Leaving the Thahara office early in the morning, I leisurely made my way towards Yangon Central Railway Station. Walking around Yangon in the morning is when you really get a feel for the city, as the street vendors begin to open up, and everyone is on their way to work, or sipping a morning cup of tea before commencing the day proper.
The walk from our office takes around 20 minutes or so, but today I decided to go the slightly longer route over Pansodan Bridge so I could get a great view of the old station. The view doesn’t disappoint with the green roofs looking just as they did almost 100 years ago. You can also see the trains slowly trundling along beneath you to get an idea of what is in store for you today.
Climbing down the stairs to the station, I tried to figure out where to go and how to purchase a ticket. Yangon’s main station, much like others along the circular line train, isn’t that well signposted, but fear not as almost certainly an employee will take pity on you and come and help you out. This was the case for me, with a very kind man pointing me in the direction of platform 7 for the famous Yangon circular line train.
The trains are mainly old and quite rusty which I felt added to the aura of the day. If you’re lucky your train might be one of the newer ones with air conditioning (although some might prefer the antique older versions). I got one with no air conditioning and this was fine. There are rows of seats that face each other, much like on a London Underground train, and these fill up fairly quickly. In total today I had 39 stop offs to look forward to and 49km of railway tracks. While most tourists know this train as a great way to see Yangon, locals use it for their daily commute with it being one of the cheapest forms of transport.
Our train left the station right on time and with a jolt of the wheels, slowly started moving off. I didn’t quite know how I was going to spend the next 3 hours on the train, and had brought along a book with me, however I soon realised that this wouldn’t be necessary. Looking out from my window, the landscape changed from urban city to rural countryside, with something new to see around every bend. I was snapping away photos left right and centre of local life along the train tracks, of the green surrounding the further we made our way out of Yangon, and the many commuters on the train going about their daily routine.
As the train passed by several stations, more and more people started to board. Since it costs around 100 kyats for a ticket, it’s a great way to save money and transport yourself around Yangon for tourists and locals alike. From kids going to school, to others going to a nearby monastery and many people heading to work, there is so much life on these trains.
After just 30 minutes, I had already made some new friends. Since Myanmar people are very kind and friendly, starting up a conversation really isn’t that hard. With men usually the hot topic is football, while with women quite often you’ll be drawn into a conversation about your skin. Many are just extremely eager to practice their English or even show off at the fact they know a few words. I got chatting to a lovely old lady called May May who was heading to the monastery, something she does every day. I explained to her that I wasn’t exactly a tourist, but was pretending to be one for the day for this blog. Most of this was lost in translation, but we had a good laugh for several stops.
Aside from all the wonderful sites you see out of your window, inside the train is just as entertaining. Sellers often try to sell newspapers by announcing the most scandalous incidents that have recently been reported on (although I had to be told this by another one of my new friends on the train). On the day I was on the train, there was rumors of a celebrity couple having twins. It seems that wherever you are in the world, celebrity gossip still follows you. Some peddlers hop on and hop off the train, carrying food on plastic trays, selling quail eggs, boiled peanuts, fresh vegetables and fruits recently plucked from the fields. Trying the food is a must, so I started munching down on some boiled peanuts, quails eggs and a banana. A very healthy snack I think you’ll agree.
One thing I really loved about this experience was the continuous juddering of the train due to the rusty rails. Even though they were made decades ago, they are still used to this day and remain strong and intact. This is what I call old but gold.
Without noticing, 3 hours had passed by and I hadn’t even thought about reading my book. Getting up from my seat, all 49 stations that the train had passed through felt like a blur of colour, laughter, and beautiful scenery. A highly enjoyable morning, and one I would certainly encourage you to try for yourself.
You can sample this journey for yourself on Thahara’s Yangon Circle Line train tour.