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Ageing Traveller Series

The Ageing Traveller series is written by Rose Howell, who has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club. Her passion for travel is documented on her website

Click here to find out more about Rose.

Burma October 1976 Part 4: Rangoon

Train trip to Rangoon and the end of the journey

From Meiktila to Thazi it was supposedly only 30mins. Thazi is a railhead on the main Mandalay Rangoon line. Checking with the Station Master, had 2 hours before the 8pm express to Rangoon departs. Local people were everywhere. The line up at the ticket office was so long – no more tickets being sold until 6.45pm. We decided to get something to eat and take it in turns eating, queuing and guarding luggage. Lucky there was a group of us.

Spot on, the office opens at 6.45pm and a mad scramble takes place. Order is settled and after a half hour we all had tickets. Interestingly the carriages are scattered at different platforms.

Going from one to another, we find no seats are available. Back to the Station Masters Office, where we are told our tickets don’t entitle us to seats. Our pleas are met with shrugged shoulders. Again we looked for seats, this time more carefully. But not only were there no more seats, but the aisles were packed with people and luggage.

From one conductor to another, to ticket office, to S. M.; it’s all the same response. The crowds were growing bigger, and noisier. At 7.45pm we were totally undecided.

The train made a sudden lurch as carriages were joined together. This caused a sudden stampede as people panicked to make the train. Desperate, every man to himself. Pushing, shoving, we run up and down the platform in the weak light checking the carriages. Many are so full, the doors have been shut, preventing entry.

Photo belongs to Rose Howell

The platform lights go out adding to the confusion. People were shrieking.
After 30 seconds they came back on. Our English friend threw himself through a door onto a pile of baskets of food. He was immediately set upon by the angry owner, but it was the survival of the fittest and he refused to budge. We saw another crammed into a stinking, smelly toilet. We grabbed a conductor and pleaded for him to find us a space. Forcing a door open we crammed into a carriage, falling over piles of stuff, with protests coming from everywhere. But we were in and had no intention of leaving.

Piling basket on basket on basket, we cleared a space in the aisle. Tempers flared. A truce was called, when somebody speaking English offered us a space on a pile of boxes. Wooden and hard, legs squashed and entwined, tired, weary and angry, it was a haven. The carriage resembled a disaster area, confusion was everywhere.

Mad last minute dashes as the train pulled out. We were away. With some rearranging we made ourselves a bit more comfortable if that was at all possible. Our helper, just as an indication of how the train was, along with his wife and son, had 35 pieces of luggage, many of them baskets and boxes of veges, being sent to the Rangoon market.

The train trip to Rangoon lasted 12 hours. We only stopped several times, at stations where scenes like that at Thazi occurred again.

Dawn was so welcome, but not nearly as welcome as when we reached the outskirts of Rangoon. Arriving at the station, we pushed and shoved to get out, glad, ever so glad, to break free from that horror period.

We got a trishaw to the Y.M.C.A. Unfortunately the rooms were all full, so we were forced to join other couples in the dormitory. One by one the other weary souls drifted in.

With blood shot eyes, we shook our heads remembering as we related to some other friends (who bypassed Pagan) about the past 24 hours

This being our last day in Burma, we used our last few hours in Rangoon, looking at the 326ft high ‘Shwedagon Pagoda’. The upper levels of this bell shaped structure are covered in slabs of pure gold and studded with some 7,300 precious stones. ‘Kipling aptly described it as ‘a beautiful winking wonder’.

We spent our last kyats on dinner and laundry.

Photo belongs to Rose Howell

Photo belongs to Rose Howell

Burma – Brief and to the point
Following are our thoughts at the time (1976).

Perhaps what is most striking about the country, is its steady growth backwards, the single place in the world where the G.N.P. has declined by an average 2.2% per year since 1948. What is the weakness causing this reversal? It can be all lumped wholly and solely on the shoulders of the Government.

Everything has been nationalized except the tiniest retail businesses. The result, factories, offices and shops are shut, the doors boarded and closed, the people have no jobs.

Rice exports, which prewar totaled 3 million tons (the world’s largest surplus) have slipped to the point where hardly enough rice is grown to supply local consumption. Foreign earnings thus has badly slumped and what country can survive without busy external trade.

Definitely one of S. E. Asias poorest members, what is its capacity to develop? We thought good.

In fact with decent management, Burma could be the richest country in this part of the world. Why? A small population of 30 million, in such a large and fertile country. The Irrawaddy and its tributaries supplies water everywhere, irrigation is no problem. Large tracts of forest, newly discovered oil fields, an abundance of precious and semi-precious gems; Burmese jade is the world’s finest.

What of the people? Some of the nicest we’ve met yet. Very refined, graceful, generous and tolerant. Many especially in the cities, have had a good education, but university degrees only mean poorly paid jobs in the Governments service. The people speak English freely, sometimes with more readiness than their own Burmese.

In fact their refinement and poverty seems so out of place. In Indonesia or Thailand, for instance, only the well-dressed, well fed, well to do can speak English. Here in Burma, barefoot paupers, trishaw drivers, casual acquaintances met on the street can all talk using the most perfect grammar.
The women are especially interesting in Burma, definitely liberated in comparison to their S. E. Asian counterparts. The older women (and many young ones) look really comical as they sit, smiling and smoking their ‘whopping great cheroots’, decidedly coarse but down to earth.

Of course, public transport is unforgettable. Seeing buses travelling down the road on a 15 degree lean from everyone hanging off outside. Trains, we don’t even want to talk about. Trishaws and pony carts are really pleasant means of transport, and because of the real rate of exchange, we used them continually.

Of the towns, Pagan is so magnificent, Mandalay a bit disappointing, Rangoon interesting. The proliferation of pagodas, shrines and temples throughout the country was amazing. Of course most of them are old, because the people are too poor now to build new ones. The natural scenery was ordinary and typical S. E. Asian, but the twisting and winding Irrawaddy provided some different variations of scenery.

Anyway summing up. One week in Burma, we enjoyed it. Nowhere near enough time, and the result of so much rushing around, a total wearying of the body and deteriorating of general health. It’s a shame to see the economy in such a pitiful state, but only the people themselves can bring about the changes needed. Changes mightn’t be too far away, because the people haven’t been ‘conditioned’ yet. But for the time being, Burma will remain a bad sore for the Socialist system, but an un-touristy travelers delight.

Photo belongs to Rose Howell

Photo belongs to Rose Howell

This is the final part of the Burma trip my partner and I made in 1976 on our journey around the world. I hope you have enjoyed it as I did writing it. It brought back many fond memories and I am thankful that my partner (Alan Davis) kept a diary of events and photos that I could refer to.
I have had a trip to Myanmar on my list of revisits for a while now. It would be great to compare it now to the 70’s.


If you want to find out more about a visit to Myanmar (Burma) then visit their tourist site.

Rose Howell Biography

Rose has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club.
She has taken all kinds of transport and accommodation from budget to luxury. She has travelled through war zones, survived a bus accident in the Andes and visited areas that are no longer available to tourists, such as the Khyber Pass and Bamiyan Statues in Afghanistan.

Rose wants to inspire others to travel and offers free advice to all travellers in particular those who are embarking on their first travel experience. She has a passion for travel and since retiring from an Adult teaching position with TafeSA, has recently resumed clocking up kilometres interstate and overseas.
Her daughters have inherited the travel bug from their parents. The eldest daughter is a travel journalist/documentary maker based in a beautiful area called ‘Byron Bay’ in New South Wales and with her husband, has two globetrotting toddlers who at the age of 5 and 2 also love to travel. Her youngest daughter and fiancé have recently returned from 2 years working and traveling in the UK and Europe. They have only been home a couple of months and are already getting restless. Oh the travel bug!!!!

You can see more of Rose's travels on:


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