I have always had a fascination with trains and to me it seems that each country has trains with their own special character. When I arrived in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, I was eager to find a way to sample and enjoy the local train service. I got my opportunity in Yangon when I hopped aboard the Yangon Circle Train. It did not disappoint.
Yangon Circle Train
Constructed in 1954, the Yangon Circle Train lives up to it’s name, travelling a 45.9 kilometer circular route around central Yangon and its outskirts. A short run, local train, it provides transportation for Yangon’s residents moving about the city and offers visitors a unique opportunity to travel by train to different city markets, temples and destinations in the vicinity of Yangon. It didn’t take long to discover that the Circle Train does indeed have lots of “character.” In other words, it is old and the cars are a bit rickety. The train lumbers along at a nifty 17 kilometers per hour, taking roughly three hours to complete its entire circuit. Seats are mostly wooden benches and all are rather hard and uncomfortable – trust me on this. There is no air conditioning but windows are open as are the doorless entries at each end of the cars so the temperature can get a bit warm but is not uncomfortable. Fortunately, what the Circle Train lacks in luxuries it makes up for in cost. A one day ticket runs between 200 kyat and 400 kyat (currently @ 30 cents U.S.), making it one of the best budget travel experiences in the country of Myanmar.
Riding the Rails
I caught the Circle Train at Yangon Central Railway Station on Kun Chan Road. As with the train equipment, the station building is old and is certainly showing its age. Myanmar has been planning for some time to rehab the station, as well as much of the surrounding area. But things move slowly in Myanmar, including trains and construction, so I suspect it will be quite awhile before this project is completed. The station is a large, open-air and rambling affair but I easily found my way through the main hall, crossed the walkways over the tracks, and scrambled down to the train platform. The covered arrival / departure area was alive with activity. Passengers waiting for the train’s arrival milled about as children joked and played. Merchants and vendors hawked their wares including baked goods, fruit and other goodies. The atmosphere was easy going, relaxed and comfortable.
I sat at the open train window with the warm breeze in my face and the rhythmic clickity-clack of the wheels tempting me to sleep. The diverse panorama and culture of Myanmar slowly streamed past. The Circle Train made a total of 39 stops during it’s circuit. The southern portion of the route runs through the cityscape of Yangon then ventures northward into more rural areas before returning to the city. I kept my ticket, which is good for one full day, and got off at the Kyi Myin Daing station in the north to visit the market which is directly adjacent to the tracks. Wandering the open-air market space and visiting the vendors and their stalls was a total sensory experience. The distinctive aromas of fish and poultry in the “wet” market mingled with sounds of Burmese CDs and the colorful visuals of local produce and Burmese Textiles. Fortunately there was ample opportunity to explore, shop and photograph before the next train arrived about 40 minutes later. It was all quite a classic Myanmar Market experience and truly a photographer’s feast.
A ride on Yangon’s Circle Train is a very pleasant way to sample and experience Myanmar in a casual and slow paced manner. Take some water and of course, your camera. Dress for the weather – there is no air conditioning. The train does have a schedule but keep in mind that this is Myanmar, not Italy, and the trains may not run exactly on time. Best to be flexible. The Circle Train Journey is easy to manage and navigate. But if you get confused or have questions you will find that the wonderful and gracious residents of Myanmar are extremely friendly and will happily go out of their way to help you find your way.
Written by: Bruce Bean
Bruce W Bean, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist who has been exploring the world since he was a youngster. A passionate traveler, photographer and writer, he gets itchy feet if he has no new journey on his calendar. Bruce shares his travel adventures, photographs and insights on his blog: www.TravelAndPhotoToday.com