Saturday, April 3, 2010

Riding the Rail in Myanmar Part 2 – Kyaiktiyo to Mawlaymine

By this point in our travels around Myanmar, one would think that we would have planned on not trusting public transport.  Taking the train from Yangon to Mandalay, the boat from Mandalay to Bagan and the chicken bus from Bagan to Inle Lake had all resulted in uncomfortably long journeys.  Distances that could be covered in a couple of hours in other nations takes 3-4 times longer here.  But, here we are, once again, relying on the good ole train to get us from Kyaiktiyo to Mawlaymine – a four hour ride…on paper.  To be fair, our other option was another chicken bus that we would have had to sit on plastic chairs in the middle aisle for the entire ride shifting and moving everytime the bus picked up someone new or let someone off.  The train appealed more in this case.

Only four hours, no problem – two ordinary tickets please ($2)!  Unlike the ride though the north, the south was bustling with life and energy.  Beautiful fields of rice burst to life, tiny villages line the train tracks and the kids all come out to watch and wave the train through.      

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We were starting to enjoy our ride and getting to know the Thai family we shared the bench with when the train broke down at around 5:30 – one hour away from Mawlaymine.  Oh great, here we go again.  The first vendor to arrive to the train’s aid was, of course, the betel nut purveyor. We can’t go too long without our juicy red nicotine fix now can we?  Soon after, setting up right next to him was a lady selling simple food.  At around 6:30 a truck shows up and people start to get pile on.  Not knowing how much or where it was going, we hesitated until it was too late to get a space.  Upon returning to the train, a man who appeared somewhat official told me that a train was coming and that we could get on it.  Not more than 10 minutes later a train pulls up along side ours.  People start to pile on including the military guys sharing our car.  The Thai family & local Burmese woman stay put and encourage us to do the same.  Believing the man, I convince Tracy to grab her bag and give it a try.  As we jump down out of our train, and start to walk to the door, the train starts to pull away!  Instinctively I start to run for the door, ready to try and jump on.  I then look up and notice that it’s not an actual passenger train, but a cargo one.  At the same time, Tracy hollers, “No, I’m not getting on that train.”  Seeing the futility in actually running down a moving freight train while being burdened with backpacks, we turn around to head back to our original train defeated.  The local woman sitting next to us met us and grabbed Tracy’s hand leading us back to the train and shaking her head as if saying, “see, we told you so.”  Lesson learned…the local people in Burma will look after you, they have your best interest at heart.


With yet another Burmese sunset aboard public transport under our belt, visions of sleeping on the train start to set in.  Somehow, someway, thank God, the men find a way to get the train moving again.  After an hour of chugging down the tracks we look out to the left of the train and there sits the cargo train that we had tried to run for, presumably broken down as well.  The train slows to a crawl and several people jump back on the train, including all the military guys.  Others had set up a mini camp – complete with bonfire and music.  After a polite ‘I told you so’ hit from the Thai mother, the train pulls away from the scene in short order leaving many behind.  


Around 10:00 PM, 4 hours late, the train arrives into Mawlaymine.  Perhaps one day we will learn that public transport is not all that great in Myanmar, but then again we have some good memories all the same!

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