Published on July 5th, 20162
Myanmar Memories: Part V – Wacko Train to Mandalay
Waaaaay overdue here. Unconscionably tardy. I almost hate to admit it, but… it’s been more than 2 *years* since I was blissfully wandering around Myanmar (my final great Asian adventure before whizzing halfway ‘round the globe here to Ecuador). BUT… do bear in mind that I DID manage to peck no fewer than *6* Myanmar posts to date, so it’s not as if I’ve been utterly indolent about it, yes?
Ah but enough excuses, onward to the final chapters of my most memorable romp ‘round Myanmar.
Firstly, when we last left off, I was gazing at those THOUSANDS (literally!) of ancient temples at Bagan (with my new bff, Nook)
Slow Boat to Mandalay, or…?
My original plan/hoped-for druthers was to take a slow boat up the Ayeyarwady river from Bagan to Mandalay. I especially enjoy sampling a mix of local transport modes in my travels, and a slow boat to Mandalay (ala “Burmese Days”) seemed like just the ticket. But upon inquiring in Bagan, it turned out that the slow boat (i.e. overnighting on the boat en route) at that time was iffy at best, and the day trip – rumored to be rife with beer-guzzling tourists. Ugh. Not my cuppa.
But as luck would have it, my new chum Nook already had train tickets to Mandalay for the following day, and… with an after dark dash to a tiny kiosk, I too was able to snag a ticket on the same train.
The rest, as they say, is… amazing, outrageous, one-of-a-kind, zany, only-in-Myanmar, train ride history.
To say the 7 hour ride (covering but a mere 110 miles – yup little more than 15 mph!) was bouncy is a profound UNDERstatement.
To say it was among my most all-time memorable travel experiences? OMG yes!
But trust that things got pleee-enty wacko as time went on. For starters, the decor proved dilapidated at best, and the powder room facilities? Uh, better left to your imagination. Furthermore – as evidenced by the pic of my toes in situ, often the space between carriages was at jaw-dropping right angles. Oh and that pic of me smiling? Um, only after coming down from a bounce that nearly bumped my head on the CEILING!
On the upside however – eats-wise over the all-day ride, charming peddlers (like the sweet lass clad in what seems to be her pajamas in the pic above) paraded through our carriage on a regular basis selling snacks and drinks. And at many stops en route to Mandalay, locals walked past the train windows announcing their wares; food was passed in, and kyat (Myanmar money) passed out the window – all in a matter of minutes before the train chug-chugged again.
And to show you just how completely wacko the ride actually was – I offer but the barest 11 second video snippet:
Arriving in Mandalay proved likewise a bit of an adventure. For while Nook had reserved a place to stay conveniently near the train station, when we made our way to it – the hotel turned out to be utterly closed down! It was apparently under full renovation – though Agoda.com had nonetheless happily taken the reservation, not bothering to notify my friend of the uh, tiny change in his bedroom plans.
But being the resourceful veteran DIY travelers that we are (ever with a plan B, C and D), we swiftly regrouped, hopped on a couple of motorbike taxis, and found a great little place called “The Rich Queen”. Not to be confused with frills fit for royalty mind you, but (blessedly) air-conditioned, a super helpful staff, and a most economical backpacker’s tab.
Nook had his own plans for finishing off his Myanmar trip in Mandalay before heading home to Thailand, but I had coveted a handful of days so as to take a look at Hsipaw, a small town located high in the hills of Shan State about 120 miles northeast of Mandalay. And as I planned to bus there the following morning, I had just barely enough time to hop on another motorbike taxi and head out to the famous U Bein Bridge bridge for sunset.
And oh my, what a spectacular sunset it turned out to be!
Built in 1850, and spanning 1.2 kilometers across Lake Taungthaman near Amarapura, the U Bien is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. Needless to say, witnessing such iconic sights both keeps me eager to peek around the next bend, as well as deeply grateful to be able to explore ever more distant corners of the globe.
Believe it or not – there’s still more Myanmar to come. Stay tuned for my final Myanmar tale – my many adventures in Hsipaw (which turned out to be even better than I expected!)
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