Inle to Yangon by Rail
Rather than take the VIP air conditioned, wifi equipped, time efficient bus to Yangon from Inle Lake, we were talked into boarding the train for an experience unique to Myanmar and not seen by many tourists who travel there. Our amazing host Mr. A convinced us of this genius idea and guaranteed it would be like none other. He was spot on about that. The morning of our departure Mr. A drove us to the train station, treated us to a traditional Myanmar style breakfast, helped us purchase our tickets, and sent us off on our way. The first half of our journey was essentially a slow descent down the mountains to the plains. For this leg we had the privilege of sitting in the "upper class" cabin. What we would soon discover is that "upper class" only constitutes cushioned seats that recline and not too much overcrowding. Since the train moves at a snails pace you get to see a magnificent countryside. When you're not enjoying the view, you're trying not to sweat out all of your vital fluid content in the hot train car. No AC, just large open windows that you have to be careful to not fall out of when the train rocks violently back and forth. It does this often. So much so that if it stopped doing it you'd think something was wrong with the train. The tracks that the train runs on are the same tracks laid down by the British during their colonial reign over what was then known as Burma. It even seemed as if some of the rail cars were from the same era. Our descent took roughly twelve hours to complete. We arrived at 8pm at one of the major stations (the name escapes me) that is along the route from Mandalay to Yangon. Here we had to change trains to make our final push to Yangon. At the ticket office we learned there were no more sleeper cabins available or even upper class seats at that. What was left were steel bench "ordinary class" seats. The train ride would be bumpy, through the night, and about another 18 hours!!! After much debate and some running around to see if there was a bus we could take (only 6-7 hours in comparison) we forced ourselves to realize this wasn't the end of the world and a multitude of people traveled like this everyday all around the world. Yes it would be uncomfortable but it wouldn't kill us. This was going to be a learning experience like none other. So, we purchased 4 seats (two, two seater benches facing each other) to have some extra room for sleeping through the night. Sleep really never found us. At least not any decent sleep. Around 8 in the morning more travelers poured in at various stations ending our seat monopoly. This is when the experience became fun and interesting. People stared at us as if they were wondering how and why these foreign tourists would sit and ride in the "ordinary class" when they could be in the "upper class". Smiles and conversation lost on both ends due to the ever present language barrier broke down apprehensions on both sides. Soon we were being offered food and having our personal space invaded due to extreme overcrowding on the train. We looked around. People were laying atop each other and didn't seem to mind so we didn't either. I even made a friend who became my right hand man. Though he had some sort of learning disability (he was unable to speak on top of that), he was extremely sweet and very protective of Sarah and myself. We played games on the iPad to pass the time and even laughed a bit a vulgar boy humor. We also sat and hung out the door as the train rolled onto Yangon to get a bit more air to beat the stifling heat of the Myanmar sun. Seconds became minutes and minutes hours and before we knew it we hit Yangon and said goodbye to our fellow travelers never to forget our 29 and a half hour journey through the heart of Myanmar.