I was full of excitement when me and my friend were already inside our respective lower bunks aboard the Philippine National Railways’s (PNR) sleeper coach that will take us back to Manila from Naga City in Camarines Sur.
The tickets we got were discounted at just P695 and there were not much passengers as it was already at the close of October and most people were traveling in the opposite direction, to the provinces.
Ah, trains. My first encounter with trains was with the mass light rail transit in Manila and its counterparts in EDSA and Aurora Boulevard (LRT2). Fast, tolerable noise and dependable.
My first actual train though was the KCR in Hong Kong and my first PNR train ride was a something that I can’t forget during afternoon rush hour. And now this, a long journey that will take us 10 hours and I was beaming.
The PNR is an institution that, over the years, has been neglected with many of its steel rails suffering from effects of nature and of man with sections being stolen and also used for other purposes like the skates, but recent news of new sleeper coaches got me thinking and was really looking forward to get a ticket.
And I was sort of dreaming, idyllic, makes one think of being in some movie like Wong Kar Wai’s 2046, or taking steam train holidays where sceneries unfold as the train passes by. And then the whistles sounded, and the train started to move.
It was fast. Speeding but at the same time, with the current condition of the rails, was somehow affecting its movement, sideways, that being at the second to the last coach in a train with four sections: main, sleeper coach one and two and the coach with reclining seats; and together with the strong mechanical sounds, was kind of agitating and discomforting.
Taking time to go to the comfort rooms located at the end of each coach is somewhat of a struggle too due to the strong movement. But after sometime, you just get used to it that you are eventually lulled to sleep.
So, should you ride the Bicol Express?
You should! Either just for the experience or, if you don’t mind the shakiness of the vehicle as it runs on the tracks. Its also an alternative to taking the plane or bus. There are a few stops along the way too if your destination is other than Naga. Just check the PNR station to check the specific stations.
Inside, the bunks are comfortable but bare. There are no pillows and blankets provided with the lamps working either a hit or a miss, or you have to wait for a few minutes before it lights. There’s no canteen but instant coffee, junk food, mineral water and cup noodles are sold in one of the bunks.
When your nearing your destination, the conductor will wake you up. By the way, its better to go to the comfort rooms during the stops as all is still and take note that the airconditioning’s temperature is really, really low.