A Recount of My Travels
Day 26, May 14, 2017: Yangon, Myanmar to Bagan, Myanmar
While standing on the train platform, minding my own business, a man approached me, “where are you from?” I thought to myself, “here we go again” and took a step back. Still slightly on edge from the day before’s encounter, I wasn’t ready to start making “friends” with strangers again. I kept my head down, trying to pretend I didn’t hear him. He asked me another question, “are you waiting for the ‘circle train?’” Unable to ignore him any longer, I slowly looked up and noticed he was wearing brand new running shoes, had shorts on and a white polo — he was clearly a tourist. I responded, “that’s my plan, but I’m not sure if I’m in the right place.” He looked at his watch and said, “the train is supposed to arrive at 10:10 am. The guy at the ticket booth said he’ll tell us which train to get on.” “Okay, great” I replied.
Our conversation continued and he introduced me to his son and his son’s girlfriend. They’re from Malaysia and they were all on vacation together.
As we waited for the train, I learned that the Dad has been to every country in South East Asia except for Myanmar and he used that as an excuse to see his son by inviting him and his son’s girlfriend to Yangon for the long weekend. During our conversation, I learned that the Dad lives in Phnom Penh and is working on building out an office there for his insurance company so, he doesn’t get to see his son that often.
10:10 am struck and a man came running out of the ticket booth and vigorously points at the train. “That one, that one,” he yelled to us. The wooden cars of the train look worn, all the windows are open and it didn’t look like there was a door on the car.
We got on board and all took a seat on the hard rail wooden benches that went around the entire car. The train slowly started going and the son from Malaysia said to his Dad, “how long are we on this for?” His Dad answered with a grin, “three hours,” and promptly turned around to look out the window.
The “circle train” is the local commuter rail network that serves Yangon. It has been in operation since 1954 and makes 39 stops. The entire loop is about 28 miles and connects remote towns and suburban areas to the city. Since its one of the more affordable transportation options in Yangon its heavily used by locals.
Now, this train isn’t like Cal Train in the Bay Area nor any other major commuter train that can be found in the states. If you’re in a rush, I don’t recommend taking this train because it’s average speed is only 9.5 mph and it wobbles down the tracks. Based on what I’ve read, it’s not uncommon for the “circle train” to fall off the tracks, leaving locals stranded in the middle of nowhere and having to walk through fields back to town.
The “circle train” was a great way to see Yangon and its surroundings. However, I was more caught up in what was happening on the train itself than what was outside. At every stop, vendors would board the train and start yelling what they had for sale. I felt like I was at a baseball game with vendors yelling, “peanuts, crackerjacks, cold lemonade,” except this time I wasn’t sure what they were saying.
Our car was pretty empty for the first few stops, but then pure commotion hit. We pulled up to a train stop and the station was full of people with their crops. They were all on their way to the city to sell their goods. Next thing I knew, they were throwing bags of vegetables through the windows. I had to dodge a few bags as they came flying into the car. I almost got smacked in the face by a bushel of parsley.
The train slowly pulled away from the station and our car was packed to the brim, but that didn’t stop the vendors from walking through our car, stepping over bags and people to make a sale. I sat there watching a woman selling noodles. She was situated on the floor and one by one she was dolling out to-go boxes of noodles. Each one seasoned to a custom order. She’d pass these orders back with chopsticks and they’d exchange four or five hands before reaching the intended recepient. At one point, a lady tied a wad of cash together and threw it from the back of the train to the lady selling noodles. Needles to say, it was quite the site.
Surprisingly enough, between watching the interactions of the people on the train, to talking to the family I met from Malaysia to looking outside, the ride went by fairly quickly. I ended up getting off a couple stops early to run back to my hostel to pack and shower before I had to check out.
That night, I caught a bus to Bagan.
(Pictures to follow when I have a better internet connection)