Published in My Magical Myanmar, Volume 3
Yangon is a city of contrasts and short-term visitors often come away with a somewhat lop-sided impression of what it has to offer. An excellent way of gaining a better understanding of the scale diversity of this fascinating former capital is to jump onboard the Yangon Circle Line, which was built during the British colonial era.
It is truly is a journey back in time – the diesel locomotives date to the 1960s and the tracks are even older.
The loop will take to you through many lesser-known areas as well as those that are of great importance for the city’s six million inhabitants, and it includes pleasant rural scenery in the outer suburbs.
The circle line starts from Yangon Central Railway Station and winds its way out to Mingaladon Railway Station (near Yangon International Airport), via Insein Township to the west and North Okkalapa Township to the east.
Be patient though, because the Yangon Circle Line train is no speedster, travelling at 17 kilometres an hour (10.5 miles an hour). It takes about three hours to complete the 45-kilometre (30-mile) loop, comprising 39 stations. This is no doubt a source of unending frustration for regular commuters, but for those wanting to spend a pleasant morning or afternoon aboard this open-air train, there’s no better way of experiencing Yangon and its surroundings. If possible, take the train on a weekend and avoid peak hours, or you may find yourself without a seat and getting up close and personal to baskets of exotic-looking vegetables: many wholesalers use the train to transport their goods from home to market (including thebig one near Botataung station). Until 2011, the cost of a ticket was just K10 (1 US cent) for locals and it continues to be a more affordable than buses.
The fare for foreigners is a bargain at $1 and you need to present your passport to buy a ticket, which is valid for a day. It’s possible to jump off at any station and take a stroll. Doing so at Insein (pronounced “insane”) is worthwhile, because attractions near the station include a temple on Mindhamma Hill graced by a jade Buddha image and the Royal White Elephant Garden, which has two auspicious white elephants (which you may note are in fact a dusty shade of pink, but no matter). Be sure to check when the next train is due because with only 10 trains completing the circuit a day, services are infrequent –and often delayed. Travelling the full loop is recommended, or at least getting past the half-way point at Insein Station, where one of the unforgettable sights is a scrapheap of cars stacked so high that the rust-buckets almost seem to tower into the clouds.