It is often said that the truest way of experiencing a new place is to do as the locals do. Let down your guard and hop on the local transport, eat at the local food stalls and wander through the alley markets. If you can manage to do this, a whole new world will be yours to discover and experience.
So it should come as no surprise to you that we hopped on the local circle train in Yangon to discover these things and make our own Urban Adventures in the big city. We are learning that adventure while traveling has much farther reach than climbing mountains and jumping out of airplanes.
Our day started by heading to the local train station in downtown Yangon to purchase tickets and catch Yangon’s infamous circle train for a day of touring the suburbs that surround Myanmar’s biggest city.
Standing on the platform is the perfect start to the journey as the local hustle and bustle create an energy that cannot be explained. Trains come and go from the various platforms, rolling through the station as they pick up new passengers and others leap from the train onto the platform to continue their day.
Many people can be seen hanging from the windows of the train and I made eye contact with the cutest kid that is waving and smiling at me from across the station. As I held up my camera for a photo he burst out in excitement and stood out of the window making faces and peace signs for me to photograph.
The people in Myanmar are a refreshing burst of energy, they are so thrilled to interact with foreigners and have not yet been saddled with the burden of associating us with money like in many other Southeast Asian countries. Each interaction with them was magic for us. This is what travel is supposed to be like.
Hopping on the train brings you into a world of difference and a direct look into commuter life for the Yangon population. From the monks, merchant workers, businessmen, market women, and nursing children, there is not much you will miss their daily culture.
If you can manage to take your eyes from the inside of the car, a beautiful array of landscapes and cities await you through the window. Roadside markets, lush fields, and tall business buildings are just part of the visual sampling on the route. The Yangon Circle Train makes a circular route around the outskirts of the city and back through the downtown center. Complete navigation takes around 3 hours and there are many opportunities to hop off and explore many off the beaten path corners of this city.
For a closer look at daily life, we hopped off around the 1-hour mark of our journey. As the trained rolled into the station we had an overwhelming pulse of energy. Glancing out the window we realized we were rolling into a market that had pushed past its designated building onto the train platform. We exited the train and as we stepped off the train were transported directly into a busy local market.
In no way am I exaggerating when I say we left that last step and as our feet hit the ground we were in the middle of a lettuce stall with a women trying to sell us fresh produce. As I glanced to the side, it became a quick reality that the stalls were even encroaching the train tracks.
The vendors were of no worry about the train being there, they had their stuff strategically placed to avoid the train yet maximize the space of the platform. The train was literally over most of their good and the women sitting so close that if they leaned backwards, they would hit the train. Yet they never wavered as the trains moved through the platform.
We spent around 40 minutes exploring this market and I would be lying if I didn’t ell you it was the grittiest, stinkiest, most amazing local market we have ever set foot in. The produce looked amazing and fresh but the condition of the market grounds was appalling. I have to admire the local people for their gut strength, as I am pretty sure a sampling of anything there would have sent me straight to the toilet.
Having missed our planned train connection, we stopped into a center stall for a bottled coke and observed the locals gathered around an old boxed TV eating chickpeas and intensely watching the show Wipe Out. It was totally random and yet such a beautiful moment. The local kids were so curious and more photo sessions ensued while they posed and then squealed with joy at seeing their photos on my camera.
Hoping back on the train we completed our route with a stop back within the downtown area where we ate traditional Burmese food for lunch and then walked back towards the downtown area. In total our adventure has taken 6 hours of our day and was on of the best city adventures we have ever experienced.
While it is possible to hop on the Yangon Circle Train independently, we recommend hiring the services of a guide to give you the best experience. Getting off along the route proves difficult, as stops are not announced. Additionally, the train schedule is not posted nor communicated so if you do get off somewhere, you may have long wait times before the next train.
Our day on the train was spent with Urban Adventures and they provided a seamless experience for us. Our guide was English speaking, informative and went out of his way to get us off the beaten track, which speaks volumes on the quality of service they offer. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to future travelers wanting a similar experience on the Yangon Circle Train.
If you’re traveling to Yangon and looking for a cultural experience like no other, then be sure to schedule in a day to hop on the Yangon Circle Train for an experience you will not soon forget.
For a full day of experiencing Yangon, you could also consider the Yangon Streets by Night tour for a personalized and in-depth look into the wide array of culture that makes up Yangon and a chance to sample local dishes, fruit and BBQ. The tour ends in China town with a BBQ and some local Myanmar beer. It’s a great way to round off your cultural tour of Yangon.
Disclosure: We partnered with Urban Adventures to bring you this adventure. However, all opinions are 100% mine. All photos created and owned by Divergent Travelers.
More on Myanmar:
- Exploring Bagan by E-Bike: Myanmar Adventure
- Betel Nut Chew and a Red Mouth in Myanmar
- Sleeping with the Rats in Myanmar