We would never have thought a tourist attraction would involve sitting for 3 hours on an old, uncomfortable, un-air-conditioned train, but this world is full of surprises and in fact, this was one of the most fascinating & non-touristic adventures we’ve been on. Life doesn’t get any more real than this.
The Yangon Circular Train services the Yangon Metropolitan area connecting satellite towns and suburban areas to the city. It was built in 1954 during the colonial time by the British. Today, it (slowly) carries between 100,000 and 150,000 passengers daily along the 49 km track stopping at 39 stations. Although the train is primarily used by lower income commuters due to its cost 200 MMK ($.20c) and accessibility to transport goods from one place to another, it is now also a tourist attraction for people like us to see how the locals of Yangon get about their daily lives. It sure beats those big red city buses that fill every other city!
We arrived at Yangon Central Station with no idea what we were doing, where we had to buy tickets and what train we were even looking for. Within 2 minutes a man had come up to us asking if we needed help, I guess we looked somewhat confused trying to read the board ahead of us? Can you blame us?
Immediately he told us we were in the wrong place and pointed us in the right direction. “Platform 7, 7, go there”. We walked up to the ticket booth on platform 7 and bought our tickets. Up until 2014, ticket prices were $1 USD (for foreigners) however since then, the government scrapped that and tourists pay the same amount as the locals, a total of $0.20c. Yes, a $0.20c train ride for 3 hours! This is definitely the cheapest tourist attraction we’ve paid for before. It sure beats the $50 USD price tag to head up the Burj Kalifa in Dubai! We received our tickets and began admiring our surroundings.
Children were playing (on the tracks!), women were balancing goods on their heads and men were working on the rail lines. As we boarded the train, the carriage was almost empty apart from a few other people. They were very wary of us but as soon as we broke the ice with a smile, it was returned immediately.
The train (surprisingly) left right on time and started out slow. We weren’t sure how we were going to stay on this train for the next 3 hours but as we started to move further out of the city, everything changed. We began to see the difference almost immediately. The landscapes changed from city to country, the houses turned from concrete to huts & more and more people were boarding the train.
As we pulled up to one of the stations, it was full of commotion. The busiest station we passed through. Obviously, with no idea what was going on, a teenager leant over to us and said very politely, “vegetable market”. Ah huh, now it all makes sense. People were shouting, calling out names, numbers and throwing their bags onto the floors of the carriage. It took less than 5 minutes to fill the carriage with vegetables and passengers and it was this stop we met our little friends.
These little children were beyond excited at our presence. They immediately took to us, giggled at everything we did and soon their mother found us amusing. I wished for just one second there was no language barrier so we were able to converse with these beautiful people. Whenever there was something outside, the child next to us tapped me on the shoulder and made sure I saw it. She was proud of her country, you could tell.
We passed station after station and throughout the 3 hours a variety of pedlars hopped on and off the train selling everything from live chickens to eggs, vegetables, tobacco, tea, fried tofu, quail eggs (I didn’t fall for it this time!) & fruits. If it wasn’t for our newly made friends across the seat from us we wouldn’t have been so daring as to try some of the food that was being sold. They were so friendly and so excited they insisted we tried whatever they had.
Well, we have nothing to lose so we gave it a go. Our purchases? A $.08c tea and a $.20c bag of fried tofu & cabbage covered in a chilli sauce. Both of which were surprisingly good. I have no idea how the kids were eating this, it definitely had some spice to it, nor how they drank their tea so fast, it was burning hot.
Hitting the half way point, the rain started, luckily the trains had shutters so we closed them up and watched the world go by from out the door. No one stops in the rain, life continues. You could see the flooding of fields, damaged housing and floating rubbish. At one point, we went past a group of young men circling 2 roosters as they were fighting. Not so sure we agree with this one!
Although this was one of the most unusual tourist attractions we’ve done, it was by far the most real. There was no show, no buildings to see & not a single other tourist. It was everyday people living their everyday lives and it was simply amazing.
And with that, we waved goodbye to our newly made friends before reaching the last stop in Yangon.
Circular Train Logistics :
- Where: Yangon Central Station leaving from platform 7.
- When : (see timetable below)
- Ticket Cost : $0.20c. They don’t even charge you more for being a tourist. This is how honest the people from Myanmar are.
- Duration: The whole circuit was exactly 3 hours. If you want to get off and explore you can but we are not 100% on the return schedule for the trains.
- Bring your own water. But drink carefully, there are no toilets ;).
- Conclusion: Do it!
Married Days Survived; 575