There were no beds left.
The “6” train from Yangon to Mandalay takes 15 hours according to the man in the ticket office, and 17 according to everyone else. It leaves Yangon Central railway station at 3pm and heads slowly North, passes through the capital Naypyitaw in the evening, and then trundles on through the night.
There were no beds left, so I booked a seat.
Yangon Central is a beautiful huge engine shed that wouldn’t look out of place in central Europe. The clocks were made in Birmingham. You can buy coffee and snacks on the concourse. The floor is red from betel-nut spit.
I boarded the train. The old man next to me smiled and nodded. Some nods have meanings: welcome, peace, understanding. This nod meant “I fart in my sleep”.
Nowadays, good office chairs are built so there are five axes of configuration – how high the seat is, where the lumbar support goes, how far the back leans. My seat had all those and more.
The spring was broken so if you wanted to lean back you just… did. The rail gauge was so narrow that the carriage moved in great wide arcs from left to right, and the links between cars were so shot that the whole train concertina’d dramatically as it lumbered down the line.
The net effect was a night with no sleep, and severe backache for the next few days.
I remember thinking of those journeys you know you’ll always remember, but at the time you hate it.
Mandalay is fun. There are two things to do: We bombed the shit out of the Palace in the war, so you can go see the 1980s full-sized replica; and you can scoot out to the Irrawaddy, find a bar and sit and watch the world go by. Then… well, that’s about it for Mandalay.
The journey back was just as much fun. All the domestic airlines in Burma have the word “safe” somewhere in their motto, as if they’re just pointing out the obvious: “we’re the safest!”; “of course we’re safe!”. None are approved for international flight.
I’d booked my ticket at a travel agent in town, the day before I flew. Remember airline tickets? You bought the ticket, exchanged it at the airport for a boarding pass, and you were away. Now it’s all electronic ticketing, but not in Burma. The lady filled out a ticket in pencil, in triplicate, and gave me one copy. She’d asked to see my passport, and didn’t mind at all when I told her it was in my hotel.
It’s all like that. This was in 2015, when there were no hostels and not much lying around for a budding young backpacker. Internal flights aren’t limited by the vagaries of custom, law, … safety. Good times.