Is Myanmar on your travel list?
If it isn’t, it should be!
Myanmar only opened it’s borders to tourists in 2012 and remains the least visited country in SE Asia. As a result, even the defined tourist areas such as Bagan, Inle Lake and the city of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) don’t feel touristy in the same sense as we’ve come to expect from the neighbouring countries. An authentic experience is easy to find here and we found the Burmese people to be genuine, warm and friendly.
Yangon, the former capital is a popular starting or finishing point for visitors to Myanmar because of the low cost airlines that service the airport. We flew into Yangon from Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia for just £50 each as we had a couple of weeks spare in our Asia tour and wanted to discover somewhere new and exciting. We were so glad we did! Myanmar quickly enchanted us as well as re-energising our wanderlust after a month in over hyped Bali.
There are easily enough things to do in Yangon for 2-3 days and it’s definately worth exploring. Recently, one of the popular ‘must do’s’ that’s emerged when visiting Yangon is to take a ride on the circular train.
Interested in how to take a ride on the Yangon circular train? Here’s our experience from when we went in November 2018
The Yangon circular train is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a train that does a loop around the city, starting and finishing at Yangon Central Railway Station. The whole trip takes about 3 hours and the train goes slowly, stopping frequently along the way.
It’s not a tourist train. It’s the train the locals use to get around and you’ll see the city and it’s surrounds in all it’s dirty, messy, smelly glory. There’s no air con and the seats are hard benches, but if you want to spend a few hours seeing the ‘real’ Yangon it’s a great experience.
In fairness it’s not hard to experience the real Yangon just by walking around the city. Tourism really is still relatively new here. To the extent that we had many requests for people to have their photo taken with us, which shows how westerners are still considered a novelty by some.
The circular train though will give you a real sense of the way people live their lives in Yangon as it wends through the city and suburbs, past shanty towns and out into the farmland towards the airport.
It’s not glamorous, it’s not even particularly exciting, and you’ll also be sharing the train with a fair few other tourists as it’s become a bit of ‘a thing’ to do. We even saw tourists bringing their guides along. We didn’t feel there was a need to do that as it wasn’t hard to work out what to do, but if you like to have support, or want to get a real insiders guide, hiring a guide is the way to go.
Tips for taking the Yangon Circular Train
When you get to the central railway station, head across to platforms 6/7 to buy your ticket from the booth on the platform. You can’t buy the ticket at the station entrance.
Tickets cost 500 kyat (about 25p) payable with cash only.
The ticket man told us where to stand to wait for the train and when one arrived which we assumed was it, another man actually got on and told all us tourists to get off since it wasn’t the right train! So don’t worry, they do look out for you.
The train leaves every 30 minutes or so but don’t expect precision. It comes when it comes.
We did have our tickets inspected soon after we left the station by a ticket inspector.
Go earlier in the day as it gets VERY hot on the train and there’s only the pane less windows and open doors for ventilation.
Take water and food with you, unless you’re happy to buy from the many vendors that hop on and off (often as the train is still moving.) We’d heard too many horror stories from other travellers that ate Burmese street food and got ill so weren’t brave enough to try. (This was true for our whole trip and we still got upset stomachs, so be warned).
Smile and engage with the locals. In general we found them very friendly, if a little timid. If you want to take their photo please always ask permission first though!
If you decide to get off at any of the stops, we believe you need to buy another ticket to get back on. It’s not a ‘hop on hop off’ ticket. Although it’s questionable whether anyone would actually check. There’s a large fruit and veg market at Danyingon about halfway, which is possibly the best place to get off and stretch your legs.
We spent an enjoyable 3 hours on the train and also got chatting with some fellow Brits that were on holiday. It never fails to amaze us that we meet such interesting people in such random places but that’s the beauty of travelling, you never really know what, or who you’re going to find.
Hopefully this little blog post has given you some info and inspo for your trip to Yangon, Myanmar. Have you already been? Tell us in the comments or ask us any questions you may have about the Yangon circular train.