Featured writer: conquistadoree.wordpress.com
Having seen The Darjeeling Limited at least a half-dozen times, I really thought I knew what to expect from train travel in a country that, although not the same as India, at least borders it. But after two 20-hour train rides in Burma, I’m telling you: you couldn’t know what to expect.
With only one day to plan and five days to see Burma, my friend and I decided that in addition to visiting Rangoon (which we flew into), we would squeeze in a trip to Bagan, a city about 400 miles north. Flights were expensive and we read a review that said something along the lines of, “If you value your life at all, do not take a bus,” so we decided our best mode of transportation was the $40/way overnight train recommended by the article.
Hey, here’s a travel tip for everyone: Read. More. Than. One. Review.
Turns out, Burmese trains are a bit outdated. And by a bit, I mean by like, forty years. The ride was wild — the word “bumpy” doesn’t do it justice. The smell of the sheets during our first ride has been burned into my brain forever. And this was all in the second-highest-class sleeper car, a nice luxury for this train. One other tourist group occupied a similar car, and the rest of the passengers were locals who slept on regular wooden bench seats. So yeah, I realize I’m evil for complaining about this.
But really, I don’t have any complaints. Looking back, these trips are easily some of the funniest and most memorable of my time in Asia. That said, I can’t really recommend that others take Burmese trains. Not because of the smelly sheets or the cockroach or the earthquake-like ride, but because money paid for railway tickets goes to the government, which, if you care about human rights, justice, or really anything at all, is not something you want to support. (We didn’t realize this until after we bought our tickets, by the way.) Plus, the trains cost about double the price and time as buses. Still, stepping onto this train was like a time-warp that was definitely worth experiencing, if only once.
Most photo essays are artsy and beautiful and tell a story without many words. This isn’t one of those. For the record, my “photo essay” isn’t meant to diss on this wondeful country or its trains. It’s just an honest depiction of my then-horrible-now-hilarious experience. And so, since this story can really only be told in pictures, here’s a compilation of some of my (and my friend Michelle’s) finest work to date. I know they’re just pictures, but if you want to start comparing us to Wes Anderson now, feel free.