This weekend Burma’s Ministry of Rail Transportation will launch a new “special train” from Rangoon to the Mon State town of Kyaikhto, home to the famous Golden Rock, in a bid to reduce travel time to the popular tourist attraction and pilgrimage site.
The new train service will start on Saturday, initially running as a pilot program and only on weekends. “If there is a boom in rail travel, we will extend it to a daily route,” the ministry’s deputy general manager in Lower Burma, Kyaw Kyaw Myo, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
He said that depending on the success of the pilot program, a daily route could be launched during the tourist high season, which starts in November.
The air-conditioned special train will travel from Rangoon to Kyaikhto in 4.5 hours, a couple hours faster than regular trains. It will depart from the Rangoon rail station at 6:25 am and arrive at 11 am, stopping at three stations along the way—in Pegu and Wall townships of Pegu Division, and in Mon State’s Theinzayet Township. There will also be a return train from Kyaikhto.
A one-way ticket will cost 3,500 kyats (US $3.5) for local travelers and $10 for foreigners.
Three regular trains currently run from Rangoon to Kyaikhto, but many travelers opt instead to ride by bus, which is quicker at about four hours. Regular trains are also unpopular among some travelers due to irregular arrival and departure times.
Dr. Aye San, a resident in Kyaikhto said most people could not afford to pay 3,500 kyats for the special train, while a bus ticket costs only 2,500 kyats, but some travelers will still be tempted. “Because the train is more comfortable than the bus, I would rather take the train if I need to go to downtown Rangoon, because of the bad traffic in Rangoon,” he said.
He said the addition of only one special train would be insufficient during the tourist high season. “I can definitely say that in peak tourist season, even 10 trains will not be enough,” he said.
Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda is a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site, while its iconic Golden Rock is a popular attraction for tourists. The small chedi was built on top of a granite boulder covered with gold leaf by devotees. Peak tourist season in Kyaikhto town is December through January, with more than 20,000 pilgrims arriving during those months.