The International Steam Pages

The Tharrawaw Flyer, Burma 2009, Part 4

This is the twenty sixth (and last!) part of our 2009 Burmese Odyssey. To read more about our 2009 bash which includes many non-steam items, please see Rob and Yuehong in the Golden Land 2009. Click here for Part Three of the Tharrawaw Flyer.

The booking office at Tharrawaw (Jetty) station is a pretty sleepy sort of appointment and Han's arrival on our behalf causes some mild consternation. Frankly I doubt we are getting much of a discount on the foreigner price but at the present exchange rate that is no big issue. It's just so nice to get proper Burmese Railways tickets (made out I am told to the local equivalent of Smith and Jones):

It's nearly 14.00 and the train will arrive soon, people in the lower class waiting area seem relaxed:

Inside, the last few customers are served:

Tharraway (Jetty) is on the right, Tharraway (Town) in the middle. It must be the last active such section in the country, the lines to the jetties at Moulmein, Mottama, Hinthada and Pathein for a start see very little if any traffic. Since there is no run-around at the end of the line the train is going to have to do some propelling, I wish I had known that British operating rules would apply - namely that such a movement with passengers is not allowed, which means what we call in the trade an ECS movement (Empty Coaching Stock) is needed.

So, after arrival, the train goes back to the town station, where the main passenger section is moved to the front and the train is propelled back again. Of course, all the locals know about this, but it does not prevent the most unholy scrummage as people try to get off and on simultaneously. So, when the train does its shunt there are hordes of people on board, the rules are totally unenforceable.

In the melee, I manage to leave my camera bag (and beer) on the train while trying to photograph this unexpected manoeuvre. This is not a good idea even in Burma as the bag has my video camera and all my tapes from the trip, not to mention my lap top computer, all our serious cash, passports and air tickets out! I have to do an extremely rapid quarter mile jog down the track in the heat of the day with the best part of two Dagon Reds swirling inside. When I get back to the train the beer is there but the bag is 'missing', but everyone gestures that it is safe and a minute or two later someone comes past with it on a motorcycle assuming I am still down at the jetty. I have to say from years of experience in the country that I wouldn't have expected anything else... Reunited with the important things in life, 'Old Blue Eyes' can relax a little:

For a change we are travelling Upper Class, it's full to overflowing too with standing passengers, here Han soft talks the ticket inspector:

Betel anyone? This seller is obviously expecting business to be brisk:

The countryside on the 23 mile branch is flat and not at all inspiring with just a few water crossings:

And the kind of graveyard which will have been the last resting place of yesterday's old lady.

The bridge plate reads: "Burma Railways, Contract No. 1187, Loading M(?)L Standard, The Cleveland Bridge & Eng. Co. Ltd, Darlington, England, 19?4", the odd figure in the date may be 3 or 5 - it was a grab shot in passing, I have tried looking at the original more closely but with no luck:

At every small station, there are not only people to squeeze on the train.

Almost no-one gets off and we pass the standing room only stage; we have been across the one and only bridge with over girders so it is reasonably safe to get on the roof:

Two hours later we are in Letpadan which is an old British colonial town with some wonderful decayed buildings but for me the the most photogenic relic is the south cabin with mosque behind. At an average speed of just 12 mph perhaps I should have called our train the Tharrawaw Donkey...

We would have to wait at least half an hour to cross a northbound service and would arrive in Yangon at some indeterminate time near midnight. As Han suggested earlier, an express bus is a much more sensible alternative and so we hit our beds by 22.00. Next morning we fly to Bangkok and what passes for civilisation, in my book that means at least enough electricity to boil up water for a cup of coffee every morning. Yangon's new airport is a great improvement on the old one, dare I say; thanks to her friends in China, it is effectively a Model B small regional airport for that country. In Bangkok, I have been staying in the New Empire Hotel in Chinatown for over 30 years, it hasn't changed at all, it's rather tired, but it's right next to the best eating in the city and if you do a little bit of cropping, then the view from the bedroom window is the same as I remember taking in 1975:

It's February 14th 2009, 5 years to the day since I met Yuehong at New Delhi Airport after a whirlwind two month romance. We had a first dinner date in Beijing on December 11th 2003 and afterwards communicated and set up several weeks together in India entirely by email. Judge for yourself from these (and our other) reports whether our instincts were right...

If you enjoyed this account of train travel in Burma, you will also enjoy other journeys we have made recently:

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson