There are two options for heading to Inle Lake from Yangon. Option 1 is to take the relatively comfortable and fast bus. Option 2 is to take a 24 hour train journey through far-flung Burmese destinations on the ricketiest train known to man. Naturally, I went for the second option. I was opting for the mammoth train journey going from Yangon – Thazi then Thazi – Shwenyeung, the closest transport hub to Inle Lake.
For just $10, I crossed less than 400 miles on 2 trains taking 24 hours. That’s around the equivalent of going from London to Scotland, though Virgin trains these were not! It was comforting to see on the ticket that ‘Life Insurance’ was included in the price. The first leg was by far the bumpiest train ride I have ever been on. I’d opted for an upper class ‘comfy’ seat rather than a sleeper and it was probably for the best as there was no way I was getting any sleep on this thing. Every now and then the whole carriage would just fly a few feet in the air! The train screeched and chugged so loudly that not even my headphones could drown it out and the bugs/mosquitos swarmed the carriage like some low-budget horror film.
I finally completed the first stage, pulling into Thazi shortly after 2am. I had a couple of hours to wait here before my next train at 5am. The ticket office on the middle platform opened at around 3am and the staff were very helpful. The train to catch is the 5am to Yak Sok which stops to Shwenyeung along the way. There’s another one at 7am which terminates at Shwenyeung but you’d have to wait longer. The platform was filled with people wrapped in blankets sleeping. I was able to feel like a proper local, crossing the railway lines to get to my train, then nestled into this somewhat shabbier carriage for the next 10 hours of my trip.
This iconic ‘slow train’ certainly lived up to its name but it was much less bumpy as a result and the scenery along the way was absolutely stunning. I never realised Myanmar was so green. With the train leaving at 5am, it meant I could catch glimpses of sunrise over the mountains which was breath-taking. It’s a good job the outside views were so good since, inside, my travelling companions included an aloof monk and his flustered minion, a hungry mouse and dozens of cocky flies.
It’s not a train journey for people who like their creature comforts, but I don’t regret doing it. A bus journey probably would have taken half the time but I’d not have got the scenery, the sense of adventure or the breeze blowing through the huge open windows. Train travel, for all its lack of glamour, is definitely the way to see this stunning country.