For just one dollar, hopping onto the Yangon Circular Train can be a real essence and experience of local Burmese life. This train is a British built train that connects Yangon to the suburbs and villages in a loop with approximately 46km long and a total of 39 stations. Though it is just 46km, but it requires 3 hours to complete the entire loop. You certainly can estimate how fast this train is traveling daily.
The Yangon Circular Train provides the cheapest mode of transport for low income locals to commute. Embarking on this journey, will definitely expose you to the genuine local Burmese leading a simple life in Myanmar. In my opinion, it is a must-do-activity if you are in Yangon. This train is a time machine, that will take you back to the time in 1960s!
The Vintage Train Station
First of all, I really loved the look of the vintage train station, we could roamed around the train station freely. I was fascinated with the fact that I could jump and walk on the train track. (Well, I’m from Singapore so that explain the reason why) Don’t bother looking for the ticket booth or machine, you will be just wasting your time. Tickets can only be sold personally by the ticketing officer at the ticketing office.
Doing a KJS on the track was simply easy and awesome. A beautiful child was absolutely stunned by my jump. haha
Everything at the train station is so old school and it brought us back to the olden times, probably the period before you were born. There is absolutely no technology involved in using the train system, even the aesthetic of the tickets was like a vintage collection! In my opinion, wandering along the train platform in Myanmar is more interesting than any other train platform in the developed countries.
Hungry? Fret Not
Are you feeling hungry? Don’t worry there are many street vendors at the train station. Beware of what you buy though, I bought an orange soda from a vendor but somehow it turned out to be just pure water in an orange soda bottle! God knows what’s inside the water and where it came from, thankfully I only took a sip. But hey, it was something I expected to happen in a less developed country. Instead of stamping my feet and cry, I chose to smile and move on! haha
Perhaps it wasn’t my day for the orange soda, on the flip side, I was definitely lucky enough to discover this hidden gem snack I bought. It was like a big piece of vegetable fritters, good enough to fill my stomach. I really LOVED it! It was nicely stuffed with chili and vegetables. Though it was a little salty, oily and spicy but it tasted delicious. To be honest, I was a little skeptical how hygienic it might be, but I was pretty sure I will be okay, and I was the entire trip! LOL
Don’t Board The Wrong Train, It Can Be Confusing
Well, you might have your tickets with departure time, date and price indicated. Thing is, you will NOT know where to board the train. Interestingly, we spoke to a few different train guards at the main station, and everyone seems to point to us at various directions and platforms. Thankfully, using my gut feeling (surprisingly I still had it at that point of time after travelling from Philippines, Thailand & Malaysia), we managed to find the right train after numerous wrong attempts at the wrong trains and scrambled like crazy in Yangon Train Station. Opps.
The Uncongested “Luxurious” Train
Yangon has a hot and humid tropical climate, if you ask my opinion whether to go for an air-conditioned or non air-conditioned train what would you choose? My answer will be – don’t bother with the heat and go ahead with the non air-conditioned train. Somehow, not many locals will choose to go with the air-conditioned train, my guess is that it might be too costly for them to commute daily, hence, you wouldn’t be able to see anything interesting. On the other hand, the non air-conditioned train offers not only free fresh air, but there are many interesting things you can see i.e. the local life, the fascinating vendors on board and the amazing rural view without any blocking or tinting from the window screen. That basically sums up the experience you are looking for by boarding this circular train around Yangon, isn’t it? haha Read on and you will realise the differences.
Time Machine Brought Us Back To The Life in The 60s
Just like a time machine, I was brought back to the 1960s and was totally amazed by what I saw. It was like watching an old movie with 5D experience. haha The building, environment and merchandise didn’t seems to exist in this era, even the people behave just like in the 60s – demure, friendly, genuine, polite and peaceful. Something, which I never experience on any other trains around the world.
Peeping out of the window, (for air-conditioned train there is a thin layer of glass window between you and the beautiful view, another downside of choosing an air-conditioned train) the workers in the village work in the plantations or towns near by. Some have their own plantations, and some make certain merchandise in their homes to sell them in the train stations. A few of the villagers, including women, go out to catch fish in the streams or rivers. Though the people of the village do not usually earn much, they seem to be contented with what they have.
The more stations you pass, the landscape changes drastically from city buildings to paddy fields and then to rustic villages. The further you are away from Yangon, the more passengers the train picks up. This is, after all, one of the main and cheapest forms of transportation for the locals. Your experience gets more interesting and colourful. 🙂
Exciting Adventure Stop At Danyingon Station
The next stop “City Hall Station”, neah, no one is going to announce the station for you. After an hour and a half train ride, a drastic change in the environment just like a change into a climax scene in movies. We alighted in one of the recommended train stop “Danyingon Station”. A local market town where many locals hopped on and off the train with live stocks, fruits, vegetables, spices, products, and all sorts of merchandise you ever seen before. I would crowned Danyingon Station as the most bustling train station cum market I had ever seen.
It was a little overwhelming hopping off the train as we just had an overload of our senses. We diverted our attention to the tranquil countryside market in Danyingon. Relax a few moment by checking out the market, village and area, trying to blend into the interesting new society to us. I have to admit, we failed caused we were too tourist-like and were simply too excited about the things we saw in Danyingon market! LOL
My little suggestion: Do bring some sweets or candies for the children. They will appreciate and love you for sure! I always think it is our fortune to be able to give the less privileged than to receive from others. Interaction with the locals was my best take away from this train ride. Wanna see every Burmese smile instantly at you? I’m gonna teach you a magic spell now. The spell goes “Ming Ga La Ba”. Simple and easy way to be polite. haha Don’t worry, it means nothing sketchy but just hello! Don’t be skeptical, it made them smile. At least, it worked for me. haha
An “Unexpected” Passenger Next To You
The non air-conditioned train was surprisingly more interesting than the air-conditioned train. Many Burmese ladies sat down peacefully with their plastic baskets eagerly to go home and cook for the family, the elderly peacefully stare out the window seems like in some deep thoughts or prayers, eager vendors walking through the carriages trying to quench the hunger and thirst of the passengers on board and many locals are quick to sit next to you just to strike up a conversation. Many of them put up a smiley and friendly face, but of course with curiosity guessing your nationality. Very likely you will be the only or the few foreigners they have ever had contact with. 🙂
Hint: The Burmese has a lot of love and respect for Singapore. Many locals dreamed of getting out of the country and work in Singapore or elsewhere, hence an employment related topic is inevitable and common. Nevertheless, Burmese is one of the most genuine and kind people I ever met.
Probably we felt free and easy on the train, we decided to take our child-like behaviour and be a little playful on the train.
The Interesting Vendors On Board
Famished or thirsty? Are you up for a challenge to try the food or drinks from the vendor on board? We saw so many interesting train vendors who were just sitting next to us. My friend bought a packet of biscuit from a lady at Danyingon station the moment the train depart. The biscuit costed her just less than $0.30, a kind local passenger came up to her and make sure she paid the right amount, not an overpriced amount for foreigner, which was very kind of him. The biscuit vendor was chasing after the train to give her the $0.70 change back, we were like, it’s alright you can keep the change, but she insisted in giving back the change to us. This really touched my heart. Though they are poor, despite living in poverty, they did not take advantage of others and earn their living with their own means. That was a valuable lesson learnt in Myanmar. I was truly inspired. Often, the less developed or poorer places will teach travelers better values than developed places. It taught us valuable lessons about life.
How Many Trains In The World Still Supply Fresh Air?
This is actually my main reason to go for a non air-conditioned train. When everything is so cheap, you won’t believe there’s something else for free. Stand or sit next to the door or window so you can more easily pop your head out for photos and some fresh air. After I gave up my seat for an elderly, I actually stood in the open doorway to get the breeze plus I got to see the sights even better. Just make sure to hang on tight to the hand rails next to the door. Popping our heads out of the window is something we can’t do on the train in Singapore. So, it was kinda cool that we fulfilled it in Myanmar. haha
The Captivating Burmese Smiles
We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. Contentment was what the Burmese taught me from the train ride in Myanamr. It was amazing that many people I spoke to, eye contact with or walked past, they never failed to put a genuine smile on their face. Traveling is amazing, it challenged my pre-dictated values in life and I sort of figure out this quote of my own.
“The less fortunate you are, the more happiness you will get from your contentment. The more fortunate you are, the more greed and desire you will get from your discontentment.” – Keith Yuen’s Quote for Yangon, Myanmar
If you seriously want to see and experience the Burmese life yourself, then you gotta react NOW! As time passes, the time machine will slowly fade according to the development of the country! These simple ways of life in Myanmar, however, will soon change. Progress in education and development has already begun to affect the outlook of the people in Myanmar. Hundreds are leaving the village to seek their fortunes and better futures in the bigger towns and cities. Of course, the Burmese are seeking for a better future for themselves and their family, which is great! Hopefully, they can preserved their values as the country face major changes in economic and financial development.
“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Mary Ritter Beard