After enjoying interesting but long bus rides in Myanmar I decided to push luck even further: hop on the train from Kalaw to Shwenyuang, the closest station to Inle Lake. Unfortunately I was alone today. Because of a small foot injury I could not join Tanja on a two-day trek through the hills.
I am told to “check-in” at the train station at 12.45 by the guys at our hostel and this is when the journey starts… 🙂
Even the 15 minute walk to the train station, as so often in this amazing country, is full of suprises and interesting encounters. See below, I get some lunch for the train and a random guy with a cool orange beard starts to talk to me about where I am from… 🙂 Just another day as a tourist in Myanmar 🙂
I arrive at the train station and it immediately becomes clear that this is a very interesting relic of British colonial rule. There is a red (at least it used to be red at some point) letter box and a very important sign that says “Station Master’s Office”.
It turns out there is only one train per day in each direction and mine departs at 13.30. I also find out that even though the staff is obviously already here, tickets can only be bought later. When I try to get my ticket from them, they keep telling me: “Later. Ticket buy later. One hour after.” Suddenly quite a few tourists show up, most of them with a group and a local guide. Somehow (not really surprisingly) all the local guides immediately manage to get tickets… 🙂
Suddenly someone rings a bell! No, this is not the train approaching but apparently the announcement that people can buy tickets now. I go back to the “very important” office and there seems to be a lot of confusion. The staff is heatedly discussing something, as if something dramatic just happened… (It feels a little like they sell tickets for the first time ever.) Still, after waiting for another maybe 15 minutes, I finally hold a ticket in my hand! Hand-written with my name and passport number. First Class is full so I get a ticket for “ordinary class”. It costs 500 kyat, which is about 0.31 €… So for 31 cents I get to enjoy a 4h train ride! Oh, and in the ticket included is a 0.35 kyats (€ 0,00022) life insurance – I wonder (a little apprehensively) why that is??
With about 25 minutes delay suddenly the train arrives. Just watching it arrive immediately makes it clear that this will be a slow journey… A bullet train looks different! The moment I enter the ordinary class waggon it also becomes apparent that my worry that this train is only running for tourists is competely unfounded. All seats are already taken and people seem to carry luggage in all shapes and sizes, from big sacks of potates to huge bags of empty bottles. Very kindly a family makes space for me and my huge backpack and suddenly I find myself cramped between two mothers with three small kids.
So the fun begins! Classic life on a train… This could be everywhere. The baby starts to scream so the lady next to her starts breastfeeding. Everybody is talking animatedly and seems to be having a great time! Me too, as long as I find something to hold on to, given the train shakes pretty dramatically from left to right.
The scenery is stunning! Beautiful rural landscapes with farmers working on their fields everywhere. The 4h are like a constant high suspense TV thriller and I cannot decide if it is more interesting to watch what is going on inside or outside the train…
At some point we stop in Heho and I get out on the platform. Women are carrying trays of food on their head and approach people who buy it through their open window. Then something super funny happens: I want to buy 2 bananas and am told this is 300 kyat or about not even 20 cents. Since the train already starts moving I hastily pay and, wait for it, receive two huge bundles of at least 15 banans each! I tried to fend them off but decide it is more important to jump back on the moving train. There I am with at least 30 bananas in my hand… 🙂 The only solution I find is to hand out a banana each to every fellow traveller in my car. The whole banana dilemma turns into this amazing, not in any way planned, unforgettable scene where people are so happy and award me with smiles everywhere because they get a free banana! What a happy sight!
After about 4h of painfully slow travelling my personal “TV movie” finally ends in the most beautiful evening light in Shweyaung. What an unforgettable experience!