Yangon’s Circle Train route gives travelers a great flavor of local life in and around Myanmar’s largest city. The trains run from the main railway station in a circular direction through various neighborhoods and gives a unique opportunity to observe the lively and colorful life of the local people. Backyard Travel’s marketing manager Christian recently visited Yangon and here are his thoughts on this absorbing train trip.
In most cities you can often get a far greater understanding of the people that live in them by traveling out of the center, away from the tourist attractions to places where the majority of the locals actually live. Yangon is certainly no different and a great way to experience life out of the center is to hop on a train from central station and travel on the ‘circle’ route which takes about 3 hrs and loops around the city. Don’t expect high speeds as the train chugs along the line, stopping at regular intervals, but what you can expect is a fascinating insight into local life and people’s daily routines. Trains depart about every hour from Yangon’s central station in either a clock or an anticlockwise route and it’s popular with locals traveling to and from the city center.
I decided to try out the journey on a Sunday morning and departed at the leisurely time of 9.30am. The train barely got above 20 miles an hour but there was an advantage to the slow speed as I could interact with the locals on the side of the tracks as the train passed by. I lost count of the amount of smiling children, waving food sellers, elderly monks and many others I saw as the train traveled through different neighborhoods of the city. It was incredible how much was going on in such a small space by the tracks from games of Chinlone (a traditional Burmese type of football) to groups of people just sitting around tables on tiny plastic chairs drinking, eating and watching the world go by.
As Myanmar is arguably the friendliest place in Asia it rarely takes long before a local tries to strike up some conversation and this happened to me on the train with a recently retired ticket inspector. In perfect English he told me that he used to work as an attendant on the overnight trains from Yangon to Mandalay. He proudly explained how he would show passengers to their cabins when they boarded and whilst they were enjoying an evening meal in the dining car he would change the layout of the cabin from its day position (seats up with table) to the night time set up (pulling the beds down and making them up). He also showed me the route that the circle train we were on was taking via his shiny new Iphone, which gave me the impression that railway employees in Myanmar get looked after pretty well by the state!
He suggested I break up my circle train trip by getting off for a short stop in Insien and it was a good place to get out and stretch your legs as there is a small market to have a wonder round. It’s also a good idea to combine this trip with a visit to the famous Bogyoke Market (also known as Scott Market) which is located near to the central station in Yangon. If you are arriving back into the city in an anticlockwise direction I would though recommend getting off the train at Phaya Lan station which is the stop before central station as from there the market is only about a five minute walk away.
One thing I was concerned about before the trip was how hot it was going to be on board but despite the 100 degrees temperature outside, the carriages inside were pretty cool as the windows could be opened fully and so there was a nice breeze blowing through. Being able to open the windows is a great advantage of traveling on an old fashioned train as you can lean out of the window and take photos which is something you can’t do in a modern air-conditioned carriage. Perfect for this trip as the photo opportunities are endless on this ‘real’ and local experience that would be a great inclusion on any Myanmar vacation.
Feel free to contact our local experts based in Yangon and they will happily include this trip or any other on your very own tailor-made trip to Myanmar.