Myanmar Train Travel

Scooters wait for train to pass

In planning our trip, we had read some great reviews of the experience taking the “Slow Train from Thazi” to the Inle Lake area and decided that it was worth the extra time it would take (over alternative transportation options) to experience this adventure. If you Google that term, you’ll come up with a wide range of online references to the train but one of the better ones complete with instructions on booking details is on The Man in Seat 61 website.

That train departs Thazi at 6:00 am so an overnight in Thazi is required. On the afternoon before, we departed Mandalay heading south on Train 6 at around 3:00 pm and arrived in Thazi around 6:00 pm. One way fare in “Upper Class” was $7 USD per person.

Upper Class on Train 6 - Mandalay to Thazi In a rush at the Thazi train station

The other passengers in our carriage were very kind to us taking time to describe some of what we were passing by and offering to let us sit in their window side seats for a better view.

Upper class seating is reasonably comfortable and as soon as we departed Mandalay Station, stewards passed through the carriage taking orders for food and drink. We enjoyed a reasonably priced beer and settled in for the journey. We saw some scenic countryside including verdant green rice fields but the most interesting part of the journey was when we passed through villages and saw aspects of village life including lines of scooters waiting at the crossing for the train to clear.

There is not a lot of action on the video below but it does give viewers a good idea of what the inside of an “upper class” seating carriage on Train 6 from Mandalay to Thazi looks like.  This same train also offers sleeper compartments for travelers and eventually goes all the way to Yangon.

It was still daylight when we reached Thazi and as we departed the train, a man approached us and asked where we were going. We had reserved rooms at the Wonderful Guesthouse and we settled on 2,000 Khat for transport there. We were led out of the station to his horse cart where he loaded our 3 large bags plus smaller bags into the back and then the 3 of us piled in on top of the luggage. I was the last one in and ended up half in / half out of the back of the cart.

Clay pot train station water vendor girl

All I could think of was “that poor little pony” that was pulling us, our luggage and the driver. As we passed through the town on the way to the guesthouse, we got more than our share of looks and laughs from the locals. Fortunately, it was a short ride and we were soon at our destination. Before he left, we arranged with the driver to come back at 4:30 am the next morning for the return to the train station.

There aren’t too many places to stay in Thazi but considering where it is and the price, we were happy with our choice of the Wonderful Guest House. Our room had a reasonably comfortable bed, private bath with plenty of hot water, A/C and ceiling fan. While on the slow side, free Wi-Fi was available in the lobby. The lady of the house is Mrs. Nu Nu and she and her sons could not have been more hospitable. The next morning while we drank coffee before leaving for the train station, she cooked and packed a varied and delicious breakfast for us to enjoy during our journey.

On our one night in Thazi, we walked around the center of town for a short while and found a store where we bought some snacks for the next day and then stopped in at an open-air tea house that is virtually next door to the Wonderful, where local men were watching a Manchester United soccer match on TV. We spent time sitting on the edge of the crowd enjoying a beer while we watched the locals drinking pulled tea and eating fried roti (and likewise being watched by the same people) when a man with shoulder length hair and betel nut stained teeth sat down at our table. We were never sure but we think he was the English speaking ambassador for the tea house. After telling us that he was Myanmar Chinese he offered to show us his tattoos. Before we could decline he pulled down on the neck of his t-shirt and proudly exposed a portrait of General Aung San (the hero father of Aung San Suu Kyi) on his chest.

The next morning, when we exited the hotel around 4:45 am, our horse cart driver was waiting out front for us. He was better prepared for dealing with our traveling circus act with rope that he used to lash our larger bags to the outside of the cart leaving more room for the passengers.

One of the sons from the hotel followed us to the train station and helped buy our ticket and made sure we boarded the right carriage. Interestingly, when we tried to pay for our train tickets with Myanmar money, the agents demanded US Dollars. With a little conversation, they eventually agreed to take Khats. The fare to Kalaw was $5 USD. If we had stayed on the train until Shwenyaung, the station serving Inle Lake, it would have been $7 USD.

slow train sleeping family Thazi train mom and son with toy car

After we boarded, we met and exchanged greetings with two women traveling with their young sons sitting next to us. The husband of one of the ladies was asleep across the facing set of seats. Our group of 3 had 2 side by side seats with one facing seat and either by design by the ticket sellers or kindness from another passenger, the 4th seat was left empty for the entire trip.

Despite the early hour, there was a lot of activity at the station with food and other venders offering items for sale. We had brought along snacks we had bought the night before and the packed meal from the hotel so we offered the little boys some cookies. In thanks, the sweet ladies next to us insisted that we sample their delicious hard boiled quail eggs that they had bought from a vendor on the train.

At each stop of the train, there would be vendors in the station offering items (including food) for sale and at some stops, food vendors would board, set up shop and remain on the train for several stops. We didn’t buy any food on the train but it did smell and look very good. On the down side, we noticed that the vendor selling meals from the isle near us provided utensils to each customer. As the customer finished the meal, they would return the utensils to the vendor who wiped them off with a cloth and put them back into service for the next customer.

slow train food vendor corn vendor girl

One of the more interesting aspects of the ride was that each village that the train stopped in seemed to specialize in a single product. At our first stop, there were clay pots for sale all along the side of the tracks and quite a few were sold to passengers. We reasoned that the shoppers knew there would be quality pots at a reasonable price for sale at this stop and they had planned on making the purchase as a routine part of the train ride to their home village.

At another stop there was a variety of fruits and vegetables while at one other, virtually every vendor was selling only cauliflower. There were villages for charcoal, for flowers and another that seemed to specialize in hot food. Cold food and water were sold at every station. In addition to bottled waters, passengers would hand their own empty bottles to a water vendor and they would fill it from a larger container.

flower vendor-3 prepared food station-4

We didn’t buy any food on the train but did buy some fruits at one of the stops. But our new friends sitting next to us enjoyed a wide range of tasty treats.

One person in our group had brought along a bag of little metal matchbox cars that he gave away to kids that we encountered along the way. Earlier in the ride, he had given one to each of the 2 boys sitting near us to their great delight. In thanks, one of those little boys had offered a piece of buffalo jerky on a stick that his mom had bought for him and not wanting to insult the little boy by refusing the offer, our fellow passenger reached for it. But before handing it over, the little boy LICKED IT and then passed it over with a smile!

slow train view 3 Slow train scenery

For the first hour or so we could see mountains in the distance but our train passed through basically flat plains. Eventually we reached hills and then the mountains. The train pulled us up, around and back down mountain peaks. We rode through tunnels so narrow that we could have almost touched the sides if we put our arms out the always open window. We passed over narrow bridges that not only edged deep drop-offs but also afforded us the spectacular views that this train ride is famous for.

But even better than the views was the chance to enjoy a brief time with the dear sweet people of Myanmar.

We rode the train for close to 6 hours with our new friends. They shared food with us, smiled & laughed with us and helped us find the toilet at a station that had a long enough stop to leave the train for a few minutes. They told us when we should get our things ready to disembark at Kalaw and then ran to the window and waved to us like old friends when we left the train. We weren’t 100% sure if they just wanted our seats to spread out or were sad to see us go. We know that we missed them at least a little bit but did get a picture of them all snuggled up sleeping like puppies in that rattled trap train car bumping and banging and shaking that will remind us of their kindness.

See the video below for a few scenes of what is described above.

In Kalaw, we left the train and were met by a car & driver as well as one of Ma Su’s daughters who drove us to Nyaungshwe and dropped us at the Viewpoint Lodge and Fine Cuisine. There is a bit more detail on that transfer in our Hired Car & Taxis page.

As mentioned above, this train continues on to Shwenyaung, the train station closest to Inle Lake. If we had stayed on the train for the additional 5 hours required to reach that last stop, it would have been about a 25 minutes by taxi or public transport to Nyaungshwe, the main entry point to Inle Lake.

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