When I arrived at Rangoon Central Station before departure time, the train that would take me to Bagan was ready to set off for its 20 hour journey. It was an eight-carriage train with upper-, second- and ordinary-class cars and only one sleeper.
Even though the train line to the ancient city 430 miles north of Rangoon has been running since the early 2000s, the idea to take a ride had never crossed my mind, given the often-delayed arrival and departure times of the train. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen now.
While onboard, the carriages were teaming with upcountry-bound passengers, mostly local people. Foreigners were spotted only in the sleeper car, which was also occupied by some locals. I shared my compartment with a Burmese family.
When walked from the sleeper to ordinary class, a childhood memory of 20 years ago came alive. People were cramped inside the carriage, sitting on wooden benches. Some who couldn’t find a seat were just standing in the aisles as hawkers waded around them. When the night time came, they slept on their seats or the floor.
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Looking out the windows, the typical upcountry scene of toddy palm groves and small villages came into view and the air was refreshing. But, I have to admit, the ride was bumpy. I had a difficult time to hold still my beer mug.
After an overnight ride and around noon next day, the train came into Bagan Station, a brick building with some resemblance of the architecture of temples in the ancient city. The ticket-seller had told me I would be in Bagan around lunch time. My watch indicated it was 11: 50. Not bad.