Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Train of Thought: A Beginner's Guide to Southeast and Far East Asia's MRT System

Like Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, I love trains, well, except for Thomas the Train because I find him creepy. Whenever I travel, I always take the time to ride one. There's something about train rides. I don't know, maybe because we don't have a train system yet in Davao, making it an unfamiliar travel experience to me.

Today, I'm going to share my experiences and a few tips on how to navigate around starting from the simplest MRTs to the most complex system I have experienced.


Starting off the list is Manila's MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Line, and LRT (Light Railway Transit) 1 and 2. These three lines are subsidized by the national government, LRT 1 being the oldest among the three. During the first few years of its operations, the LRT 1 was the most sophisticated mode of transportation in southeast Asia, until its neighboring countries started to construct more advanced trains. Today, Metro Manila's MRT and LRT lines continue to serve millions of commuters every day. Some train wagons have been upgraded ever since the new administration took over just a year ago, but that's it. In some days, it breaks down in the middle of the trip, forcing commuters to endure the notorious Manila traffic.

Manila's mass transportation system is very easy to understand. There are only three lines with only two exchanges for the LRT and MRT lines (Pasay Rotunda Station for MRT3 and LRT1) and Doroteo Jose station for LRT1 and LRT2. Construction of both light railway transits has begun earlier this year, stretching all the way to the provinces of Rizal and Cavite respectively.


Like Manila, Bangkok has major issues in traffic, and it gets worse during rush hours. When I went there November of last year, I got the chance to experience it, and I must say that it is even worse than Manila traffic.

Opened in 2004, Bangkok's MRT system has two lines - blue and purple. The purple line is the newest line which started its operations just last year. These two lines are currently expanding all the way to the suburban areas of Bangkok. There are also plans for constructing additional 4 lines, with 1 line being a monorail.

Rush hour in Bangkok. I'd rather take an MRT.

The layout of Bangkok's MRT is similar to Manila, although they have newer wagons, and their train connects all the way to the Suvarnabhumi Airport.The map is easy to understand, albeit the hard-to-pronounce stations.

My favorite station: Nana Station. LOL

Kuala Lumpur

KL's mass transportation system is efficient and still easy to comprehend. Everything is connected from KL Sentral Station. From there, you can opt to ride a train to Batu Caves or ride a bus to Genting Highlands. It currently has 12 lines which include LRTs, MRTs, and a monorail.

What I really love about their stations is that most of their stations are strategically located near a tourist place. It is easy to navigate around Kuala Lumpur, all thanks to its efficient MRT system. Their international airport is more than an hour away from the city center, but it is still accessible by airport train.

Singapore/Hong Kong/Taipei

Singapore's elaborate and highly efficient MRT system will always be my favorite. Every traveler's journey starts at Changi Airport, where the green line (East West line) connects the airport to the downtown area. From there, you can navigate around by changing lines. Singapore's MRT is also subsidized by their national government, making it a cheaper transportation alternative. Currently, they have five existing lines with plans of expanding and creating new lines in the next few years.

Most of its lines are underground, except for the junction of Green Line starting at Kallang Station. They have at least three levels of subway systems, especially to stations which have line exchanges. This makes their MRT capable of handling thousands of commuters at the same time.

Despite having five existing lines that circle around the island nation, Singapore's MRT is still easy to understand. The names of the station are easy to remember.

The same goes to Taipei and Hong Kong's MRT. Although, the only problem I've encountered riding these two is their station names. Some of them are hard to remember, most especially if you're not fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese. In some stations, some of the maps are written in Chinese. Bringing an Engish map or downloading their offline maps really helps.


Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and it is bigger than I've expected. There are so many activities to do in Seoul, and I can't imagine if they don't have a highly efficient mass transportation system. Seoul's MRT has 20 existing lines which extend up to the neighboring suburbs of Seoul National Capital Area. Today, it is the largest and the most efficient metro systems in the world. Fast wireless internet connection is also available on all trains. You can never go wrong with South Korea's internet speed.

Seoul's MRT is way more complicated than Singapore or Hong Kong's. Some stations are hard to remember because most of them are in Hangeul. Don't fret because there's an app that provides offline maps of South Korea's MRT. The app also includes the distance, train schedule, and fare computation. It can also suggest users the fastest route to your destination, which is very convenient for first-time travelers. And the best part of it? It's free.


When I started plotting my itinerary for my Tokyo trip, and I was literally blown away from my seat. The map is so intricate because there are so many lines that overlap with each other. To make things more difficult, most of the station names are hard to memorize. The only stations that I could remember are Shibuya, Akihabara, Kiyosumi Shirakawa, Roppongi, Tokyo Station, Ikebukuro, and Narita Express.

When I went there, it was quite difficult to navigate around. There's a sea of people moving around me as if they were dancing to the rhythm of modern life. Most of the signs were written in Japanese, and only a few offered an English translation. The fare is quite expensive since the lines aren't subsidized by the government.

It takes a lot of practice, patience, and a decent internet connection to navigate around Tokyo's highly intricate train system. Like Seoul's MRT, there's an app which provides offline maps, fare computation, and train schedule. The app is definitely a life saver. The next time I go to Tokyo, it will never be as intimidating as before.


I have yet to try the railway systems of New York, London, Mumbai, Paris, and Beijing. Trains do make the lives of travelers easier. 

1 comment:

  1. Such a great post! I, myself is an avid fan of railway systems. I've only been to Manila and KL's LRT/MRT, and I am looking forward to experience riding the trains of our neighbor countries. Thanks Sir Renz!


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