I never fully understood the term Riding the Train until now. Yesterday I took the ‘express’ train from Yangon (the former capital of Myanmar) to Thazi (a small cross roads town)—the journey over 12 hours.
I wish I could tell you the train hummed into life and sailed through the beautiful Myanmar countryside—but it didn’t. The 6am train screeched, thundered and exploded into life as I bumped and rattled my way into the mist. To my surprise, the fog lifted to reveal a beautiful patchwork of brown and green, dotted with birds, pigs and buffalo. The hot thick air of summer was only broken momentarily by the rattly, rusting fan oscillating above my head. It was hot. The kind of heat that makes you sweat from places you didn’t know was possible.
My “Upper Class” seat was comfortable enough, if you ignored the presence of two small mice that had made the soft interior their home. Apart from the deafening metallic noises of the train as it continued to bump slowly along, it felt quite peaceful. The train itself sported a gorgeous retro blue interior that made me feel like I’d been transported back to the 1950s, and gave me a strange but comforting feeling of nostalgia. After much deliberation and through necessity rather than choice, I psyched myself up for a toilet visit. I unwrapped the dirty piece of string that was holding the door shut and entered the dark, windowless room, lit only by the toilet hole that dropped straight down to the track below. I’m not sure if it was good core strength or the fear of losing something important down the hole but I managed to emerge from the experience unscathed.
As my journey urged on, an array of different sellers hopped on and off the train. Selling everything from sweet smelling snacks to bags of suspicious looking dried snakes (insert ‘Snakes on a Train‘ joke here). The train was used as some sort of bizarre courier service. The group of local ladies that shared our carriage would toss bundles from the train and people from the village would run out to collect them. As we slowed into stations or trundled through sparse villages, longyi clad men and women would smile through beetlenut stained teeth and their children would wave and yell “mingalaba” as they spotted my mop of blonde hair sail past.
As the train rocked on, the countryside slid past me like an old VHS tape stuck on slow-mo. For 12 straight hours I didn’t mutter a word, happily content watching the world slip past. Not once did I feel the need to listen to music, read or play games on my tablet. That guillotine style window was all the entertainment I needed. As I neared my destination, a thousand dragonflies were swarming and the sun was setting through my window. For the first time I felt like a real traveler, not intent on arriving but savouring every moment of the journey.