researched prior to the trip that the train ride to Inle Lake was an adventure in itself. So I thought, what better way to see the country? Our sleeper train left Yangon at 5pm, I was joined by a Chinese-Burmese family consisting of mum, grandma and one small boy with chickenpox. They immediately adopted me, because I looked Chinese, spoke Chinese and therefore was Chinese (I’m not Chinese by the way!). Before the train had left the station, I was already nicknamed “little sister Jade”.
I had the top bunk of the small carriage which was sold as “first class”. The amount of sleep I had that night? About 10 minutes… not only was my fear of the large exotic spiders on the roof of the carriage (roughly 30 – 50cm away from my face) keeping me up, but the 1 hour train stops to every village where the villagers try selling you fruit through the open carriage windows (at 2am?) and lastly… the bumpiest ride in the world. So bumpy in fact, that when one is lying horizontally, you are lifted off the bed up to 10cm! The tracks, rumour has it, haven’t been maintained since the British era… (40 years ago…!)
When I looked at the NatGeo Instagram account recently (#myanmarclimb) they summed up the ride perfectly “… the 20 hour overnight train was sleepless due to severely uneven tracks. Every ten minutes we found ourselves airborne, shaken like a high magnitude earthquake, with battle wounds to prove. The top bunks we deemed unfit for habitation after a spider count of over 60…”
I was invited to a 7 o’clock “seating” at the train diner, and there I met two older Australian guys, brothers who were travelling north, one of whom was working for the government in education. Through them I was introduced to Marcie, another girl who was travelling solo towards the same destination as I. I was excited and immediately introduced myself to her. We disembarked at the same time and changed trains at Thazi to catch another 10 hour ride to Shwenyaung where we could get to Inle Lake and the township of Nyaungshwe.
The day train, we both agree, had been described as a very scenic journey and well worth it. This I can now say to be true! Our train went around hills and villages, we saw distant pagodas shining brightly and farmers at work with their ox’s and buffalos. On the train we met a Burmese girl and her grandfather. She was returning home from university where she studied agriculture. Seeing that we were foreign, she engaged us in conversation to practice her english “Hello”, she said, “I’m N – and I would like to practice my English on you”. It was clear that her grandfather was immensely proud of her, going to university was no small achievement, it came across, in Myanmar for country folk. “Do you have boyfriends? Do you have lovers” she asked Marcie and I, where we both blushed and brushed off the word “lovers” as soon as we could…
The journey was long, and the wooden seat got hard (although, again we were in ‘first class’), and we got hungrier and hungrier. Finally at one stop we hopped off (hoping the train would wait for us!) and bought ourselves some cheap local meals. It was close to 5pm when we rolled into Shwenyaung. We were both hungry and dirty. Our last shower had been over 40 hrs ago, with a couple of body wipes in between! It was a relief to finally get to Nyaungshwe and finally be able to check into a lovely hotel. I would recommend this ride, however, to anyone who was interested. What a journey! I will remember it most fondly.