The 30 Hour Train

February 11, 2016

The train from Inle lake to Yangon was 30 hours. Let me repeat that: 30 HOURS. The total distance wasn’t more than 400 miles but the rail system is so historic that we were never moving more than 25 MPH and the track winds this way and that – at times we’d even back up to the previous station. We were never sure why – it just seemed liked we’d missed a stop, so back we’d go. We paid 9,000 kyat each for our tickets, which amounts to just under $7.

Starting our journey

Starting our journey at the train station just outside of Inle Lake

Myanmar people came and went, hauling baskets and bags full of food like cabbages, cauliflower, onions and all sorts of greens. We’d stop fairly often and ladies or children selling fruit, corn or fried fritters / spring rolls would come up to the open windows of the train, smiled broadly and passing slowly to tempt us weary travelers.

Hauling goods on and off the train

Hauling goods on and off the train

The train was a line of rickety boxes, no more than 8 cars in length. Two classes were offered: ordinary and upper. Ordinary class had hard wooden benches for seating, while upper had quads of individual chairs that were a little padded and reclined just slightly. For a 30 hour journey we opted for upper class.

Ballin' in upper class

Ballin’ in upper class

In the morning the cars were cold as there was no heat and the large windows were nearly all kept open. This made for an unobstructed and glorious view of the mountainous landscape. It also made for some hazardous situations as trees, branches and various long grasses hanging over the tracks would make their way inside, smacking passengers in the face. One monk got absolutely clobbered in the shoulder.



Riding the train took us through tiny railroad towns, lost in time to the rest of the world. At crossings, a bamboo stick acted as an arm, keeping traffic (bicycles, motorbikes, a few old trucks and foot traffic) stopped while we passed. As we passed the towns, kids waved, sometimes shyly, sometimes excitedly – fascinated by our white faces and blonde hair. Even adults hung out of passing cars to stare and smile at us.



The cars rocked back and forth, sometimes pitching violently sending people nearly out of their seats and bags flying clear off the luggage rack. I had secured mine with the buckles I strap around my waist and chest, but it was tossed from the rack, leaving it dangling from above. I decided to just move it behind my chair as there was plenty of room. Trying to retrieve it I balanced on the chairs and struggled to hold the bag up with one hand while I undid the clips with another. I succeeded with one and then the second, sending it tumbling down, out of my arms and nearly out the open window just below. I was so close to tossing my own bag out of the moving train that the Myanmar couple behind me gasped while I clung to it, hauling it carefully back in. Major disaster averted.

Bea and Alex rode with us as far as Kalaw but then we had to hug them goodbye for good, promising to meet up for Alex’s 30 birthday in England come August.

We spent our time looking out the window, listening to music and chatting. we amused ourselves by making up back stories for the people around us, none of whom spoke English and playing a game where we tried to hit objects out the window with pieces of orange peel.



Our train stopped at thazi For a four hour break before taking off again at 10pm. Just to be sure we wouldn’t miss it we asked three different people (all in broken English / sign language): “What time does the train leave for Yangon? Is it the same train?” All confirmed that the train left at 10 and that it was indeed the very same train – no need to change. So we left our large packs and took our small packs with our most valuable belongs – off in search of food and a table to play cards at.

We searched for food and after seeing it just laid out buffet style at two restaurants we went back to the station where we saw a restaurant cooking the food to order (always the safest bet when confined to a squat toilet on a bumpy train). But as we rounded the corner back to the station, Melanie asked softly (and a bit too casually if you ask me):

“Hey, Margaret… Where’s our train?”

I looked up and sure enough the train that we had just arrived on – where our bags were – had disappeared.

“Ok. Don’t panic. Let’s go talk to the ticket agent. Excuse me. The train for Yangon leaves at 10 right?”


“But where is the train? The train is gone.”

“Yes. Train gone.”

“No! You just said it leaves at 10!”

“Yes. Leave at 10 for Yangon.”

“Then WHERE is the train?!”

We beckoned him outside to observe the empty space where our train was supposed to be.

“Oh!!! Train down there. Platform 5.” He pointed into the dark distance where our train had parked, well out of sight.

Immediately Mel and I busted out laughing, falling over each other, giddy with relief.

After dinner and a few rounds of speed, we were back on the train, attempting to get comfortable for the night. Our attempts were in vain. Not only was it impossible to find a good position (feet on the window, feet in the aisle, feet overhead, fetal position) the train was FREEZING cold and the lights were left on all through the night.


To top it off the “bumps” on the track turned into secessions of miniature ramps for the train, sending sleeping passengers clear out of our seats and well out of any semblance of sleep we may have achieved. It was a lot like playing popcorn on a trampoline where you lay in a tight ball and your friends jump around you, throwing you midair.

I was relieved when morning came, and in a much better mood after a coffee and a beautiful, misty sunrise. Only 8 hours to go…

Picture of the day by Mel

Picture of the day taken at sunrise by Mel


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  • Reply Maria February 12, 2016 at 2:09 am

    #thuglifemonk 😂 You are such a fantastic story teller! But man oh man, 30 hours.

    • Reply margarethenney February 13, 2016 at 4:34 am

      Can you believe that monk?! Such a gangsta

  • Reply Sara February 12, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Hello! I love your blog and started following you from the beginning after Brian Scott shared it on FB (I think I’ve mentioned that before). Anyways, I tried contacting you through your Contact form, but it didn’t seem to want to work. I love reading about your journey. I’m actually heading to SE Asia next month and thought I’d see if by chance you’d be in the same area OR have any recommendations if you’ve been to these places before. Below is a brief itinerary for my mission trip. I’ll be with a group and will be busy during the days, but most evenings we have free. Let me know if you’ve been or are going! Thanks in advance!


    We land in Manila, Philippines on March 9th.
    On March 14th we will fly from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
    We will leave there on March 19th to head back to the US via Hong Kong.

    • Reply margarethenney February 13, 2016 at 4:36 am

      Hi Sara! I certainly remember you. And apologies about my contact form – I haven’t been able to figure the darn thing out no matter how many times I try. I’ll shoot you an email so we can connect!

      • Reply Sara February 14, 2016 at 10:49 am

        Sounds good!!

  • Reply aunt geri February 24, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    I love the analogy of the popcorn on the trampoline! great pics!

    • Reply margarethenney March 7, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      I honestly can’t think of anything more accurate – it was JUST like that!

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