Getting from Yangon to Bagan by night train? Some people said, “Poor you!” Others said, “I cannot imagine how bad your journey was”. I agree that a train journey from Yangon to Bagan is usually described to be unpleasant or terrible. However, we can totally consider the journey in a very different view. To me, getting from Yangon to Bagan by night train is an unforgettable experience, both positive and negative meanings.
Buying our tickets
It’s little odd that you cannot buy the tickets to the train from Yangon to Bagan at the Yangon Central Railway Station where the train actually leaves. Instead, you will have to find them at local travel agents which are omnipresent in the Yangon downtown.
We bought the sleeper/upper-class train tickets, which are US $40 USD each. There was another option of ordinary class tickets for US $30 per ticket, which involves a wooden bench for 19 straight hours. Later to see back, we felt our decision of choosing upper-class tickets was really amazing.
Waiting to depart
We had 15 minutes before departure, and a small crowd of vendors (mostly children) gathered around our cabins window, trying to beg us for buying something. They didn’t stop until we bought sunflower seeds, grapes, refilled water bottles for washing, and even two beers.
The children didn’t know much English; in fact they only knew some words such as Hello, Goodbye, How Much, and numbers in English. During our Myanmar travel, every time we looked away to begin doing something else, they all began just yelling, “hello… hello… hello…”, until we finally acknowledged their presence. The experience was both enjoyable and heartbreaking. As our train pulled away from the station, I noticed a boy in the white shirt above, who was no older than 13, lighting up his cigarette. This became a haunting memory to me when getting from Yangon to Bagan by train.
Besides the engine, our train had one sleeper class carriage, one restaurant one, and 7-8 ordinary-class ones. The three of us had one compartment all to ourselves that comprised two upper bunks, two lower bunks, and plenty of space to store luggage. We were actually quite relieved when seeing the condition of the carriage. The mattresses were not very thick, but we had no complaints after seeing the wooden benches that the ordinary class passengers had. We were told the journey from Yangon to Bagan would take between 14 and 19 hours.
The train was moving incredibly slow at the speed of about 20 MPH past run-down building after run-down building. Villagers were busy finishing up their day’s work, farming in the many fields near the railway or killing time by playing a game of takraw (a combo of soccer and volleyball). They smiled and waved to us as our train crawled by.
Plastic bag dump in Yangon
If you expect “the beautiful rural scenery” along the railway, you may be disappointed. The scenery was not all beautiful and the living conditions of these villages were some of the lowest I’ve seen in our travels. The railway was also extremely littered with garbage. We passed another garbage dump every few minutes, each with a strong stench of rotting waste. The most obvious objects in these dumps were plastic bottles and plastic bags.
The first three hours went by quickly, and the ride was slow but smooth. It was exciting to see the city setup slowly turning to countryside one. The constant waving from locals made us feel like celebrities, and the sunset view over the Myanmar countryside out the window was pristine. This was one of the most peaceful and wonderful experiences when getting from Yangon to Bagan by train.
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Bagan or bust
The bumps, bangs, and rattles seemed to arrive at the exact same time as the night. The slow, slightly bumpy ride appeared to be a race between carriages to see which carriage could derail first. When I took a stroll over to our car’s bathroom, I could barely keep my balance. Even I nearly fell out of the window on my way back down the hallway. My mind started drifting into the physics of railway carriages and what kept them on the track, and I tried to convince myself we were safe. However, I continued to lose confidence as the train continues to gain speed. We decided to head to the restaurant carriage to keep ourselves relaxed.
The Restaurant Car
The restaurant carriage was a disappointment; that’s the best description I could talk about it. Here we were sitting on chairs with no backs that were not connected to the floor. The menu was displayed on a laminated index card which the waiter pulled out of his pocket shortly before dropping it on the floor due to a vicious bump that nearly sent me backwards over my chair.
While we were waiting for our food to arrive, three-inch crickets flied into the carriage through the windows and the cockroach started climbing up my leg. Finally, our food arrived and it was as bad looking as I expected, however, it was definitely the worst meal we’ve had in Myanmar. 20 minutes at the restaurant carriage was the oddest time during our journey from Yangon to Bagan.
Attempting to sleep
There wasn’t much to do in a dark train car except sleep, but we couldn’t a long pleasant sleep time due to the constant back and forth swaying and loud noises. We all managed to get about an hour of sleep, most of which came in 10-15 minute intervals before we were jolted awake by a shift in the railcar or large thud. We spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling coping with the noise and shaking.
The home stretch
The rough stretch began at the sunset and it finished at the sunrise. Once again, we stared out the window in amazement at the scenery of the Myanmar countryside. It was so beautiful and peaceful. We passed goat herders, animal-powered vehicles, golden pagodas and countless farmers using manual ox plows and hoes to prepare their fields for the upcoming rainy season.
Just like when we had left Yangon 15 hours ago, the local children ran from wherever they were to the tracks as soon as they heard the train coming. Each smile we received from these kids was heart warming and we later realized that we spent the last few hours of the ride in complete silence as we all just soaked in what was the most memorable in 19-hour train ride of getting from Yangon to Bagan in our Burma tours.