I am pleased to introduce Julian Schönfelder on the blog today, who guest posts about his adventurous train journey in Myanmar, a country that’s always fascinated me.
Julian is an independent travel writer, web-designer and co-author of apenoni.com. Travelling and exploring the world ever since he was young, he is now on a quest to inspire others to do the same. Together with his wife, they created their travel blog with inspirational stories and pictures about their journeys across the globe.
You can also follow what they are up to on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
It was late afternoon, the sun still burning down on our heads as we reached the town of Bago, a city located north-east of Yangon. Our intention was to reach the town of Kalaw by the end of the day, an ambitious task as it lies roughly 500 kilometers away, nestled deep in the mountains of the Shan state in northern Myanmar. Based on our prior experience travelling around the country, we knew that transportation can consume quite some time. Nevertheless, we were ready and eager to reach that goal.
We walked across a bridge and reached a bus station, helpfully pointed out to us by a friendly local. After finding out that the next northbound bus was to leave in over three hours, we decided to find another way of getting to Kalaw.
The train station
We originally had no intention of travelling by train in Myanmar, but somehow the circumstances lead us straight to the station of Bago – an old, yellow-painted colonial building. There were many people sitting on the floor in the Main Hall; waiting for their train, eating and talking loudly. A man approached us and showed us the way to the ticket office where we asked for two tickets to Thazi, the stop-over station that would eventually bring us to Kalaw. Unfortunately, the “upper class” tickets were sold-out which left us with no choice but to buy “ordinary class” – the main difference being the comfort of the seats.
The train arrived, the sound of the air whistle ringing in our ears as we boarded the wagon, signalling the start of our Myanmar train journey. The train rattled hard as it left Bago train station, steadily making its way out and up towards the next stops of Taungoo and Nay Pyi Taw. It started to gain speed as it speared into the dark night.
Inside the train
And so we settled in to watch the goings on around us; Merchants passed though the aisles selling local foods, children played, people ate – it was a fascinating display of Burmese life and we were right in the middle of it! People invited us to eat their food, they took our picture and engaged us in conversations, despite the language barrier.
As midnight approached we tried to get some sleep, but our attempts of doing so were utterly crushed by the heavy shaking of the train, the hard, wooden benches and the noisy clacking of the tracks.
Morning – and another train!
We arrived early in Thazi. The sun slowly pierced its way through the early morning haze as we packed up our bags and left the train. Our backs were aching, our eyes puffy from the lack of sleep.
We found out that the best way to reach Kalaw was to take yet another train – and so, still shaky from our previous ride, we bought two tickets. After having some breakfast in a small shop in front of the train station, we boarded another train that would lead us through the mountains of the Shan province.
Due to the steep mountains between Thazi and Kalaw, the train had to pass through multiple switchbacks along the way. This involved moving forward, stopping and then reversing onto another track in the opposite direction. This “zig-zag” construction was an incredibly interesting sight and fascinating experience. We had smaller stops in between, allowing us to take some nice pictures of vendors offering all sorts of products to the train passengers.
Roughly six hours later we finally arrived in the town of Kalaw. A beautiful journey and a great adventure that lead us here finally. Truly a fascinating and unforgettable experience!
Train travel in Myanmar is highly recommended as it leaves you with memorable impressions. Apart from the journeys mentioned above, we also experience a unique trip in the western Shan State, taking a trip from the town of Hispaw to the former summer capital of the former British colonial administrators of Burma, Pyin Oo Lwin. It is here where we crossed the famous Gokteik Viaduct, Myanmar’s longest bridge. Built in 1901, and by then the second-highest railway bridge in the world, it is an ageing and fascinating superstructure. A highlight for any train traveller in the country!