I never would have thought that sitting in a hot and dirty train for three hours without air conditioning would be a fun experience, but that’s the thing about travel – it always surprises you.
Michael and I were determined to make the most out of our short trip to Myanmar, and clickety-clacking over a 29-mile loop seemed like a good way to get that “local experience” while seeing what lies beyond the hectic and fast-paced city of Yangon. 30 cents scored us each a ticket, and we took our seats among a bunch of locals including elderly Buddhist monks asking for donations and young children selling bottles of water. It’s not very often that you get to truly interact with the local people when you travel, and the warmth of the Burmese people was palpable throughout the entire journey.
The train travels at a snail’s pace through 38 stations, with vendors hopping on and off at every stop. The first few stops were still very much in the city, but it wasn’t long before the landscape changed from concrete to paddy fields and rustic villages, giving us a glimpse into the rural side of Burma. From there we were able to observe the daily routine of the Burmese people away from the commercial hub of Yangon. As the houses outside the window got smaller and simpler, the train became more hot, crowded, and uncomfortable, but we were always surrounded by happy smiles.
As we approached one stop, we heard a loud commotion and looked out the window to see hordes of people carrying baskets and huge sacks of fresh vegetables. We had arrived at the chaotic market in the northern outskirts of Yangon, and before the train could even come to a full stop people rushed the carriages carrying their produce. Several women boarded our carriage with sacks of vegetables and spent the rest of the journey sorting through bunches of parsley, their stoic faces indicative that they have been doing this all their life.
At the next stop, a Burmese woman selling mote let kauk, a donut-like pastry that is very common in Myanmar, boarded the train and sold us the delicious snack for less than a penny. At the same time, a man who sat smiling across from us leaned over to enthusiastically offer Michael betel nut chew, a typical vice for Burmese men. A young boy shyly stared at us from behind a seat, and we offered him a small amount of kyat (Burmese currency), much to his delight. We were kinda starting to feel like we were part of this train-riding community.
After three hours, we started to see signs of urban life and the train finally creaked back to Yangon station. We had come full circle. Although we ended up back where we started, there’s no denying that the journey changed the trajectory of our lives. The experience was chaotic and uncomfortable, but it was also real. Witnessing how people live like this around the world is always very humbling and makes me appreciate everything I have back home. In a way this was the best 30 cents I’ve ever spent.