Burma / Myanmar

On the Train to Mandalay

I got to the station OK, but was puzzled as to where I should go among the mass of people sleeping or sitting around on the station platform. Fortunately, I was helped by an old bloke to find my seat. I don't know if he was staff or just a do-gooder.

The seat was a reclining air plane type. Only trouble was, the seat was reclined at 45 degrees, and wouldn't adjust up or down. So that's how I travelled for 15 hours over 450 miles. In addition, the cover of the arm rest where the table came out was missing, and I had to rest my arm on the internal mechanism. I covered it with my hand towel which made it tolerable.

The overhead fans didn't work, consequently all the windows were opened wide to give a strong breeze for the duration of the trip. The fluro lights were missing, so bare bulbs hanging off exposed wires, came on about 6pm.

The train only stopped at about six stations, where dozens of vendors climbed aboard to sell whatever they could. I wasn't game to try any of the food, but a woman in front of me ate her way through the whole trip.

The sights along the way were interesting, amusing, curious etc.

At every crossing or station we passed through, a man stood at attention, arm stiff out front, holding a green flag. Can't imagine what would have been the difference if it was a red flag as we thundered through.

A lone armed soldier often stood at crossings, on station platforms, or along the track.

Little thatched grass huts, 6 × 6, in which sat or lay a man, appeared every 200 or 300 metres along the track for a long part of the way.

We passed numerous villages, where the houses were usually built of thatched roofs and woven walls, on stilts above piles of rubbish and food amid mud and slime through which pigs, dogs and chickens scavenged for food.

For half the distance, the land stretching to the horizon was covered in rice paddies. These gave way to some sugar cane and corn fields, and then endless fields of chilli.

The train sometimes swayed so wildly, I don't know what kept it on the tracks. I think it was the action of alternative carriages swaying in the opposite direction that kept the whole train on course.

At times, the train actually leaped along, like a bucking bronco. That was exciting sitting in a seat half reclined.

Next: Mandalay.

Previous: Yangon.

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Last updated 8 November 2007.