I like to travel by train, it is a great way to see the country and interact with the locals. I have taken the train in Sri Lanka and Vietnam and I really wanted to try taking the train in Myanmar.
Taking a train in Myanmar is not as easy as just booking a ticket on 12Go.Asia, I learnt that the hard way. Myanmar Railways does not allow pre-booking and it does not accept electronic bookings. When after you have made your booking on 12Go.Asia, you will receive an email, but THAT IS NOT A CONFIRMED TICKET. You have to wait until 1-2 days before train departure to know if you have secured your train ticket. The partner office of 12Go.Asia will send someone to personally go to the railway station 1-2 days before your departure date to buy the ticket for you. YOU MUST MAKE SURE YOU RECEIVE A SECOND EMAIL CONTAINING A PDF OF YOUR TICKET. With that, you have to go to either the partner office or station office to exchange for a paper ticket. It’s stupid, isn’t it? That was what happened to me. 2 days before my train, I received an email from 12Go.Asia saying that the train I booked is fully-booked. They refunded me the money and asked me to look for other means of transport. I had to take an overnight bus in the end.
Train ticket issues aside, Myanmar trains themselves are not for the faint-hearted.
I managed to get a sleeper berth train for my Myanmar colleague, Su, and I from Mandalay to Bagan. This 8-hour train ride is considered a short-distance train, Yangon-Mandalay/Bagan takes a whooping 15 hours.
This is the sleeper train, which is probably the most luxurious class of train in Myanmar. There are upper and lower berths on either side of the cabin, only the lower berth is draped with a piece of green sheet. There are folded sheets for the upper berth, but you will have to do it yourself. There is a metal cupboard in the middle, but it looked so dirty I didn’t even dare to open it.
I have seen quite a few dirty toilets, but the Myanmar overnight train toilet is by far the worst. The moment I opened the door of the toilet, the overwhelming stench nearly made me gag. There were multiple dead dragonflies and insects entangled in spiderwebs, I call it the “Insect Museum”. The toilet seat was so dirty that I didn’t even dare to sit on it. The floor is so dirty that I didn’t even dare to look down, I had to change my clothes by stepping on my own shoes.
If you are taking a Myanmar overnight train, do not drink to much water or eat spicy food. If you get a stomachache in the middle of the night and can’t stand such a dirty toilet, you will suffer.
There were constant noises from outside the train and the lights shone in brightly from outside. The uneven train tracks sent me hurling into the air and thumping back onto the bed every few minutes. Whenever the train went about a turn, I kept worrying if I will get thrown out of the train. It was almost like riding a roller coaster.
Regardless of what time it is or the size of the train station, every train station has a few hardworking women or lads selling fruits or snacks. You can buy things from your cabin window, the sellers will come to your cabin window. You can also go down to the platform to buy things but be quick because the train does not stop long at small stations.
Like I said, traveling by train in Myanmar is not for the faint-hearted but it is definitely an experience like no other.