Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Day 8 - January 13, 2008 - Train to Hsipaw

Day 8 - January 13, 2008 - Train to Hsipaw

Up @ 7:00 AM, ate b-fast, finished packing, and set off to the Pyin U Lwin Train Station in the hotel's van only to find out that the 8:50 train was at least 3hrs late. Bummer.

Back to the hotel. Sat on the veranda. Beautiful sunny day. Inquired about a shared car to Hsipaw; 28,000 Kyat total; too much; we will wait for the train and study our Myanmar guidebooks.

At noon we caught a ride back to the station from the hotel van. The ticket office finally opened at 12:50 or so, but when we tried to buy a ticket, the guys handling the foreigner's queue did not like our $10 bill - too dirty. But it was a ten given to us by the Royal Parkview Hotel as change when we paid our bill. It only had a few smudges of dirt.

Several other "officials" come round, look at the bill with kid gloves and declare "no bank will take this - too dirty".

So luckily I had the business card for the Royal Parkview stuck in my journal and while I guarded our bags, Sun-Ling went to the small market outside, found a phone, called the Parkview and demanded they send over some clean money. Agreed. And a guy arrived at 1:05 or so with a clean $5 bill and 5 ones. But we had received $50 in "dirty" money from the Royal Parkview , so we sent him back and 15 minutes later he returned with 4 clean tens. We traded bills with him, bought 2 First-Class tickets at $4 each, and got on the train at 1:25.

We had been in Myanmar for 8 days and had by chance used only very clean, new US $100 bills. Thus we did not know about the nationwide aversion to dirty foreign currency. We would be on top of it for the rest of our trip. Stay tuned.

So the train pulls out of Pyin U Lwin Station at 2:30 - almost 6 hours late. The train had 6 cars, 2 First-Class and 4 Ordinary-Class, pulled by diesel locomotive DF 1615.

Our First-Class car has opposing wooden benches and is maybe 50% full. There is a squat toilet at each end of car - no signage - that goes straight down to the tracks. There is no glass in the windows, just a metal grate that slides up and down.

We sat opposite a German couple for awhile. Then they moved.

I shot some photos and video of the landscape, two trains passing by in the opposite direction, and our fellow passengers as we lurched and rolled over the narrow gauge tracks headed mostly west but sometimes north and sometimes south.

Out the window we saw herds of cattle, a few goats, and people tending the fields.

Made several short stops and then at 4:45 parked at a small station. After 15 minutes and no motion, I pulled journal and noted the local children were selling water from a pail, young monks were quietly watching, and that none of the kids were begging, just shyly waving at us.

As we sat and sat, I began to wonder if we would pass over the famous Gokteik Viaduct in the dark. That would be a bummer as it's an engineering marvel at 320 feet high and 2250 feet long, built in 1899 by the Pennsylvania Steel Company.

The sun set, went down, and we finally pulled out at 6:30. Now it was cold. We put on all of our outer gear including rain pants. We make friends with Sandy across the aisle, an American, who visiting Myanmar for the 5th time. She is taking the train to Hsipaw just to see the Gokteik Viaduct as she has previously been to Hsipaw, but not by train.

After a brief stop, we go over the GokTeik Viaduct. Not much to see in the dark.

Then stopped in Kyauk Me Town. The German couple has had enough and get off with a tout who owns a guesthouse in town - he leaves me his card.

Finally, at 11:15 we arrive in Hsipaw. There is no announcement, no nothing, and so we inadvertently get off on the wrong side of the train. After scrambling back to the correct side we head off with Sandy with our flashlights down a dirt path towards town.

It's pitch black, there are no signs, but with the help of a nice man on a motorbike we arrive at Mr Charles Guesthouse and for $15 get a double room. Crash.

Passing a freight train.

Fellow passengers stretch out.
Settled In  - Train to Hsipaw, Myanmar (Burma)

Water seller.
Water Seller - Train to Hsipaw, Myanmar (Burma)

Crossing the Gokteik Viaduct at night.
Gokteik Viaduct At Night - Train to Hsipaw, Myanmar (Burma)

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