It’s easy to travel to Myanmar and live in the past; the British Colonial era in Yangon and 12th Century Pagan in Bagan as prime examples. The new(ish) capital of Naypidaw is rarely included on the more romanticised itineraries.
For our next Myanmar bike ride we are going to add in a train journey from Yangon to the Naypidaw (fun and eye opening); sleep a night in the ghost capital and then zoom down the super highway to Mandalay where we start our ride into the Burma’s past.
Its a double dose of reality in that you’re shoulder to shoulder on the train with everyday Myanmarese heading to a destination lacking the fashionable patina of age that serves to soften meglomaniacal projects (Pagan, the Pyramids, Great Wall of China). It’s a brocolli travel experience, good for you in ways unseen.
15 hours all the way through to Mandalay – its a mere seven hours to Naypidaw.
This is a magic time capsule train, like an old 1970’s Sydney red rattlers where you can sit at the doorway smoking a cigarette with your leg hanging out nonchalantly waiting to have it ripped off by a staunchon. Its Thomas the tank engine, with signal men every few miles changing the signals and waving flags in a very uncomputerised way. Its old Asia with hawkers leaping on at a stop to sell you a chicken rice and only jumping off when the train has reached 10 miles an hour.
Yes, i’m romanticising, but its also a very real and for some, challenging travel experience, mellowed by good company and beer.
First class is dressed in bottle green which contrasts with monks robes in a very pleasing way. Second class has hard wooden seats, and windows that are NOT annoyingly jammed up with dirty glass. This makes for unimpeded views of the cactus forests of the dry zone and the distant hills of the golden triangle along the Thai border. Problems only arise in the wet season when everyone in second class gets completely drenched through the windows that have no mechanism to close them.
Naypidaw is a real and very symbolic shift from the enduring colonial memories imbued into the very architecture of Yangon back into the smoke and mirrored grandeur of a not at all transparent Glass Palace. Read the book – its a great back ground to the fall of Mandalay to the British Empire.
Thant Myint-U, in The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma, recounts the symbolism in the statues and urban decor, as a celebration of a militarily-powerful Burma at its Peak about 100 years before the Brits deposed the monarchy. Its a piece of the jig-saw puzzle to to understanding modern Myanmar, best understood (IMO) if you use some of those hours on the train to read Thant Myint-U’s book.
His book made me want to include this as a stop on our journey through Myanmar.
This entire journey will of course be much more fun with friends, so I am designing a three day add on to our February 2018 Bike Burma Mandalay to Inle trip as follows:
Day 1 Arrive Yangon
Day 2 Visit Shwedagon Pagoda, the colonial grid, and the governments revealing war on drugs museum.
Day 3 Morning Train to Naypidaw, afternoon arrival and exploration of this new capital.
Day 4 Private vehicle transfer to Mandalay.
Please let us know if you’re interested in this add on when you book your Big Burma Bike Ride with Bike Aways
Here are some photos from our yangon to Mandalay train journey last April: