Picture this- an old colonial train winding its way slowly through the lush Burmese landscape, watching the people in their huts, working the fields, selling their interesting and exotic goods at the station. What a romantic way to travel? Well, perhaps for around 4 hours. The other 12 were pretty unforgettable in a totally different way: an old party monk mullered on betel nut, with his stereo blasting; middle class westerners (for a very short part of the journey) also getting wasted but on rum and coke; goods and at one point a child being passed through the windows and piled high; a beautiful little girl blowing me kisses and pretending to say hello using a new toothbrush as a phone; people sleeping on the floor in the middle of the carriage; a man causing trouble just outside of the carriage who the guard had to keep shouting at and pushing down; loud party music blaring at the main stations where people would be trying desperately to sell their wares. It was utterly fascinating but completely draining at the same time.
At 1am we arrived in Naypytaw, the capital. We had to switch to another train, in worse condition, where after waiting at the station for 2 hours, we would have to spend another 15 hours to get to Rangoon. When we took a look at the carriage we decided that there was no way that we would continue on this journey- it would have been hell. Instead we had a meal of egg and rice on the street and asked the locals how we could get to the bus station where we could catch a bus to Rangoon in 4 hours. After some confusion and translating we jumped onto moto taxis who drove us through the deserted streets at 3am to the bus station. The drivers were so helpful and we were very appreciative.
Upon further investigation we found out that all of the tickets had been sold but we decided to hang around to see if there were any other buses going. After a short while a guy turned up and spoke to us in pretty good English. He told us it was the start of a 3 day festival (festival of lights) in the country and everyone wanted to leave Naypytaw to get to their families and the events in Rangoon and that tickets would be sold out for at least a few days. He told us that his friend had woken him up to come and communicate with us and eventually he helped us out and drove us to a lovely reasonably priced hotel. All of the Burmese people we have met so far have been nothing but overwhelmingly helpful and kind.
Switchbacks, reversing zig zags, spiral loops, foliage poking into windows, bouncing carriages, stations in the hills comprised of nothing but dirt paths leading to the rails, women selling colossal bunches of flowers and nuggets of food from the tops of their heads, a 14mph max speed.... It was awesome! (really!)
But when we were faced with transferring to the even crumbier train for another 18 hours at 0200, we had to make a decision. There were clouds of various insects swarming around the few working lighting fixtures and giant spider webs wrapped around the damp and mouldy seats in the humid and rotten carriage - including a huge fat black spider the size of a 50p just hovering down from the overhead rack positioned in space exactly where my head would be if I should sit in my ticketed spot. 18 more hours of that? When a nice aircon bus can do it for 1/4 the price in 4 hours on the new highway? No brainer.
What a combination of memories that you can recall later. Be safe and the comforts of life can be enjoyed later. Dave