Rangoon, (Yangon’s), famous circular, or circle, train leaves from the City’s Central Station describing a 30 mile loop through the inner city and suburbs before returning to it’s point of departure some 3 hours later. The train is scheduled hourly and alternates between clock-wise and anti-clockwise circumnavigations and the price is a couple of hundred kyat for the round trip. Now you wouldn’t take this ride for speed, nor for comfort but it allows for a fascinating behind the scenes view of the city, a great chance to meet loads of friendly locals and some fantastic photographic opportunities.
Even 3rd class would be stretching things a bit as a description of these rickety old carriages with years of grime, wooden benches, rusty old ceiling fans and a rolling and rattling motion on the narrow gauge tracks that would test the most seaworthy legs and yes; there is a ‘tourist carriage’ with soft seats but we reckon that defeats the object and anyway if you can’t stick the full 3 hours you can always get out at any station and hop into a taxi.
Apart from a few ‘slumming it’ visitors the line is mostly used by office workers, students, monks and market goers carrying their wares to and from one of the several local markets lining the route. Vendors also ply the carriages with a bewildering array of snacks and tit-bits so there are plenty of photogenic scenes on the train itself, and plenty to taste, regardless of what is going on outside the windows. Advantages of these ancient carriages is that they travel slowly, there’s no sealed windows and doors are left wide open allowing for ease of photography.
The trip might not be for the fainthearted and passing by the rear of already crumbling and decaying buildings and rattling through suburban shanty towns you’ll see mounds of refuse, open sewers and some severe poverty but this is the real Rangoon like it or not and you will see scenes of everyday life that you won’t get at Shwedagon or afternoon tea at the Strand Hotel.
The locals are, as we mentioned, generally very friendly and anyone with a smattering of English will take pride in letting you know so it’s also a great place to chat with the other voyagers and get some insight into their everyday lives as well.
The train runs all day but the earlier the better since that’s when things are at their liveliest and the train usually departs from platform 7 but check beforehand. As we said not the comfiest ride you’ll ever take but a truly fascinating and unique trip!
Mant thanks to Martin Woods for the great ‘Flower News’ picture.