On the Sleeper Train From Rangoon to Bagan

The train passes a signalman. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

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.

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.

4 Responses to On the Sleeper Train From Rangoon to Bagan

  1. JPaing,
    enjoyed your article sleeper train from rangoon to pagan – would appreciate thoughts from others, whether the service should be MODERNISED or let it be as is, but bring in the steam locomotives as it was. What is the need to change for change can we not let some remain as it was.
    To me it brings back memories of a different era, which gets lost????
    Thanks again

  2. Twenty miles per hour is the standard regime is offering tourists. Everyone in myanmar serve as president of myanmar. As long as you have guns and bullets, you qualify to be high ranking persons in myanmar.

  3. The speed of a turtle may be faster than Myanmar regime’s express train.

  4. I did it two weeks ago. 16.November 2014. This trip I would only reconmmend for someone I really hate. How anybody can master this trip without any mental or physiological health effects, is the real question. I call it torture train. You sit, better jump every two minutes into the air, directly on the metal wheels. The noise is turning your brain into a vinyl disc that has been mistreated with knives. The movement of the last waggon – upperseat – is as the tail of a cobra that is fighting with a pitbull. The restroom has no water for anything. The compartment had no connection to the other waggons. At the first hold I bought some rice with chicken from a boy and payed 5 Dollars for it, included a beer, that never arrived. When I opened the snack box a small brown piece of something stared at me with some brownish sauce and old rice. All my alarm belts rang, but I wanted to get at least a little bit of compensation for the high price. So, I ate just a little, little bit of the meat. One hour later I had to pay physically the neglecting of my alarm bells. How I managed to survive until Bagan I really don’t know.

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