"Warmly welcome and take care of tourist" - this is the train ride of a lifetime!
We were about to get quite the surprise.
There are Standard Sleeping cars, which feature small private compartments with an upper and lower berth and a common washroom down the corridor. There are also “Special Sleepers" on the Mandalay-Yangon line. Special sleepers are separate, self contained compartments with no access to the rest of the train. They contain two upper berths and two lower sections, which are seats by day, beds by night.
There are not many things that make my jaw drop but this was surely one of those times. Ryan and I started at the compartment, and then at each other, in utter disbelief, our mouths agape with incredulity. We weren't in a sleeper car as expected, but instead in a “special sleeper” car, the kind that is only supposed to be on the Mandalay-Yangon route. Good thing we had stocked up on cookies and water – we would have absolutely no access to the restaurant on the train. We would have no access to anything.
There were two doors in our compartment. One was the entrance to the scariest looking electrical room I’ve ever seen in my life, an electrical room that had a hole in the floor! The other door was the entrance to the bathroom.
No, it wasn’t a hole in the floor, but that might have been preferable. There was a toilet that had seen better days. The sink in the corner contained a dish of clean water. This kind gesture would end us causing us grief when it sloshed over the bathroom floor within 10 minutes. And the walls, oh the walls. I think they may have once been a kind of faux wood paneling, one that had been dissolved into shreds through decades of heat, humidity, and dirt.
And in the midst of all of this was a brand new blue sticker, proudly adhered to the wall of our carriage that said “Warmly Welcome and Take Care of Tourists”.
And then the bumps began.
After about 7 hours of body hurling misery, my need to use the bathroom was no longer something I could ignore. My dehydration dedication was no match against the jostling of the train! And suffice it to say that Ryan and I have agreed to never share the details of exactly what happened!!!
We. Were. Done.
But the train wasn't. We rolled on for another hour when, finally, we found our place on the map. We had finally reached the outer limits of the Yangon suburbs! Relief, utter relief!
I don’t know if a shower has ever been so welcome in my life. The suds were brown with dirt as they washed down the drain! We inhaled a plate of noodles and retired to our guest room for a short rest.
That short rest would add up to nearly 40 hours over the next three days. It would take an equal amount of time for our queasy stomachs to recover and for my balance and equilibrium to return to normal. Our plans to catch an overnight train to save on daylight travel hours and gain more time in Yangon left us feeling like – pardon the pun – an utter train wreck.
If you are looking to test the mettle of your marriage, this is the experience for you. For everyone else, may I suggest the bus?
PS - Ryan required a glass of Scotch in order to edit this post and relieve the experience!
Update! As we say from the beginning of this post, the source of our misery wasn't so much from a lack of comfort or convenience - it's that we had done our research, formed reasonable expectations, but conditions were far worse than anticipated.
Several years have passed since we took this train and, from the general consensus of readers who have weighed in, there have been no noticeable improvements. We really do urge readers to think long and hard before selecting this journey and we encourage everyone who does take it to share their comments here. (And if you disagree with our assessment, please share those thoughts too, provided it's in a respectful manner that benefits other travelers). Ultimately, we want our readers to be prepared and make informed decisions.
Does this still stand as our worst travel experience? YES. Makes the time I had giardia in Malawi look like a picnic. Vanessa, April 2016
Travel resources and train information for Myanmar.
- Want more Myanmar inspiration? You'll love Wandering iPhone, run by my good friend Andrea.
- Want to hear more about different transportation options in Myanmar? My favourite resource is The Man in Seat 61.
- Go Myanmar has a good summary of train routes, fare classes, and other practical info.
- In Bagan, we stayed at the Amazing Bagan Resort, which really WAS amazing! But don't take our word for it - you can see what everyone else thought about it on Trip Advisor, Expedia, and Hotels Combined.
- In Yangon, we stayed at the Mother Land Inn 2. You can read our review or check out more opinions on Trip Advisor, and Expedia.
With the exception of the train, we LOVED our time in Myanmar and would highly recommend traveling there. Read more about it here:
Kipling, Orwell, and Harry Potter: A Day in Mandalay
Getting To and From Mandalay Airport
Sailing Down the Irrawaddy: Traveling by Boat from Mandalay to Bagan
The BEST Travel Experience of my Life: Balloons Over Bagan
Besotted with Bagan: Day 10 &11 of Our Round The World Trip
At Long Last: Yangon. Day 12 &13 of Our Round The World Trip
Guest House Review: Yangon's Motherland Inn 2
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