When I was googling things to do in Yangon, I realized that I wanted to do something more than just run around looking at temples. We did that a lot in Thailand and Cambodia and we would be doing that in Bagan, so I decided that I wanted to switch things up a bit and do something more cultural. When I came across the Circle Train, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for.
The Circle Train in Yangon isn’t exactly a tourist destination. This train is what locals use to get from Yangon, the capitol, to other outlying villages. There’s nothing fancy or touristy about it. Nobody sings, dances or otherwise tries to entertain foreign guests. It’s just people living their everyday lives, going to and from work and carrying their wares. It was perfect.
The official name of the train is the Yangon Circular Railway. It was built in 1954 by the British and is still the most-used mode of transportation for the locals to get from their villages to the capitol. Roughly 150,000 people ride the train per day. There are 39 stops on the main circle route, but there are several offshoots that different trains go down. The Circle Train begins service from Yangon Central Railroad Station at 6:10am and the last train departs at 2:25pm. Below is the current list of departure times. One of the fun things about the train is that you can get off at any of the stations and hang out until the next train arrives. Then you hop back on and continue on your way. The entire circuit takes about 3 hours if you stay on the train the entire time.
But before you get on the train, you have to purchase a ticket. The ticket office is located on Platform 7, which is also where the train departs from. Just follow the signs and you’ll get there pretty easily. Once on the platform you’ll go about halfway down and find the ticket office. Locals can purchase tickets from the window, but foreigners have to go inside and provide some information first.
You’ll have to show them your passport so they can write down your passport number and name, but that’s about it. The only issue we had there was that we gave them a $1 that wasn’t pristine, so the guy apologized profusely and asked if we had one in better condition. It’s a government thing, so we just went through our little tin and gave him a bill he approved of. He was really nice about it, and I think a little embarrassed, but it wasn’t that big a deal.
After we got our tickets we sat on the platform and waited. We had just missed the 10:10 train, so we just hung out and people-watched for a half an hour. It was a lot of fun.
One of the engines that wasn’t in service that day
People milling around, waiting for the train
Betel leaf cigarette maker. These aren’t actually smoked like traditional cigarettes, they’re just shaped like them. The rolled leaves are then chewed on like tobacco and the juice is spat onto the ground. So, I supposed it’s more like a cigarette/chewing tobacco hybrid.
This little boy was just as happy as could be playing with his peanut shells.
Not sure what game they’re playing, but it looks kinda like Pachisi
This kid was pretty awesome. He was doing all sorts of breakdance moves. The girl seated behind him has her entire face covered by Thanaka Paste.
This sign was all over Myanmar. They’re really trying to increase their tourism numbers and work hard to make sure visitors have a good time.
Eventually, the train arrived and off we went. I hope you’ll pardon my less than stellar photos. This was my first time taking photos from a moving vehicle, so it was a learning process.
I have to say, this is my favorite photo of the entire day. This little girl is just so adorable and was so excited about us taking her picture. She waved at us several times while we were on the platform before boarding the train.
This is the inside of the non-air conditioned train car. I won’t say the seats were super comfortable, but we were moving around enough that it didn’t matter too much. We spent a lot of time kneeling on the seats with our heads out the windows or leaning out the doors, so we just used the seats when we were tired of that. One time the train was so crowded that we were standing, but two women got up and insisted that we sit in their seats. We tried to decline, but they were so insistent and kept pushing us toward the seats, so we sat down. I felt like we were being rude by taking their seats, but we also felt that it might be offensive if we declined. But nobody seemed to mind us sitting, so it wasn’t that big a deal.
People walk along the tracks and go through holes in the fences to get to nearby homes
These are some of the nicer homes. Not the rich homes, but more like middle class.
Vegetable garden and laundry area.
Kids hanging out on a gas car.
Yes, this guy had these on the train.
I’m not entirely sure what he’s doing, but it looks like he’s fishing.
This is the normal Western reaction when people lean out of trains. In Myanmar, nobody cares.
Troy got off the train at one of the stations and tried to blend in with the locals. How did he do?
You haven’t truly experienced Myanmar until you’ve hung out the side of a moving train.
She’s carrying a type of fried bread rings, kinda of like donuts, but not quite as sweet.
These are their brooms. Simple, but effective.
This man was selling fried pastries with a type of mincemeat in them. I can’t stand mincemeat, so I didn’t get any. They smelled good, though.
Working in the fields. They don’t even get Sundays off.
We both sat and hung out the door for a while, but some locals told us that we were in the way, so I went back to hanging out the window. It was just as fun.
This is one of the smaller train stations.
One of the rural villages. The houses are all attached to each other and support each other.
One of the things I had a hard time with in Asia was the garbage. Trash doesn’t bother most Asians, so it’s everywhere. This is a trash heap just outside one of the villages.
Working in the rice fields.
We saw several people sleeping on the trains. If I worked as hard as they do, I’d sleep on the train, too.
The read bucket is the ‘water fountain’. People would pay a few coins and get a tin cup of water to drink. Then the next person would pay and get a tin cup. When a person finished their drink, they just passed the cup on and that person would dip the cup into the bucket.
The most common site along the train ride was rice fields.
Looks like it was laundry day at this house.
This guy had to make multiple trips to get on the train. It was great.
This little guy was so cute! He kept staring at me for the longest time and every time I waved he’d sit there with his mouth open. It was adorable. I tried to give him cookies, but he didn’t want them. What kid doesn’t want cookies?!?!?!
More beautiful fields.
Transporting their vegetables to the market. If I’d been at home, I would have bought a ton.
As it got warmer on the ride, more people hung out the side of the train.
This is Danyingon Station. There was a huge mix of people selling their fruits and vegetables at the little makeshift market and others who were waiting to put their fruits and vegetables on the train to sell at other stations or in Yangon.
It was pretty chaotic, people trying to get on the train at Danyingon Station. It seemed like they all wanted to get in the same car.
Some people just handed their wares through the windows to hold a spot until they could get on the train.
It really amazed me that people would bring these huge bundles of fruits and vegetables onto the train.
Not sure what’s in here, but it sure is a large bundle. It was really neat to see how people would just shuffle themselves and their things around so more people could fit. Nobody got in fights. Nobody complained. They all just worked together to make sure everyone could get on the train. Kinda cool.
More people selling fruits and vegetables. These women here are wearing Thanaka Paste. It’s used to protect the skin and some women do some really neat designs.
It was fun watching these two separate and bundle plants. After I took this picture, the guy behind them just sat and stared at me. It was a little weird, but that ended up being a typical thing. Many of the rural villagers don’t see a lot of white people, so it’s a bit of a novelty to them.
Train vendor selling packaged cigarettes (for foreigners and ‘wealthy’ locals) and betel nut cigarettes. Behind the row of square tins is a flat surface with betel tree leaves. Inside the square tins is a slaked lime paste (calcium hydroxide mixed with water). He rubs the paste on the leaves and then takes the small circle tins behind the packaged cigarettes and sprinkles the tobacco on the paste and rolls the leaf into a cigarette. The ‘cigarettes’ aren’t smoked, but chewed on, similar to chewing tobacco.
Women waiting for the train. Squatting is how Asians sit when there aren’t chairs. Behind the women are two jugs with cups on top. Under the cups are plates that cover the opening to a communal water jug. That is what the locals use as a drinking fountain.
More pastries filled with meat.
Getting back into Yangon. This is what a lot of the buildings look like.
Last station before the end. These two were just so adorable. It was fun watching them tease each other.
Working hard to fix the railroads.
There are even small rice fields on the outskirts of Yangon.
Obligatory selfie after finishing our 3-hour journey. It was so much fun!
These girls were hilarious. We were taking a selfie after the train ride and the girl in blue kept asking us to kiss and requesting us to take more photos of each other and them. It was pretty funny. Most people only knew enough English to barter, but these girls were able to have a decent conversation with us. They wanted to know where we were from, what brought us to Myanmar, if we liked the train and how long we were visiting for. They were nice girls.
See the little boy in green? He followed us from the station all the way back to our hotel. I kept trying to get photos of him, but he was so sneaky.
That’s some awesome multi-tasking. Talking, laughing, holding a baby and balancing a bag on your head.
Nice little book market on the street. It was fun watching people leaf through different books, laugh at something and then grab another book.
Harry Potter has made it to Myanmar.
This lady did say we could take a photo, I promise. She laughed after we took a photo. The little boy stared at us like that the entire time we were there.
This is the best I got of our little stalker. I did talk to him a couple of times. Sort of. He didn’t speak English, but we pantomimed. I had more cookies and gave him a package and he seemed a little disappointed. When I finished a water bottle I remembered seeing kids pulling water bottles out of the trash, so I asked if he wanted it. Seriously, that kid was so excited about it! An empty water bottle! But families there either recycle the bottles or fill them up with water and sell them to others, so it’s a good way for them to make money. We went through our backpacks and pulled out all of our empty bottles from the day and he was just so happy. lol.
But not happy enough to let me have a decent photo. lol
How to get there: The train departs from Yangon Central Railroad Station, which is roughly 10 minutes north of the Sule Pagoda when walking. We walked there and it was easy to find. Taxis can take you straight there if you don’t want to walk. Tickets can be purchased at Platform 7.
Operating hours: First train departs at 6:10am and the last train departs at 2:25pm. Trains leave from either Platform 6 or Platform 7. The attendant will tell you which one when you purchase your ticket. Each full circuit lasts 3 hours. If you plan on getting off at a station, add however many minutes it is between when your train departed and the next train after it will depart.
Price: 300 Kyats ($0.30) if you look like a local, 1100 Kyats ($1.00) if you look like a foreigner
NOTE: There are no toilets on board, so use the restroom before you go. Also, the trains don’t always depart on schedule. Some leave a little early and some leave a little late. I’d recommend arriving 30 min before your departure time. And bring your own water. Sometimes locals sell unopened bottles, but sometimes they sell used bottles that have been refilled with tap water. And I’d recommend the non-air-conditioned seats. Those you are able to lean out the doors and windows. The air conditioned cars have fairly dirty windows that are closed the entire time and isn’t it just more fun to be able to lean out the window and watch the world go by?