I took the night train from Yangon to Mandalay and got off in Thazi. I left at 3pm; the distance is a little more than 300 miles. It takes between thirteen and fifteen hours. It depends on the weather, the ghosts and spirits along the way, and the mood of the driver and the engine.
I was lucky. It only took us 13 hours and 20 minutes.
Sitting in the train I, was reading an old book by an English author, published in 1906. He once took the same train, and it took him the same amount of time. I suppose there aren’t many places on the face of the earth where the speed of a train has not improved in the last 106 years. When I think about it, there is not much more you need to know about the state this country is in.
Having said that, I must admit that I enjoyed the ride. Like I always do. The train moves slowly, often you could walk or ride your bike right next to it. This is the perfect speed for the human senses. All windows are open, you smell all the different smells. You hear the different noises. You feel the change in the temperature in the late evening. You have time to absorb all the various sights and sounds.
The kids playing in the rice paddies. The water buffalo. The women preparing dinner on the open fire. The joyful screams of teenagers taking a bath in a river. The sunset.
After eight hours my back starts to hurt. I cannot sit much longer. It is dark, and there is not much to see despite the full moon.
Before I can start to feel sorry for myself, I walk to the restaurant car through the lower class cars. There people sleep everywhere and in every position imaginable: on the floor, on the wooden benches, underneath, on top of each other. Next to me a mother is sharing two seats with her three children.
When the train stops the stations are full of travelers, sitting on the tracks, chatting, eating, sleeping, waiting for their train, never knowing when it will come, if at all.
After a while I cannot read any more without feeling dizzy. The compartments are shaking like crazy in all directions the whole time. It is like riding a bumper car for 13 hours and 20 minutes. The last three hours after midnight are just an exercise in endurance.
For some reason I am the only foreigner on the train.
By the way: I could have taken a plane. It would have taken one hour. But somehow I find travelling by plane not suitable for Burma. Unless you are in a hurry—and you shouldn’t be. Not here.