Cool Maps for Cool Cities: riding the Yangon Circular Train with local artist Jackie Lynn

Yangon Circular Train

Cool Maps for Cool Cities: riding the Yangon Circular Train with local artist Jackie Lynn

Riding the rickety Circle Line train is a travellers must-do in Yangon. For less than one US dollar you get an intimate glimpse in the local life of the city. The full loop, takes three hours and is like a ride through history, introducing you to Yangon’s more authentic side. The train journey itself is a great experience, just observing life as it passes by; but where to get off? The team at iDiscover made a Yangon Circular Train Guide – a handy map with a savvy app – highlighting six neighbourhoods that are worth a wander. We hopped on the train with Jackie Lynn, a local artist who designed the map, and looked at the city through his lens.

By Anna Livia Cullinan

Yangon Circular Train Jackie Lynn’s design for the Yangon Circular Train guide map

“The train has something magical, it’s a romantic artistic feel that you don’t get on a bus” – Jackie Lynn, artist


A train journey

Jackie is a Yangon based graphic illustrator. Originally from Magway, he moved to Yangon six years ago. His cartoony style landed him jobs with some of the coolest design firms in town and he continued to develop his design signature, one that is full of beautiful light and character. When we asked if he’d like to capture the unique energy of the Circular Railway in a series of illustrations, he didn’t hesitate. The result is a map that’s almost a journey in itself, a journey along six stations, six neighbourhoods each with their own character.

We meet Jackie at the train station to find out the ins and outs of design process. “The first thing we did was to take the train. It was really important that the map looked and felt like the experience of taking the train” he says. “The train has something magical, it’s a romantic artistic feel that you don’t get at a bus station. The slow pace also means that you have more time to just observe, take pictures and create images in your head”. Jackie was not alone in his journey, Anna Livia and Timothy, a student from the Yangon’s Yangon Collegiate Program, came along. Both had been part of the curative process hand-picking the most interesting neighbourhoods along the train tracks and within each area asking the locals for their favourite places. “They were able to point me to little details and introduce me to some really cool restaurants and that would have never found on my own. For me it was an adventure, it was my first time to explore some of these neighbourhoods. “

Yangon Circular Train
Jackie drew inspiration from what he observed on the stations and just looking of the window

Yangon Circular Train
The map beautifully captures the light and the romantic feel of a train journey. Photo by Two Humans Travel

About the design process

Yangon’s Circular Train Line is 42 km long with 39 stops.  Creating a map for the line as a whole and at the same time portray the details of each of the six neighbourhoods was gonna be a challenge. Earlier versions of the map made the design team realise this map couldn’t show the whole of Yangon, the map would simply become too big for travellers to put in their pocket. After a brainstorming session with some of the students who helped with the curation process and the fabulously creative people from iDisover’s local partner Hla Day, the team made a design decision to create map that wouldn’t look like a map but more like a journey.

Yangon Circular Train
After a brainstorming session we made a design decision to create map that wouldn’t look like a map but more like a journey

Yangon Circular Train
An early sketch to test out different design options

Capturing Yangon local life along the train tracks

Once we decided to base the map on one of our favourite things to do on the train – look out the window, everything flowed from there. This provided a nice opportunity to capture the diversity. The train goes from the historic Central Station and loops though every type of neighbourhood from the quiet quarter Ahlone to the vibrant student town of Hledan. That’s why Jackie did the train ride several times at different times of the day to find the best light. “I visited all six stops – Ahlone, Kyeemyindine, Hledan, Insein, Tadagale and Ma Hlaw Gone – to have a walk around and sense the uniqueness of each neighbourhood.”

“I took inspiration from little things, like the train tickets, the timetables, the signs at the station and even the fans in the train carriages. All these things make the train journey what it is, an iconic journey through time”. Jackie then developed a rough sketch of the neighbourhoods and the cover of the map. The process was not hiccup free. Some of the early designs began to look a little too modern for the Yangon Circular Line Train, and there was so much information we wanted to include but couldn’t fit. It took many back-and-forths to get it right. Jackie says The hardest part was putting my illustration into the train windows frame without making it look ugly”.

Yangon Circular Train
First time taking the train, Jackie taking in every single detail

Yangon Circular Train
Chilling out at a little teashop near the golden pagoda in Tadagale

“The hardest part was putting my illustrations into the train windows frame” – Jackie Lynn, artist


Visual storytelling

“This project was like an exercise in visual storytelling. I like that every iDiscover map is designed by a different local artist, no two maps are the same. Every map captures the spirit of the place while respecting the artist’s style.” Jackie says when we ask about how he feels now that he’s seen the map printed. “I feel proud that we’ve been able to capture the spirit of the Circular Railway Line and I hope lots of travellers will now not just go on the train but also explore some of the lesser known neighbourhoods”

Nice to know -Did you know Myanmar actually has an incredibly long history of design and illustration? The country is famous for cartoons. Every year there is a street festival dedicated to comics. This tradition is now evolving artists like Jackie are taking this design heritage and developing it for the current Myanmar. Read more about the history of comic and graphic design in Yangon here.

Yangon Circular Train
Jackie finetuning his illustration at home

Yangon Circular Train
An artistic interpretation of the iconic railway bridge in Mahlwagone

Yangon Circular Train
There’s never been a better time to ‘get lost without getting lost’ on the Yangon Circular Train

Yangon Circular Train
Jackie in Hledan, excited to see his illustrated scenes in real life


Where to find the Yangon Circular Railway Guide?

Love a paper map? We do too! The Circular Railway Guide is one of the six handcrafted itineraries in the iDiscover Yangon Neighbourhood Guide, buy a copy for just 15,000 kyat at Hla Day or order a copy online.

Like your travel tips on-the-move at your fingertips? We’ve got you covered. This is where you download the iDiscover Yangon App with GPS maps and in-depth stories on each site.

Choose app or map, this is your go-to guide for hidden gems, popular local hotspots and surprising sites in the hood. All handpicked, so you can shop locally and travel responsibly 

Some tips for a great train journey

Hop on and make Yangon’s Circular Line train your street photographers’ muse! Some quick facts and out trips for a perfect train ride:

  • Buy tickets from Platform 7 of Yangon Central Station. The fare is 100 or 200 kyat depending on distance.
  • Trains ride in both directions. ‘R’ indicates eastbound at Yangon central Station (anticlockwise) and ‘L’ is westbound (clockwise).
  • The train starts running at 6.10 am with the last departure at 10pm, but the earliest full circle train leaves at 8.20am heading west (clockwise) and the last one departs 5.10pm.
  • Whole circuit is 46 kilometers long with 39-stations and the snail pace journey takes about three hours
  • The railway opened for service in 1954 and still has an operational fleet of 200 coaches on double track. The service runs 20 times a day.
  • The tracks are old, carriages are a bit dated and non-air-conditioned, so be prepared for a hot, bumpy ride and a great experience!

About Anna

Guest curator Myanmar – creative spirit & talented urban designer

Anna Livia Cullinan is originally from Ireland, grew up in the US, studied in the UK and now calls Myanmar home. Many years in film industry have creatively shaped her mind until she was ready to venture out in the big world.  Anna Livia has found her muse in vibrant and mystical Yangon.

Anna Livia’s favourite spot in Yangon: breakfast in a local teashop in the Indian Quarter

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