Today we get to take the famous train ride from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin! There is a bridge the train crosses that was built in 1901, I think, by the British that everyone is crazy about. Also, it is an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery. I have had a little previous knowledge of how the ride may be because of an episode I saw on Anthony Bourdain and the little city train stint I took in Yangon. I was looking forward to the ride!
Sabine, Helen, and I decided to pay a $1 more to spring for Upper Class with all the other travelers. Instead of Upper Class, they should just name the two cars, Foreigner Class. There were no locals in these two cars that I saw at all. It made it tempting to go around and give locals each a $1 to treat themselves to cushioned seats.
An interesting feature of the train was that the windows were all wide open. So if I decided to put my arm or head out at the wrong time, I probably would have had it chopped off because there were times the wall of a cave or branch of a tree was no more than a foot away from the train. Often tree branches would scraps against the train and I’d get the occasional twig slap in the face or arm. One more fun part of the ride was that the train rocked from left to right the whole way. It sort of felt like I was on a boat for 6ish hours.
Something that is very common in Myanmar is controlled burning. At one point on the ride, just around the time I was dosing off from literally being rocked to sleep, I suddenly felt intense heat on my face and arm. I opened my eyes to see a wall of flames come through the window of my seat and burs of fire rolled into the car. The guy in front of me got burned a little and I sat back down on a bur that ended up burning a hole in my shorts. Felt like my ass was on fire!! After everyone stomped out the flames and made sure their gear was ok, we sat back down and continued enjoying the ride while occasionally watching little mice scurry around our feet and under our seats, eating crumbs of food people dropped on the floor.
After we got to Pyin Oo Lwin, we chilled out in our hotel and later went out for street food. The town was pretty relaxed and Sabine and I had a couple beers later at the hotel. It was one of the coldest nights in Myanmar that I had experienced and we all bundled up for bed to try and keep warm. The next morning we got on a day bus to Bagan.
So yes, I have already visited Bagan with my three German companions, from the first week of my travels in Myanmar. But, I found the experience with Helen and Sabine different. Different because of the uniqueness of the experiences different people can experience together and we just ended up going to many places I had not gone to the previous time.
When we got into town, I was waiting for the bus to be stopped to pay the Foreigner Tax, but the bus never got stopped. I then expected to pay it at the hotel, but they did not inquire if we had paid the tax or not. So, we just didn’t say anything, checked in, and went out to get some food. The original plan was to get an e-bike (which looks like a scooter) and go see the sunset. The problem was that the e-bikes were pretty much rented out everywhere. So we rented peddle bicycles, which I was not really excited about, and then we went to get some food. The food took forever to arrive and sunset was getting closer and closer. The girls pretty much gave up on seeing it and Sabine decided to book another night at a different hostel. Helen and I were not ready to make a decision on staying another night at this point, but regardless on if we were all staying or not, I did not want the girls to miss a sunset. So, my food came out and I scarfed the plate down in a few minutes while Helen went for the check. When we were all paid up, we started the bike ride to the closest temple we could come to. Luckily, one was not that far and we peddled our way as close as we could until we hit thick sand. Helen tossed her bike to the ground and started running. I then threw mine down with hers, locked them quickly, and ran after Helen and Sabine. We got to the temple and climbed up pretty much just in the nick of time to catch a decent sunset.
When that was all over, we headed back into Old Bagan, inquired about hot air balloon rides. I was not planning to take a balloon up for sunrise, but Sabine and Helen had their heart set on it. Unfortunately, balloons were booked out for the next weeks. Being the busy season, this was a little expected. Because the night was still young, we went and found a bar with Happy Hour and ordered a round of mojitos.. The mojitos were amazing and we only added to the fun by playing that Heads Up game again.
The next day we got up before sunrise to go chase down a temple that supposedly was great and had few tourists. After driving around on our e-bikes with no luck, we decided to to the main touristy temple I had gone to with Sandra and company. It may not have been the place we were trying for, but if we had continued our wild goose chase in the dark, we would have missed the sunrise.
After some breakfast and a nap, we headed out to see some temples and then check out the other hostel. Helen and I ended up booking a night at the same place as Sabine in New Bagan. This place had much more of a backpacker community feel to it. We checked in and then headed off to see more temples that the hostel staff said were pretty nice and remote. Most of the places we went to I had not visited with Sandra, so it was nice not having a repeat. We also, up to this point, had not been asked about the Foreigner Tax, so we decided to avoid places that asked for the tax ticket and the Foreigner Police.
After bouncing around from temple to temple, we finally found one we liked for sunset and stayed up on top. We were the only three people on this temple and the view of the other temples was pretty nice, thanks to Sabine’s persistence on finding the suggested remote location. I personally would not have gone looking for one of these remote spots and ultimately was glad we did. It was a lot of fun off-roading on the scooters.
The next day I decided to take it easy by staying in and writing my blog. I wasn’t feeling to well. I could not breath, mostly because I think I just breathed in too much dust from the day of riding. The three of us did join a boat tour out onto the river to see sunset, which was pretty cool. I originally wasn’t in the mood for it, but glad I did it.
After the little booze cruise, we went out to dinner with a whole bunch of people from the boat ride and then sat back and enjoyed a number of cocktails at the hostel.
The highlight of my night was striking up a conversation with another traveler from Switzerland. We ended up staying up well past bar close drinking, telling stories, and just enjoying each others company. I particularly enjoyed hearing about her travels to Central America. I have been thinking about extending my trip there and the way she talked about the food and life of the people there has intrigued my interest in traveling to this region. Unfortunately, time ended our conversation and that morning I had to get up to catch an early morning bus with Helen and Sabine at around 4 or 5 AM to the capital city, Naypyitaw. Hopefully we stay in touch and our paths cross again. Sometimes when those brief encounters begin and end so quickly, there is a feeling like the conversation got cut off and was left unfinished.
Next stop, Naypytaw.