Recently, I commented how Anthony Bourdain’s premier episode of Parts Unknown featuring Myanmar was almost obsolete despite being filmed only three years ago. Luckily (or maybe unluckily depending on your viewpoint), there’s still one thing that not only remains stuck in yesteryear but probably isn’t changing anytime soon. Unlike most Southeast Asian trains, traveling by rail anywhere in Myanmar hasn’t advanced much since prisoners of war built the extensive network way back when. Although not recommended for long distance travel, there’s two great three-hour day trip options giving visitors a sense of the real “developing nation” feel. Commuters, merchants and vendors ride Yangon’s only version of urban rail transport as it meanders its way through rather poor looking subdivisions, garbage strewn decaying brick structures passing as train stations and some agricultural districts lining the area near the airport. Further north, we found mostly backpackers on “The Slow Train from Thazi” which offers a long but scenic option for traveling to theInle Lake area or simply day tripping from Kalaw like we did. Arriving in Yangon first, we enjoyed the first option as part of our second day’s itinerary.
Yangon’s Central Railway Station
Dubbed “The Circular Train“, the 24 mile commuter rail line through Yangon’s suburban districts improved a bit since most guide-book descriptions and now features relatively comfortable trains with fans, (slightly) cushioned seats and fans to ease the heat. Slowly dragging its way from the city’s beautifully classic and antiquated central rail station north to the airport and then back again, it’s an opportunity to see the area, meet some locals and best of all, visit the city’s classic Central Railway Station. Taking a taxi from The Merchant Hotel, our first boutique option that came recommended from the proprietor of a not so luxurious lodge in Kin Pun Village, we paid about 3000 Kyat and arrived at the large dirt parking area that houses the grand colonial Central Railway Station. Like most tourist destinations in Yangon, they charge the taxi a fee to drop off passengers despite the low non-metered fares. Relying on Lonely Planet explanations, we made our way up and over the foot bridge to the ticket counter at platform seven.
Feeling almost like we just got back from our Australian adventure, it’s time to set off on the next trip, this time to the brand new democratic nation of Myanmar. Formerly known as Burma, this fascinating large nation literally just began its future after decades of authoritative military rule by installing a democratically elected new government. Recently creating a powerful state counsellor position for herself,Aung San Suu Kyi bypassed a constitutional ban on serving as president by giving herself similar powers to a prime minister. Entering a new phase, she’s the daughter of Aung San, who’s considered the father of modern-day Myanmar, and the 70-year-old Nobel Laureate is also the leader of The National League for Democracywhich rose to power during a series of 1988 uprisings.
Footnote: No pictures in this post are mine; they’re all from the internet; I will take plenty of photos.
Our work exchange home for one week
Anticipating the eventual reversal of a repressive military junta run government mostly cut off from the world thanks to sanctions by almost every western power, Myanmar’s seen a massive modernization and amazingly fast improvement to its infrastructure in the last four years. With sanctions finally lifted and plans to join the international banking system sometime this year, 2016 looks to be a major transition year making this everyone’s last chance to visit what’s left of a relatively unchanged undeveloped culture before it morphs into a tourism hotbed like Thailand, its western neighbor. Already visibly different from a few years ago, Yangon is the nation’s largest city and signs of consumerism are already everywhere. Boasting a quickly expanding range of boutique and luxury hotels, the nation is the fastest growing smart phone market in the world with an 80% market share that’s even higher than the USA. Understanding the growth potential, Air Asia just started non stop service from Penang less than two months ago which solidified our decision to go before it becomes another Vietnam.