Family Train Travel in Myanmar
Having read the reviews I was a little nervous about train travel in Myanmar. Stories of delays, slow trains, derailments and uncomfortable journeys sprang up!
So, I’m going to hopefully give you a different perspective on train travel in Myanmar, than some of the other reviews I’ve read.
Why travel by train?
For me, travelling with a family, a train offers freedom! Unlike buses and airplanes the boys are stuck in a seat for the duration of the trip. It’s effectively like wrapping them in a straight jacket. Plus I’m not a huge fan of bus trips.
I got sick ‘once’ on a windy road leading up to the Bay of Islands, new Zealand (I was reading!). But the incident left me mortified & anxious. I know what you’re thinking! I’m traveling around the world – how can I avoid it! In reality, I can’t – I need to get over it! But! I’m dealing with it and it helps being a VIP Princess 😂
And so, train travel works better for me. Even though I’d read this was a very bumpy and rocky journey. I felt I was prepared.
Train journeys in Myanmar
There isn’t a huge network in Myanmar, but the main routes tend to be:
- Yangon to Bagan – 19 hours
- Yangon to Mandalay – 15 hours
- Thazi to Inle lake – 10 hours
- Mandalay to Bagan – 9 hours
- Mandalay to Hsipaw – 10 hours (note the train does not return to Mandalay from Hsipaw).
- Yangon to kyaito (golden rock) and stopping in Bago – 4 hours
Online train tickets
You can only book trains 3 days before travel. There are agents that you can reserve tickets with and once available they will book then for you. We went to the offices of 12go.asia to discuss options for train travel. Or use go-myanmar.com.
However, I did struggle to sometimes see the train I need, even though I knew it existed!?
Note: whichever way you book, you must have a paper ticket.
This just goes to show how archaic the network is in Myanmar with is!
It’s also worth noting that payments can only be made directly in cash. However, if you book through an agent your payment will be taken via credit card.
We only travelled on 2 trains, but these were our experiences:
Booking Yangon to Bagan train ticket
We went to the advance ticket office in Yangon. This is next to bogyoke market and not at the train station! It really wasn’t what we expected, very grimy and looked more like a cattle market. But we soon established we were in fact in the right place!
Once we got to the correct window we were given the options for travel. But the date we wanted had only 2 sleeper seats left. Therefore, we looked at the day before or the day after – both were free. We were going to book the day after but the gentleman said we couldn’t as it was outside the 3 day booking period. So we just opted for the day before!
Booking train from Inle lake to Mandalay
There is no direct train to Mandalay so we needed to stop at thazi and then change to Mandalay. However, we had a few bumps in our plan. First, we couldn’t find a way to get the train from shwenyaung to thazi. I knew the train existed but neither go-Myanmar & 12go Asia were showing a train to Thazi.
We took a chance and waited until we were in Inle lake to organise our transport. If we had to, we could always get a bus or a private car. But as it happens our hotel owner was adamant that all we had to do was turn up at the train station 30 minutes before it departed. So that’s what we did! He kindly came into the station and booked our tickets for us.
Now this got us as far as Thazi, where we stayed at the moonlight guesthouse (as recommended by the man in seat 61). The owner and his sister were lovely. They told us we could get a local bus, which arrived maybe 9.30am, 10am or 10.30am. but that they’d ring ahead and book us seats.
It was all out of our hands. So we waited and at 11am we were told our minibus had arrived. The ‘ticket organiser’ then suggested our ‘foreigner’ fee would be 12,000 (locals pay 7,000). We argued and eventually he gave in! Nice try matey!! That’s the first time we’ve encountered a wheeler dealer in Myanmar! Funny though…
After 3 hours, we made it to Mandalay and the journey was rather enjoyable.
What was train travel in Myanmar like?
I’m not going to lie, it did move heaven and earth as it rattled along. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. But I didn’t think it was horrendous. The kids loved it!! No-one got sick, no-one needed travel sickness tablets. It could get quite rocky at times, but it was a slow train and so not great speeds.
But they did stop often! There’s no getting around it these trains are slooooowwww! But you got to see local life.
The sellers, the villagers, the produce being transported and unloaded. It was fabulous! And everyone waved as the train passed. Such happy people 💓
Yangon to Bagan sleeper train
We had a sleeper cabin to Bagan. This is a 4 berth individual cabin which had its own toilet. You had to make up your own beds at night. I believe there are 2 classes of sleeper. One similar to India with berths down a corridor or this special sleeper with individual cabins
The rooms were basic and the toilet, although Western style, was straight onto the track. Bring toilet paper and hand wash.
The trains are all open window with a fan. Be warned though. Hanging out of the train is great fun. But in the Inle lake to thazi stretch the branches are very close. We got whipped a few times!! Ouch!!
But the views, oh my goodness!! It was amazing zipping through villages, countryside and seeing everyday life. You don’t get this on the bus! I felt like the Queen waving to everyone. Such genuine happy smiles. But one of the highlights was seeing the sun setting across open fields!
Note: as soon as sunset pictures have been taken, close the shutters, otherwise every bug under the sun will be in your cabin!!
What to take:
- Sarong or sleeping liner. You are only given a sheet for the bed and a pillow. So you need something to cover you.
- Toilet paper
- Hand wash
- Battery charger – there are no electrical points in your cabin
- Games – for entertaining the kids
- Food and drink. You don’t have access to any dining cars from your sleeper carriage. And the train doesn’t stop for long in the platforms. (Except on the Inle lake to thazi route they did – they had all the time in the world 😂😂)
- Beer!! Just because 🍻
Inle lake to Thazi train
You board the train at shwenyaung station, a 15 minute drive from Inle lake.
We had upper class seating, which just meant padded seats rather than the hard seats.
I wanted to travel this leg to see the train heading through the mountains. It was just beautiful. We did a loop the loop.
A bit of zig zagging and passed through a couple of tunnels. But it was the views and, again, the people which made it a worthwhile experience.
We had fun with the locals on the train and were well looked after (as always!).
As this wasn’t a sleeper train you didn’t need to take as much as the Yangon to Bagan leg. But it’s always worthwhile having a charger (no sockets), food, wipes and toilet paper! And don’t forget the entertainment. Views will provide 10 minutes entertainment if they’re like my kids!
Hope that helps you plan your adventure!