Taking the train from Mandalay to Myitkyina.
We made a snap decision that morning to leave and head up north to Myitkyina. Our only option available due to Thaigyan, Myanmar water festival was the train and the only available seats were in first class. The price for this 24 hour epic train journey was 8750 Kyats ($8-9USD.
Travelling by train in upper class in Myanmar.
The biggest difference between upper class and lower is the amount of people allowed in the carriage. In upper class there are 2 seats on each side with plenty of space between you. Every person is allocated a seat and each time I caught a train a guard escorted me right to the seat. They take incredible care of foreigners all over the country but its definitely felt the most in train stations. The seats are extremely comfortable and can recline in to a very comfortable semi laying position.
Upper class train carriage in Myanmar.
Lower class carriage train in Myanmar.
I travelled in lower class from Myitkyina to Hopin so I could visit indwadyi lake it was only a 5 hour ride and cost 900Kyats ($0.90USD). The carriages are cramped as you are allowed to just board these trains and sit on the floor for an even cheaper ticket. I later took a lower class train from Hopin to Mandalay which took around 22 hours. That cost 2800Kyats ($2.80USD). The aim of the game is just to try and secure yourself some sleeping room. I ended up sleeping under my seat on the floor.
Thingyan New Years Water Festival and trains.
Although the water festival had officially finished this didn’t stop the enthusiasts. Almost every town had groups of people armed with water waiting for your train to slowly crawl past. One woman even had a hose pipe to make sure everyone was soaked inside. I’d strongly recommend shutting your windows once the sun goes down. In the cities the water fights stop once the sun is gone. However, along the train lines they just continue all night. Multiple people got completely soaked throughout the night. Trains do run throughout the Water Festival. Almost all other modes of transport stop. Bus’s are almost impossible to get a seat on from about a week before the festival starts so book in advance if you don’t want to catch trains or get stuck.
Arriving in Myitkyina.
Pretty exhausted but relieved the 24 hour train ride only took 21 we made our way to the exit of the train station. Before we’d even managed to get more than 10 steps away a policeman approaches us and tells us to follow him. He led us to a small immigration office where they took down our passport information and had a friendly chat with us. They recommended that we stay at the YMCA as it’s the cheapest accommodation in Myitkyina. Its really easy to find and you will see it on your right as you pull into the station.
Myitkyina has a pretty small city vibe to it. Not a whole lot going on during the day but come night time the streets get flooded with markets. This is by far the cheapest way to eat here and the food is brilliant. Everything is on offer from meat on sticks to confusing jelly sweets.
That evening we met a man named Koh To. He was a Telecom engineer who loved to drink at the ice cream shop in town. I was never really sure if he owned the ice cream place or just knew the owner? However, he was apparently always there and always very drunk. It was a odd establishment that clearly made a lot more money from the town drunks than the ice cream eaters.
He called us over pretty instantly to join him for a drink. Not one for ever turning down a drink we pulled up some chairs and began to chat. Koh To was considerably better at English than his friend who was a very smiley shy man. After a couple of hours drinking Koh To asked us if we’d like to hear the national song. Assuming that he was going to pull out his mobile phone and play some 3 minute badly recorded track. (it seems that all music in Myanmar is played as loud as possible through unbelievably bad speakers). I was totally wrong. We all had to neck our drinks pay up and get going. Still not really sure what was happening Koh To and his friend get on there motorbikes. They assured us they were ‘fine to drive’ so we got on. Koh To and his friend driving in a very wobbly fashion out of town. My friend and I exchanged a lot of concerned looks as we had no idea where we were going or if we’d make it alive. Eventually we drive down some unlit dirt road where I assumed the worse. No more than a couple of minutes later I realised what was going on. I could hear music and before I knew it we were pulling up into a karaoke bar.
karaoke is pretty big throughout Asia and Myanmar is no exception. This place was really pretty big but with a difference. Its not one person drunk enough with the confidence to sing in front of a crowd. You get your own room and Koh To had got us the biggest and best in the house. At one end of the room there was a table with chairs and the other a gigantic projector screen for all your karaoke needs. The first call to action was shots. Koh To and his friend made sure that we constantly had enough drink and were always pouring out more whisky for us.
They spent the majority of the time performing there favourite Myanmar music including dances before snacks arrived. We ate pickled tea and some nuts before they decided it was time we learnt how to dance. It was one of them night where I regret not having my camera with me so much. Here’s a good example of what its meant to look like.
The night came to an end and Koh To and his friend drove us back to the YMCA. At this point we were all to drunk to acknowledge the danger but the roads were empty and we didn’t make it over 10km/h. Koh To had insisted we go for breakfast with him the following morning and that he’d come knock for us at 7:00am.
Right on time Koh To woke us at 7:00am looking super fresh. We were the total opposite. He took us to a small local place and ordered a bunch of local breakfast items. My favourite had to be the deep fried tofu. Afterwards he took us to see a temple before we said goodbye and agreed to meet later that evening for a drink.
Me and Koh To at breakfast.
Visiting the Junction.
Koh To had plans for the day but had recommended that we go and check out The Junction. All the locals know it as the junction and its where the Mail Kha River and May Kha River join to become the Myit Sone. This natural beauty has very little time left as plans to build a dam here already have a completion date of 2017. You can read more about it here.
Getting to Myit Sone.
We asked around about renting a motorbike for the day but no one really seemed to know much about it. I’m not actually sure if its legal for foreigners to ride motorbikes in Myitkyina. Its illegal in and around Bagan, your not even allowed to be on the back of one. After asking around we decided to go to the best source of information in any city – Tuk Tuk Drivers. With in minutes we were negotiating a price for a mans bike. We settled on 10,000 Kyats for the day and that we’d meet him back at the Tuk Tuk station at 6:00PM. No passport or deposit he handed me the keys for a short test ride. It’d been a good year since I’d last drove a motorbike and although the saying “Its Like Riding A Bike” is very true even with motorbikes, I don’t think he was overly confident with the sketchy manner that I drove off in.
The ride for the day.
We didn’t take a map with us just asked along the way. You have very little chance to go wrong and everyone is more than willing to help you, all you need to be armed with is the words The junction and Myit Sone. Koh To had warned us that the roads were in a bad conditions. This was a huge understatement. The roads where unbearable. The roads are all under serious construction and they’ve only managed to get as far as laying down large rocks for the majority of the way. Its seriously un-motorbike friendly, a lot of the time was better to ride on the dirt next to it.
The state of the road heading to Myit Sone.
Once a couple of hours of stressful biking was done we reached the junction and it was totally worth it. This place is really spectacular and its gutting to think about what there going to do to it.
Me eating a watermelon at The Junction.