My two fellow travellers and I got the last three tickets for the soft seats. At the time we didn’t know that we were very lucky, but we were. The remaining westerners were given a ticket for the ordinary class, because the railway manager had only ten tickets to sell, he said. All written by hand, no computer or even a typewriter. And only brand new dollar bills. The difference of the train classes is sitting on a small wooden bench or having an own seat with a thick cussion. And that turned out to be a huge difference, because it is a swinging ride, from left to right and up and down rolling and rocking. Not the whole ride, but often. Even the Swedish girl, who went on the cheap and told everyone: the view is the same in the ordinary class (she is right), came half way looking for an empty seat in the upperclass. And that is a strange thing, there were all the way empty seats. So it pays to be early at the railway station, try to be first in the line of westerners. I didn’t see any Burmese people buying tickets, but the ordinary wagon was packed. At the station are sellers of food, tasty pineapple and oranges. The train is two hours late. I see my first kalashnikov.
The ride is a must do for train lovers. The hundred years old track counts as a masterpiece of British engineering. The hilly green landscape is of an outstanding beauty. But the people working in the fields do the work by hand, no machines. Women selling food at the train windows are carrying their merchandise on the head. The yourney over the Gokteik viaduct over a canyon of a few hundred meters deep is spectacular. Made of steel in a patern like the Eiffeltower. Hand painted wooden signs for the engine driver along the one single track. The train passes at walking speed. Passengers hanging out of the windows for filming and photo’s. At the end of the bridge the second kalashnikov.
And as often in Burma, the sunset is beautiful.
With some delay the trains arrives in Pyin Oo Lwin. Many of us get out and try to find a way in the dark between horse carriages and motortaxi’s. Travellers who had planned for Mandalay decided to leave the train here also, not wanting to ride another five bumpy hours in the dark.
When I went to Hsipaw from Mandalay some days before I took the bus. That’s more comfort and much faster. But somehow the view from the bus is by far not as good as that from this fascinating train ride.