If you are looking for an extraordinary experience, take the train in Myanmar. It is a must-do adventure for anyone traveling around the country. Tracks cut through lively markets, busy cities, rural villages, and endless, beautiful scenery. Get an accurate hint of local life, and reach out to touch details as they pass.
RECOMMENDED TRAIN ROUTES AND EXPERIENCES IN MYANMAR
Ordinary Class From Yangon to Bagan, Myanmar
Ride ordinary class on the train from Yangon to Bagan. It is possible to learn more about Myanmar’s culture on the 20-hour trek than what you would ever be able to read about in books. Sure, you could take upper class, or purchase a sleeper cabin. After all, it is an overnight trip. But, for less than five bucks, the chance to ride alongside locals in such an intimate way cannot be beat.
Children run up and down the center aisle, clutching benches and each other as the train sways and bounces along. Take many photos together, play a few games, and exchange giggles and nibbles.
Seats in ordinary class are wooden benches big enough to fit two adult passengers. However, benches are terribly uncomfortable, and sleeping is unfeasible. The space between coaches sounds similar to clashing symbols. Might as well sit in the open doorway and do a little stargazing to pass the time.
Although upper class and sleepers are probably more comfortable, save some money and experience something truly unforgettable by taking ordinary class. An ordinary-class seat costs 4,500 kyats (approximately $5 USD). An upper-class sleeper is about $17, and an upper-class seat goes for around $10.
Yangon’s Circular Train and Central Railway Station
The option to ride Yangon’s “Circle Train”, which loops around the city for about three hours, has gained popularity as a tourist attraction in recent years. For a truer taste of the poverty and hardships some locals are facing, definitely hitch a ride. Since it is one of the cheapest ways to travel about Yangon, there are plenty of opportunities to people-watch, as many prefer this method of transportation.
Yangon’s Circular Train runs about every 30 minutes during the day. Purchase tickets between platforms six and seven at Yangon’s Central Railway Station, or at any stop along the 39-station circuit. The price should be 200 or 300 kyats. It can be a bit confusing to know which train to hop on, but station attendants are very helpful. Just ask!
Yangon Central Railway Station is a distinctive attraction on its own. Take in the history and culture of the place by striking up a conversation with locals at Lucky Flower Tea Center. Trains run surprisingly on time, sometimes. To explore a certain stop, just get off and wait for the next train to come. ‘Circle Train’ tickets are valid for the entire day of purchase.
Crossing the Gokteik Viaduct in Myanmar
A highlight of the Mandalay to Lashio stretch is certainly the Gokteik Viaduct, which is about 30 miles northeast of Pyin Oo Lwin. It was constructed in 1901, and goes over the Gokteik Gorge. It is Myanmar’s longest rail bridge, reaching over 300 feet high and nearly 2,300 feet long.
Trains slow down to cross the viaduct due to its worn state, giving rail users time to experience the train go over the deep, forested ravine it bridges. Some of the most spectacular photos of train travel in Myanmar have been taken while crossing the Gokteik Viaduct.
HOW TO GET TRAIN TICKETS IN MYANMAR
Myanmar Railways does not have a very helpful English website at this time, and the process of reserving seats is not computerized as yet. It is best to make train travel arrangements in person, or with a tour company. To get tickets one to three days in advance, go to the booking office across from Sakura Tower on Bogyoke Aung San Road in downtown Yangon.
Tickets sold on the day of departure are only available at Yangon Central Railway Station. Securing upper class, and/or sleepers for popular excursions ahead of time is essential, or you might have to ride in first or ordinary.
Foreigners need a passport to get a train ticket for any trip other than Yangon’s Circular Train. Tickets can also be purchased at railway stations throughout Myanmar; however departure information in English is usually only available at main locations.
Kids under three years of age travel on trains in Myanmar for free, and children under 10 pay half the price of an adult.
MYANMAR TRAIN AND COACH CONDITIONS
Trains in Myanmar are outdated and downright dirty. The need for a better, more updated mass transit system is obvious; however, being in its current state makes the adventure what it is.
Trains going long distances typically have upper class, sleepers, first class, ordinary class, and dining cars. Snacks and beverages are also, commonly available for purchase on extended journeys.
Overall, upper class cars on all trains in Myanmar are cleaner and more comfortable. Upper-class seats are usually cushioned and often recline. They generally face the direction of travel, but most times can be rotated to face each other in clusters of four.
First and Ordinary Class
First-class seats are wooden, similar to ordinary-class benches, but the difference is they should have padding or seat cushions. Toilets in ordinary class are basically holes in the floor leading directly to the tracks below.
The ride is going to be noisy and bumpy no matter what, but being able to lie down as opposed to sitting for long periods of time might be a better option for all-night excursions.
Upper-class sleepers, standard and special sleepers are on several Yangon to Mandalay trains, as well as the Yangon to Bagan overnighter. Compartments fit two to four people. A pillow, sheet and blanket should be provided. Sleeper cars, such as special sleepers, may come with western-style toilets. Some have access to the rest of the train. Some do not.
OTHER ROUTES AND INFORMATION ABOUT TRAIN TRAVEL IN MYANMAR
For more information about train travel in Myanmar, including frequently updated prices and reviews, check out A Beginner's Guide to Train Travel in Myanmar. Many other sites have outdated information.
WHY TAKE THE TRAIN IN MYANMAR?
Taking the train in Myanmar is nothing but an extraordinary experience. Trains may be slow, grimy, and in various states of disrepair, but the dazzling and clear view you will get of life in the “Golden Land” is worth it—especially if you are fortunate enough to get to sit next to locals.
You will likely never see the passengers you ride alongside again. But, for a moment in time, your tracks will run parallel. And one image might remain in your mind. Hands and faces pouring out of glassless windows, waving so long, farewell, as the train pulls away from whatever station you disembark at.