Myanmar – The Train and Bagan

The Train - Yangon to Bagan The Train. I capitalise it because this wasn't merely a train, this was The Train. I like travelling by train - it's usually relaxing, offers more interesting scenery than a bus journey, and sleeper trains actually have flat beds so you can actually sleep. Despite dire warnings from the Lonely Planet about the condition of the Burmese railway network, I managed to persuade Daniel that taking the overnight sleeper from Yangon to Bagan, our next destination, would be a great idea. I suspect that he regrets this decision now. Buying the tickets was a small adventure in itself - we were directed from one place in the station to another, and another, and another, before finally being taken by the stationmaster into the heart of the station. This is no shiny modern place, the station offices had a definite Soviet feel - bare concrete, bad lighting, cheap furniture, impassive-faced workers who watched us pass. In the ticket office, we sat on a bench while our tickets were hand-written (there is no computerisation on the network at all - everything is still processed by hand), all the time praying that we wouldn't be interrogated for some reason. Fortunately we escaped with our lives and a ticket for the sleeper train the following day. After lunch the next day at the most Western place in Yangon, we got to the station, waited for a while, then boarded the train. First impressions were not good - the sleeper carriage looked battered and ancient, possibly the same rolling stock left by the British (who built the railways in Burma). The hoped-for air-con turned out to be very wide of reality - we had a fan which didn't work. The light, as it later transpired, would flicker on a regular basis. Daniel began to curse my name before we had even left the station. I really enjoyed the journey itself, despite the incredibly bumpy track - drinking a beer in the evening was a challenge, trying to get the beer in your mouth and not on your lap, and also avoiding smashing the glass into your teeth. The scenery was great - from the urban views during the slow roll through out of Yangon, to the wide open fields, and primitive brickworks that dotted the landscape in the countryside. The train paused at stations where temporary markets had taken over the rest of the tracks, and food vendors tried to sell sweets to passengers leaning out of the open carriage windows. Passing villages, children would run out of their homes to wave, and when the train was slow enough, even jump on board or hang off the sides! When night fell, we had to close the window to avoid letting bugs in, and with no working fan the cabin soon became oppresively hot. Add to that a midnight stop, where a loudspeaker (seemingly placed directly outside our window) blared some incomprehensible Burmese for half an hour, and neither Daniel nor myself got much sleep. Finally arriving in Bagan five hours late, deprived of sleep, and with Daniel coming up with increasingly inventive ways to curse my name, we hailed a songtheauw and headed into town...
A brickworks

A brickworks

View from the train between Yangon and Bagan

View from the train between Yangon and Bagan

Bagan Nuang U, the main backpacker town in the area, is a hot and dusty place, and fortunately full of guesthouses. A quick wander determined that every single one charged the same amount for a twin room, a pattern that would reoccur through the rest of the trip - $25 everywhere. It seemed a little cartel-like, but at least it made budgeting simple! After the fun of the train ride, we took things relatively easy - rented a pair of basic bikes and cycled from Nuang U down to Old Bagan. This was a good insight into how the cycling would be around the area - hot and very sweaty. Fortunately the roads were fairly flat and other traffic would always give foreigners on bikes a wide berth, so besides the heat, the going was good. The first afternoon took us round a few of the larger pagodas in old Bagan, and up to the top of one of them, getting some pretty good pictures in the process.
One of Bagan's many pagodas

One of Bagan's many pagodas

Ox cart

Ox cart

I headed out alone the next day, as Daniel wasn't feeling particularly well. I actually felt better for the first time in a week, and so went on a fairly epic (for me anyway) circuit around the far reaches of the archaeological site. Just as I was headed out of town, I passed a parade - I have no idea what was being celebrated, but there was a lot of colour, noise, and general merriment as it passed. I considered following it to see what was going on, but the sun was starting to get high, and I needed to keep moving to avoid being out at the peak of the day.
Part of an unknown parade

Part of an unknown parade

Another part of the mystery parade

Another part of the mystery parade

I spent the rest of the day cycling round broken roads, visiting many pagodas and stupas (I did try to record the names of the ones that I'd seen and photographed, but there were too many...), getting sandlogged on farm tracks, eating cheap food, and getting sunburnt. By the time I headed back, I must have drunk in excess of 4 litres of water! The photos below are the best of the 200+ I took over the next two days...
A Buddha statue in a pagoda

A Buddha statue in a pagoda

A bed in an underground monastery

A bed in an underground monastery

Another Bagan pagoda

Another Bagan pagoda

Sunset at Bagan

Sunset at Bagan

This gives you an idea of how many pagodas there are

This gives you an idea of how many pagodas there are

Sunlight through the window of an abandoned monastery

Sunlight through the window of an abandoned monastery

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