South East Asia 2017 - Day 12: Bagan to Mandalay


Wednesday 16 August, mainly fine, 33°

Today we travelled back to Mandalay from Bagan.

But first I will tell a wee story that happened last night at the Unnamed Pagoda. But it needs a bit of back story first.  So at the end of October I am giving up my 'career' as an architectural technician, and I am going to become a full time ' professional ' photographer.  But even though photographer will be my actual job title ( I even have business cards that say it ) I still have trouble telling people that that is what I do.  I am not sure why, perhaps it is insecurity, perhaps I don't think people will think it is a real job.  

During this trip to South East Asia I have had to fill in a few forms for visa's etc that ask for my occupation, and I have filled in Architect for simplicity, but also I am not sure how the Myanmar and Vietnam governments view photographers.  Also this isn't a photography trip so I have been trying not to let the photography take over the holiday.  So this whole trip I have been in denial about being a photographer.  Further to this normally when a stranger wants someone to take a photo of them I try to get Liz to do it as otherwise I start getting a bit bogged down about the technical aspects of the photo ( composition, exposure etc ) instead of just taking the snapshot.  I also find it hard to just take snapshots for myself during a holiday for the same reason; it is hard to unlearn the things I have learned about making good photos.  A bit like trying to play the piano like an amateur if you are classically trained.

Anyway I will finally get around to the story.

There were a group of 4 Italians up the pagoda with us, and they wanted someone to take their photo, and Liz was busy taking other peoples photos, so I reluctantly agreed to take it.  The first attempt failed as their camera battery died, so one of them gave me his mobile phone to take a shot with.  So I tried casually to line it up and focus on them, without worrying too much about the composition of the shot, but I did notice that there was a small turret of the pagoda behind them so I made sure that it was in the shot and the shot was level, and they were all looking at the camera etc.  I took 2 quick snaps to make sure I got at least one good one for them.  And I gave the phone back to them.

As I went and sat back down again I could see them huddling around the phone looking at the photos I had taken for them, and then one of them turned around and gave me a big thumbs up and said something like 'wow, amazing photo, thanks'.  Liz then very helpfully said to everyone present "So it should be, he does it for a living".  My cover was blown and then other people wanted me to take their photos for them in the hope that I could work my magic, but I just wanted to sit and enjoy the sunset.

Sometime knowing stuff can be a curse.

A later alarm than previous mornings today at 5am, and we packed our bags and checked out of the hotel at 6am.  We needed to be at the train station for 6:30am to get our tickets for the Bagan to Mandalay 7am train.

The train line from Bagan to Mandalay was built in 1996 and it is 179kms long.  But for some reason ( which I will explain shortly ) the train takes 7 1/2 hours ( yes, that is right an average of 23km/h ). So today's journey would be slower than the bus we took down to Bagan ( which was 6 hours ), but at least we would have room to move around the train, and we also thought it would be pretty quiet at this time of year.

So we got our Upper Class ticket from the ticket counter, handed over the huge sum of Ky5800 for the 2 tickets ( that's NZ$5.80 ) for an 8 hour train trip.

We went and sat on the platform to watch people getting ready for the train, dogs roaming the station and the train being moved from it's location in a shed out to our platform.  This train makes a return journey from Mandalay to Bagan every 24 hours, so we were on the day time Bagan to Mandalay run, and every night it does the Mandalay to Bagan run ( even though this is a night train, there are no sleeping berths.  Which is why we are doing it from Bagan to Mandalay! )

Once the train pulled into the ( one and only ) platform ( Bagan is the end of the line ) we jumped on and grabbed our seats.  There was just us and 1 other person in our carriage ( a few others joined and left along the way, but at most it was no more than 1/4 full ). The train pulled out exactly at 7am, and within the first few minutes we realised why it would take so long to get to Mandalay; the train swayed constantly from side to side the whole way down the straight section of track, and it continued to do so all the way to Mandalay.

The seats in the carriage were like an airline seat and quite comfortable, and the air-conditioning consisted of a whole lot of opening windows and some ceiling fans, which was actually quite nice for a change from air-conditioning, and even when it started to rain it was nice to have some mist coming through the windows.

At various points along the journey ( more at the Bagan end of the line ) we stopped at stations to let people on and off, and for food sellers to jump on and do the rounds.  The other guy in our carriage just leaned out the window and grabbed food off the trays which the sellers had balanced on their heads, and then handed them the money.

The scenery along the trip was nothing spectacular but interesting all the same.  As for the piles of rubbish along the rail lines as we got closer to Mandalay...

We pulled into Mandalay Station on time at 2:30pm and jumped off.  It is always a bit confusing to come into a station off a train when you have never been in the station before, so we followed the crowd which led us up an escalator to a concourse that stretched across all the platforms, then down another escalator and out the front door ( dodging the normal insistent "taxi?" "tuk tuk?" questions).

Once outside we negotiated crossing the 6 lane road, and then walked the couple of blocks to our hotel for the night ( this was the Mandalay branch of the Hotel Yadanarbon we stayed at in Bagan).  We checked in ( K48,000 ( NZ$48)) for the night in an airconditioned room, with wifi and breakfast included, and went up to our top floor room.

We headed out for a walk around the city centre ( we had stayed too far away from here last time to have a look around ), and went to a couple of shopping malls, and grabbed some late lunch.  The malls look all very modern from the outside, but seem to have a unusual maze like layout inside and were half empty.  Looks like the 'build it and they will come' idea didn't work.  There were also plenty of foreign shops ( "Timberlands" anyone? ) mixed in with the local ones.  We walked back to the hotel and had a rest.

We headed out again for a walk to the moat to shoot some photos then back to a BBQ restaurant ( these seem to be very popular in Myanmar ) next to the hotel. We had 2 dishes and 2 beers for K15,000.  Back to the hotel at about 8:30pm

Tomorrow we have most of the day in Mandalay before we fly back to Thailand in the evening.