I love train rides. Freedom and space, the ability to walk around and interact with people. It is my favourite way of getting from one place to another. The 4am train train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw with a very vague journey time (from 8 to 12hrs) sounded perfect.
We started with a few hours of sleep and left Mandalay in darkness. The train stopped at the tiny train stations and I watched people loading and unloading their goods for sale. Kids slept or played on the train, men played cards, women gossiped. The train ride on this old well used train (which might have reached 15km/hr from time to time) took us through beautiful landscapes, mountains, tunnels and bridges.
Just before Gokteik viaduct our train broke down and it took several hours to repair. Instead of 10hrs our train ride took 15hrs. I loved it. A fabulous experience, definitively worth the time. One of the many highlights of traveling in Myanmar.
Tickets for the Mandalay-Hsipaw journey cost $8 (upper class). There were only upper and ordinary class tickets ($4) available. Upper class gets you your own cushioned (broken) recliner chair with overhead fans. Ordinary class has wooden seats. The ride got very bouncy and we were grateful for our cushioned seats. I spent more time hanging out with people in ordinary class though as it was much more interesting and there were many more food vendors selling delicious snacks.