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Riding the Rails – A Review of the Night Sleeper Train from Yangon to Bagan

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There are several ways to travel between Yangon and Bagan. Some people choose to fly. Others, on a tighter budget, book nighttime buses. We just HAD to try out the train! I know why you’re thinking, “Another train story”? Well, if you insist. Join us on the night sleeper train from Yangon to Bagan.

We love a train ride! Check out our other Riding the Rails blog posts here.

Buying Tickets for the Sleeper Train

After a little research, and trawling The Man in Seat 61, we found the 12go Asia website. We had never used this website before but it seemed to have all sorts of transport on there and great reviews.

We put in our request for tickets and during the process, were given the option to refuse lower bunks, take a different train and a few other options. Great stuff! Train tickets in Myanmar aren’t released until close to the departure date so we put in our preferred date and crossed our fingers.

Top Tip: There are a few different classes of travel, from hard wooden seats, to full padded sleepers. For the flat beds, you will want to book Upper Class Sleeper.

Picking Up the Tickets

The day before we were due to travel, our booking was confirmed. Yangon to Bagan, on the sleeper train, in seats A1 and A2. Perfect. All we had to do then was pop to their office in Yangon to swap the tickets. We had booked at Rangoon Boutique Hostel, just around the corner from the shop and the station so this took no time…once we had found it.

Top Tip: It worth noting that the office (EPG Travel) isn’t too easy to find. To pick up your tickets, look for the True Coffee shop and just to the right there is a slope leading into the condominium. Walk down the slope and around to the left, you will find a lift. That will take you up to the fifth floor where you’ll find the EPG Travel offices to your left

Boarding the Sleeper Train to Bagan

When we arrived at Yangon Central Station (a ten minute walk from the office, our tickets were checked and we were directed to platform three. We walked down the platform, past the waiting throngs, and back through a gate. More helpful guards pointed out the bridge crossing and we lumbered over.

It was easy enough to find our carriage as gangs of children dashed over to show us the way. They held cold water and snacks, and once we were in our section, they darted in and out to try and make a sale. One girl spent quite a long time trying to convince us to buy water, then played on my phone for a bit.

What is Like On Board a Sleeper Train in Myanmar? – The Practical Stuff

The Carriage

Our sleeper compartment slept four in an unusual configuration. There was no adjoining corridor connecting all of the compartments, instead, we were totally isolated from the rest of the train. It was good not to have people bumping into us but I was hoping to take a wander through the carriages and meet some people. I could have changed carriages at one of the stops but didn’t quite have the guts.

Our roommates were a french couple who were pleasant enough but not so chatty. For a while, we thought they didn’t speak English but it turned out, they were pretty fluent.

The Hygiene

I am not a clean freak by any means but this train was pretty mucky. The general carriage interior was very dusty. I guess that is only to be expected with open windows. However, the bathroom and other side room were both filthy. I found myself craving the odd antibacterial wipe.

The Seats

PROS

  • Each passenger has two seats to themselves meaning we all got a nice view out of the window.
  • The covers reminded me of 1990s Network Rail.
  • The seats could be reclined a little.
  • There was a ton of legroom.
  • There was a table between the seats for dinner time.

CONS

  • The covers were old and ripped.
  • The padding was OK, but not quite comfy enough for the level of bouncing we did.
The Fixtures And Fittings

Our carriage had a small luggage rack between the two upper bunks but this was only used for rubbish and food bags. Also on the ceiling, there was a small fan. We were thankful for this when we first boarded but it was quickly shut off when the evening took hold.

The windows could be closed which was a relief when the temperature dropped. There were also wooden shutters along with the light green curtains to block out the flashing lights of the world outside passing by. The shutters were quite heavy but once you got the hang of them, they were easy enough to open and close.

The Bathroom

As mentioned, this little room was less than pristine. It seemed coated in years of dust and dirt rather than freshly grimy. Changing in there was rather unpleasant. As the train bucked underneath me, I reached for the wall and then regretted it a little.

The toilet was a metal drop loo, like the kind found on Indian trains. Below, the tracks were clearly visible as they whizzed below. To flush, there was a small hose (bum gun). No toilet roll was provided.

The sink drained onto the floor so I used the hose to wash my hands directly down the loo instead, trying to maintain the dry floor.

What is Like On Board a Sleeper Train in Myanmar? – The Experience

“Strap yourselves on folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”.

The Tracks

The train began to rock and queasy thoughts of seasickness crossed my mind. Can you throw up out the window of a train without losing your head? I really didn’t fancy using the toilet that we all had to share. As it didn’t flush with water, it would have been a very messy business. Luckily, the sideways rocking only happened occasionally, and wasn’t bad enough to induce any sickness.

I was expecting bumps, and had even heard rumours of frequent derailments. It was as I thought. We bounced our way through the Burmese countryside and rattled across railway crossings. Children waved and we waved frantically back.

Mickey

I said before that there were four of us sharing the cabin…that wasn’t quite true. The fifth member of our travelling gang was a small, light grey mouse. He only made a few appearances but one of them was on the french couple’s chair. I’m not scared of mice but I am not a fan of waking up to one scampering across my face and that was on mind all through the night.

Top Tip: Tie food bags to the luggage rack between the beds.

Dinner Time

As night fell, the waiter knocked and handed us two polystyrene boxes. One was full of the fried rice we had ordered from him a little earlier, and the other containing questionable looking chicken. A memory of the misunderstanding between Mr Fluskey and the waiter popped up. Oh yes, he had put two fingers up, and called it, “Fried rice, and chicken”, not chicken fried rice.

We wolfed down the rice (oily but inoffensive) but didn’t know what to do about the chicken, so we hid it in the room at the end of the carriage in the hopes it may lure Mickey away from the sleeping area.

Bedtime

Everyone made nighttime stirrings, closing the curtains and shutters on the windows, putting sheets on the bed, and the whole pantomime show of big, fake yawns.

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As I settled into my “bed”, I realised just how uncomfortable it was. The metal casings of the chairs could be clearly felt by a hipbone. The chairs tipped away from the centre meaning my head was tipped back at a strange angle. Oh, and there was no blanket. I don’t know whether they forgot to give us one or if that is standard but we only had one sheet, and a pillow.

The Fridge

The cold began to creep in. At first it wasn’t too bad, but as the night progressed I put on more and more clothes to try and combat the chill. By morning, I was in:

  • my pyjamas,
  • a cardigan,
  • a maxi dress,
  • a down jacket,
  • two pairs of socks
  • sleeping under a scarf

….and I was still covered in goose pimples and desperate for the sun to heat up the carriage.

Top Tip: BRING A BLANKET, A SLEEPING BAG OR SEVENTY MILLION LAYERS

I know this logo on the sheet stands for Myanmar Railways….but it totally says Mr Boobs!
The Sleep

It was a combination of the constant, violent movement, and arctic conditions (ok, that is a touch hyperbolic) that meant I was awake all night. It should have been called the “not-so-much-sleep-er-train”. Still, I didn’t manage to binge-watch the entire first series of Sex Education on Netflix so you know, every cloud!

Morning Time

At 7:20, we had a knock on the door

“Hello!”

I was in a weird daze, thinking the night would never end and so I didn’t really clock that this was real.

“Hellooooo”

This was accompanied by a loud knock on the window that made myself and my french companions jump out of our skins. The waiter was back with their breakfast so it officially time to reset our seats and give up on sleep.

All except for Mr Fluskey who was finally getting some rest so I left him to it.

Arriving in Bagan by Train

The sleeper train from Yangon to Bagan was due to arrive at 09:30, and as this time approached I gave Mr Fluskey a little shake to get him up and off his bunk. I knew we were running late but not sure exactly by how much. The train slowly crawled towards Bagan, stopping at red signals on the single track.

The train pulled into Bagan at 10:50, only an hour and twenty minutes later than scheduled. Considering the swathes of reports I had read that said they were often hours and hours late, this wasn’t too bad.

Getting to Nyaung-U from Bagan Train Station

Taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers descended upon the tourists on the train platform. We agreed to a taxi into town for 8000 MMK (around £4) which may have been slightly too much but we were SO tired that we just wanted to get to a real bed. If you good at haggling, 6000 MMK should be manageable.

Shared pickup trucks ply the main road a short walk from the front of the station. We believe they take people into Nyuang-U but not being on a tight budget, we didn’t investigate fully.

The taxi stopped at a checkpoint and we paid for our Bagan Tourist Ticket. They took our photo (after no sleep, that was mean). This tickets covers tourists for the whole Bagan area for a week but in reality it is checked rarely. We had two checks out of about fifty pagodas. Still, we did see people having to pay during one these checks so I wouldn’t skip it.

Information

If you are thinking of taking the night sleeper train from Yangon to Bagan, here are a few things you might like to know:

  • Tickets are available four days before the date of travel. If you are in Yangon, you can go and purchase them yourself but get there quickly as the sleepers can sell out.
  • 12Go Asia is a good option for those that either won’t be in town when tickets are released or just don’t fancy the effort of getting the station etc
  • Rangoon Boutique House is a good budget hostel close to both the 12Go Asia offices and the station.
  • For those on a swankier budget, check out Zealax Hotel and Residence. It is not near the station at all, but was rather lovely and they can organise a transfer.

Final Thoughts on the Sleeper Train from Yangon to Bagan

I am so conflicted about this journey. I am glad we tried it but regret bitterly that we didn’t have any kind of blanket. Whether that is their fault for not giving us one or ours for not bringing one, I am not sure. Either way, I was bloody freezing and wouldn’t choose to repeat the experience in a hurry.

I am wondering whether a day time train trip would have been a better plan than the sleeper train from Yangon to Bagan, then there wouldn’t have been that terrible attempt at sleep, and we would have been warm. The run between Mandalay and Hsipaw, passing over the infamous Goteik Viaduct is meant to be a lovely journey. Maybe we should try that one next time eh!?

Rosie xx


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4 thoughts on “Riding the Rails – A Review of the Night Sleeper Train from Yangon to Bagan

  1. While I was able to convince my partner to take many rail lines in Myanamar, I failed to get him on the sleeper train. I’ve remained curious as to ‘what could have been’, so when I saw your post on Facebook, I clicked right through. Initially, I was surprised to find your accommodation as nice as it was given the bare bones (yet very much fun) rail cars that we took during the day. But as I read through, I started to see a lot of the murkiness that we experienced during the day (the bathrooms, the tracks, etc) and by the end was roaring with laughter (sorry) remembering our experience through yours (and why my partner gets very worried every time I have suggested rail travel since). Makes me happy we stuck to day travel (and took the bus to Bagan from Mandalay). And definitely take the run between Mandalay and Hsipaw next time. it was grand. Great pics and tips.

    1. I remember it with both a laugh and a grimace haha. We have taken so many night trains around the world and at first glance it seemed so promising but it was possibly the worst one so far…that or sleeper class in India…it’s a tight run thing!

      You must have a fair few rough nights on the boat. How do think it compares?

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