The one thing I strongly recommend you to do in Yangon is travel with Yangon Circular Train. The cheapest way and you get to experience how local live their daily lives and get to see and to smell the real Myanmar. This is so real and is everyday routine in Yangon.
The whole track loop of 45.9 km take 3 hours to complete. There are stops at 39 stations. The ride could be bumpy and true old-fashioned train style with no air-conditional. Please be warned. If you think the 3 hours ride is too much, you can just choose a portion of the route. My journey started from Pyay Road Station and end at Central Station. Each station, the train stop for 2-3 mins.
Yangon Circular Train is the cheapest mode of transport, just less than a dollar you get to see the city and outskirt of Yangon. It also carries between 100,000 and 150,000 passengers daily. A great way of seeing how Burmese people live.
Get your ticket at the ticketing booth, everything is pretty manual. Tell the train station ticketing staff where you want to go and he will give you the directions in English. My ride is only 200 kyat ( USD $ 0.15 / SGD $ 0.20) as I did not choose to do the complete circle route which need 3 hours.
Pyay Road Station is a small station which only has two platforms. If you go to Central Station, it can be quite confusing as there are several tracks. Please ask around which platform to board on the train.
When you are at the platform, you notice the Burmese (Myanmar people) are very relaxing people, you see them lying down on the bench or sitting on the floor. Most people are wearing sandals and not shoes as it is easier for them to take off the shoes when entering temples complexes.
The Yangon Circular Train was built by the British in 1954 but I noticed the trains used were Japanese old trains many decades ago. I spotted Kanji writing beside the door of the train. Japan own JR Rail and you can see “JR” (Japan Rail) printed at the train. These trains are steam-heated trains as there are smoke coming out from the pipe of the train. Diesel are used and it is quite rare to see such train these day. Comfort are scarce in the oldest carriages; the bench seats are hard. I am not sure if you can survive the 3 hours ride in this train but half an hour to an hour is bearable.
There are even older trains which are Hungarian imports from the 1960s. Quite an antique!
My train finally came and I was so excited to hop into the train. Beware of the gap between the train and the platform, it is quite big. If you are wearing sandals, don’t drop them to the track.
Once you have boarded the train, you see more interesting thing. The train is like a local market, people coming up and down at each stop selling fruits, water, newspaper, betel leaf, live chicken etc.
Passenger buying fruits from the fruit seller.
The trains move pretty slow and you can see passengers sometimes hop on and off while the train is still moving. The train has no doors.
When the train goes farther from the center of Yangon, you will encounter more natural and rustic landscape. The scenery changes gradually from city concrete buildings to paddy field and buffalos. You even see big local market sit right beside the train track and the downside is the garbage dumping was kind of scary. Very filthy. Traveling does not always gurantee you to see the best sight of a place, you need to see the real world and Circular Train Yangon provide that insight of a local walks of life.
You see women bring goods on their head to market for sales, merchant carrying multiple big bags of goods, loading goods at one station and unloading them at another. Children in school uniform and monks commuting the Yangon Circular Train. Many aspects of local life are reflected here.
People just crossing the tracks without using the over bridge as the platform is quite low.
Below picture was taken from the over bridge in Yangon Central Station – the biggest station in Yangon.
Final thoughts :
Come as soon as possible, else this scene will be gone forever when Yangon city getting more developed. The Japanese is going to help revamped the rail track in 2020 which mean it would lose a lot of character and some part of the history will be lost forever. The Yangon Circular train is like time capsule which bring me back to the olden days, probably in the 50’s – 60’s. This is also the place to interact with genuine local Burmese people. They are friendly and always put a smile on their “painted” face. This is truly a highly recommended trip for just 200 kyat (USD $0.15), you get to observe the interesting daily life of Burmese people and it is so different from our city life.