Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yangon's Circle Train

When we told our local colleagues that we are taking the city's circle train, they just laughed like it was the funniest thing ever. "Only foreigners do that".

Now that I did it, I understand why they laughed. It is as if some tourist told you with the most cheerful expression ever that he is going to take the KTM commuter from one end (Pelabuhan Klang) to the other (Rawang) just for the heck of it. But trust me, it is one of the thing to tick off your check-list if you are ever in Yangon.

The train is the city train in Yangon. There are several routes that serviced the city, but the famous only-foreigners-do-that route is a loop - basically you start and end at Yangon main train station. Transportation and getting around in Yangon (and pretty much everywhere else in Myanmar) is still so expensive, and you'll understand why the train is still a very popular mode of transport for some people.

The whole trip takes approximately three-hours. Yes, three hours, so we came prepared with food and drinks. There are actually food and drink vendors coming in and out of the train, but due to dietary restrictions, we didn't buy any. The train is rather wide (and I only understand the importance of this fact halfway through the journey), with wooden bench lining against the wall, and when we left the Yangon station, it was rather empty. We started all excited and happy, chatting like some school children on a field trip.

Of course after an hour passed by, we got tired already haha. It got rather hot - there was no fan or air conditioning - except when some breeze passed through the windows. The train chugged along slowly around the city, and we passed by the townships and villages. There were a lot of stops along the way that I lost count. The good thing was I were with work friends who are pretty much new to each other, so I didn't really notice the time passing by since we chatted a lot getting to know each other better.

Halfway through, we stopped at one of the busiest stops ever - I forgot the name, but it looked like huge market, and suddenly, out of nowhere, there was this huge mob of people trying to get into the train with baskets and loads of vegetables. I am not kidding you. Some even put in their stuff through the window, trying to 'book' the empty seat. Some struggled to haul in huge bundle of their load through the door. My friends who were standing at the door even had to help to pull the stuff through, haha. From this point on, the train got extremely crowded until the end of the line. The middle of the car was filled with mountains of vegetables and stuff, there's hardly space for people to walk. No wonder the car was so wide. Some of them even continue on to work on their vegetables, snipping away the roots and putting them in small bundle to resell later. Fascinating sight.

I am not sure if I'll do it again - it was really tiring that when we went straight to a restaurant afterwards, I eat sooooooooo much - but I really enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a way to appreciate how the locals are living and to see another slice of the city that we might just hurriedly passed by otherwise.

So some tips:
1) The train cost USD 1 for foreigners. It cost much, much less for the locals of course, just like everything else in Myanmar.
2) This was actually our second attempt to ride the train. The first time we came too late, around 4 pm, and they didn't allow us in as it would be dark by 6pm and they didn't want tourists to ride the train in the dark, so better to come early in the day.
3) Dress comfortably as it can get really hot. Bring water and some snacks in case you got hungry. And bring a hand fan if you can't stand the stifling heat.

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