How Myanmar People Sleep on Trains
Demonstration of all possible positions!
Ever had the feeling you might have bitten off more than you could chew? I certainly felt that during the extremely grueling 14.5h train ride from Mandalay up north to Katha. There were so many ironies connected with this ride. Firstly, I had broken up my Yangon-Mandalay bus ride into several legs precisely because I’d remembered the pain of the non-stop journey from last time, and didn’t want a repeat. However, I hadn’t really anticipated this train ride would be even worse. And in fact, I’d originally planned to travel even further up north, all the way to Myitkyina, which would have been a 24h train ride! But “fortunately” due to some unforeseen delays I only had time to head up halfway to Katha. The main point of this leg of course is taking the slow 18h-ish (yikes!) boat ride back south towards Mandalay. Not sure if I’m looking forward to it so much now after the train ride experience.
Why was it so bad? Well it’s kinda hard to explain. I guess it felt agonizingly slow (and bumpy!) for a train, and it was of course, very hot, even at night, and beads of sweat clung to me the entire
ride. And there were no sleeper berths for this leg, so I took an “upper class” seat, which was basically the same as the ordinary class, with cushioned and reclineable instead of just flat, hard-backed wooden seats. But the crowd was the same, and people from all walks jammed into the carriages, which felt over-sold.
But it’s not quite just the crowd, rather I think mainly the many, many local stops the train made (every twenty minutes or so, the entire journey). Each stop could be as “short” as just five minutes for people to board and alight, or as long as a half hour for goodness-knows-what. And at each stop it would be the same cacophony of vendors yelling and hawking their drinks and tidbits from both outside and inside the train carriages, the shuffling and squeezing about of alighting and boarding passengers with all their luggages, and bystanders just standing around gawking at the scene. The first few times were eye-opening, but I have to admit subsequently it just became quite wearisome. My train departed at 2 p.m. and arrived in Naba near Katha only at 4.45 a.m. the next morning, and you wouldn’t believe it but even
in the wee hours, when half the people on board were already (somehow) fast asleep, the yelling from the vendors persisted at each stop.
At some point it dawned on me that it might not be apparent when I’d arrived in Naba, as not all the stations had signs with their names written in English. And since I knew we’d be arriving in the early morning, though I didn’t know exactly when, I was somewhat concerned I might sleep through the stop. So from about 2 a.m. onwards I was trying my best to stay awake, as exhausted as I was. Fortunately all ended well, as I’d mentioned to the person sitting next to me I was going to Naba, so when we arrived he was nice enough to tell me. I looked around, and there was indeed no sign in English! So important lesson learnt – always tell the local where you’re going so they can help inform you when you’ve arrived! As I alighted, I think my state of exhaustion and frustration showed on my face, and several of the locals asked if I was OK. Simple gestures, but they really showed to me their genuine friendliness and
Katha's Riverside Strand Road
I've noticed the road running parallel to the river almost always seems to be called Strand Road in Myanmar!
hospitality, and thus far on my trip I only have kind words to say about the people of Myanmar.
Of course I also tried to be more careful with what I ate on the ride, so only bottled drinks and some potato chips. And upon arrival in Naba, it was still another 1h bus ride to Katha. So you can imagine how I felt when I finally arrived at the Ayerwaddy Guest House there. Tired and hungry as I was, I headed straight for the bath, then slept till lunch.
Katha itself was a pleasant, small riverside town, not different from what I’d envisioned, a smaller version of the other riverside towns I’d visited e.g. Pathein and Mawlamyine. I did some walking around, but spent most of the time recuperating from my exertions of the train ride! I was still only half done though, as the boat ride down south back to Mandalay beckoned…
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