Extraordinary things happen on a train ride. It might be about meeting other travellers, like when Jesse met Céline on a road trip in Europe. It was in a train going through Vienna, where they started their bittersweet, thought-provoking celebration of love. Jesse and Céline were the most lovable and beautifully filmed couple, but they were fiction. Life is better than any movie script, so I am happy to hear your train (love) story. When it’s not about a chilling romance, it might be about a million dollar idea. Walt Disney claimed that Mickey Mouse popped out in his head on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood, it was that inspirational. I wish I was on that train with him too. Poets (and most travellers) say: My heart is warm with friends I make, And better friends I’ll not be knowing; Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, No matter where it’s going. I absolutely agree with all of them.
Yangon Circular Train
When it comes to Burma, there is no better way to get a good story, than taking a Yangon Circular Train. You can’t predict or plan what kind of story you gonna get, but no doubts, it’s gonna be a memorable one. Take time and plug into the local culture, so rich in colours. fragrances and flavours. For about 25 cents (yes, it’s that cheap) you receive over 3 hours of ride through 39 unique stations. For most travellers Yangon Central Station is a starting point, which is an interesting place itself. It’s a good moment to interact with locals: be blessed by the monk, understand the *ordinary class* and admire how locals travel in style. Once you get a good picture of the station and board the train, you will quickly realise, it’s not actually just one journey that you’re about to take. Look carefully both: in and out. What you’re about to experience inside the train is as interesting as the landscape you’ll see outside the train. It’s like visiting a theatre with two parallel stages, where actors compete with each other to draw the attention of the audience. Both performances are great in attracting the crowd and so worth watching, making the visitor’s choice very tough.
On the right track (outside)
Let’s take a look at the first stage and its performers: let’s look outside. If you are a big city lover, as much as I am, and usually you immerse in art and architecture and you’re favourite place in the world is Manhattan, the train is definitely for you. Why do I think so? Because it’s so different. Burmese rural life has many secrets that are being revealed just in front of your eyes. The journey starts in the city, continues in the suburbs and goes through the countrysides, just to go back to the main station at the end. The train stops at many colourful stations, very different in atmosphere and character. Some of them are crowded markets, filled in with action, food and laughter, some have just few commuters walking around. It was a very sunny day, when I visited Yangon and many locals were carrying umbrellas to protect them from sun. Those picturesque umbrellas made me take so many photos, just to capture the beauty of the moment. Burma is extremely photogenic, take a lot of spare batteries with you. One good tip at the end: If you take the 5pm train you will catch the sunset. Sit at the back of the train and watch the world go by. A truly magical moment.
Emotions got derailed (inside)
The beauty of Yangon Circular Train is that it really belongs to locals. I’ve seen just few other tourists in my carriage and certainly their presence didn’t spoil the authenticity of the experience. Inside the train there were long benches along each side, so naturally everyone was facing each other observing unobtrusively the surrounding. There was a special vibe between commuters and travellers, full of respect and curiosity for each other. It felt like a movie: people carrying some insane in size packages, bringing a lot of extravagant food, changing the train into a crazy food court, selling all possible goods and exchanging the smiles. In this cheerful, lively atmosphere, there was one puzzle that was not matching the whole picture at all, let me tell you why.
At one point a young, very pretty girl boarded the train, changed her seat few times, but finally we ended up sitting just in front of each other. When I looked at her face I froze. She could be a female alter ego of King of Sorrow by Sade. A Burmese Queen of Sorrow, I swear. I have no idea, what possibly happened to her but it was heartbreaking to look at her pain. She was staring blankly and said no word to anyone, passed few station and was about to disembark shortly.
Have you ever had a situation when you really wanted to cheer up a stranger? At that time, I didn’t exactly know why she triggered such a strong emotional response in my heart, but I desperately wanted to make her feel better. You can’t hug strangers in public, at least not in Burma, I guess. Once a shop assistance in States saw me totally heart broken too and wrote to me a message on a piece of paper: ‘If he is making you feel bad you’re better’. It was a very touching gesture. Having that experience in my mind, I decided to write a message to this girl too. In English of course, as I knew nothing of a local language at all, but still I believed English was better than nothing. So I wrote to her ‘Everything will be better’ and I gave it to her, when she was about to leave. I really hope it was better for her and my words were not just an empty promise, that possibly I shouldn’t have made. What would you do in my case? Do you have any better words to choose in such case?
When I was getting ready for the trip I flicked through the reviews on TripAdvisor and what I saw in some of them just puzzled me deeply: hard seats, no ac, long ride, too sunny, too hot. If you prefer luxury, take the train in Germany or Japan. This is a real Burmese life, you get the best of it by people watching, station hopping and marvelling at the beauty of an authentic lifestyle. Because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing, no matter the train. Bon chic, bon voyage x