Yangon to Bagan TrainCanyon to Bagan Train
to Yangon by night train
As with our Premier Classe train journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg, I was given the choice to take the train - the best on-line train journey resources in the whole country - and before we went home, I put together a Myanmar route that bypasses airplanes and coaches.
When we got a little close and began to figure out what we wanted to do at each stop, some of the times didn't work out well and the only journey we booked was a night train from Bagan back to Yangon at the end of our stay in Myanmar.
No regrets, but we are glad that we have not booked more nights in Myanmar. To maximise the amount of travel to Bagan, we agreed on a schedule to take this night train back to Yangon on New Year's Day and arrive just a few handfuls before our next leg from Yangon to Hanoi on 2 January.
Sadly, the train would be sold the very next morning before we arrive in Bagan and the holidays could be sold out the same time. Considering how upsetting it would be to miss our next trip, we strapped on and bought a fare to get our train ticket in the only sleeping bag.
The picturesque hand-written cards were handed in at our hotels while we were in Bagan. Bagan's only train stop - further from the town than the Aiport! shortly after 3:00 pm and followed a very full deck of passengers who waited to get on the train at 4:00 pm.
Having read so much about possible lateness from other travellers, we were a little surprised when our train arrived at 3:30 pm and everyone was waiting for depart. Our train had a "special sleeping car" consisting of completely free standing single cabs, making it virtually not possible to get on other coaches.
Since we couldn't go to the restaurant carriage, the "train manager" (a teenage boy in denim and flip-flips, who I'm not sure he was really an assistant yet) came to take our orders for supper and breakfasts.
We did our best without a menu and with the few words of the "Train Manager" in English to find out what our choices are, how much each article would take, and not to be cheated..... but more about that later. In our 4-berth cabins a young pair from Yangon was on their way home.
They believed that the "special sleeper" was nothing out of the ordinary and is now actually the norm for this journey - allegedly for safety reasons, because other travellers try to get into the sleeping car at the time. You also translate advices from the porter for us, like keeping all our pockets away from the open window, so that kids walking along the train do not intrude and get away with our possessions.
The train left on schedule at 4:00 pm and we were enjoying the landscape through our open doors until it got too chilly and we had to shut it. Sadly, the cleaners we were enjoying on our South Africa tour are not in Myanmar and a shut down glass was about as transparent as a brick-wall.
We received both the supper and breakfasts while the train was stopping at stops (we think he was reloading cargo, not passengers). The" train driver" apparently has contact along the line and is on the phone to be ready before the train arrives at this train shelter. It was a beautiful landscape, slowly shifting from Desert/Chaparral to more jungles as we were approaching Yangon.
A major obstacle to a good night's rest was the train's jolt, stop and start. We' d been prematurely alerted to how rough the track would be, and it was, but the hardest thing to do was to get a good night's rest when you suddenly slowed down and accelerated all through. The most enjoyable experience of our Myanmar days was how welcoming and sincere almost everyone we talked to was.
Sadly, this series ended on our train journey when, despite our attempts to clarify the price, our train manager's bill for the foods we consume on board was a hefty 34,000 kyats (25 USD), while our avarage per lunch elsewhere was 3,000 kyats (~2 USD). Myanmar's citizens, who had slightly different meals but about the same amount of meals, were billed for less than 10,000 Kie.
As he picked up the money, we argued over some of the excessive prizes and paid 30,000 kyats (22 USD) at the end before getting off at Yangon. Cheating at these rates is not a big business, but it was a frustrating way to end our trips in Myanmar. But if we had another journey ahead of us, we would reject all the" conductor's" offer " and simply hung out of the windows with the road sellers at the stations (or packed a picknick if we had a good opportunity to do so).
We' re pleased that we made it, but we' re pleased that we won't have a way back soon. There is probably no better way to see the landscape, especially if, on the other hand, you have nothing fast and can keep your expectation of the on-board services low.