For less than one US dollar you can experience the true essence of local life in Yangon as you travel for three hours through the city’s rural landscape. While the city is a fast-paced, chaotic city to get lost in, riding the Yangon Circular Train provides a window into the daily routine of the Myanmar people away from the commercial centre of the country.
Wondering what to do in Yangon? Then book out a day for this chaotic adventure. Officially known as the Yangon Circular Railway and more affectionately as the Yangon Circle Line Train, it is a rite of passage to complete this fascinating journey loop. I immediately knew I had to get on board.
When you arrive at Yangon Train Station, train guards will immediately point you in the right direction of the tourist ticket booth as you pass through the aged platforms, rusting antiquated trains and families sleeping rough on any spare space available.
With handwritten train schedules, passenger lists listed in old paper books and a hand-scribbled map of the circle line train stations, sitting in the office is like stepping back in time as your vintage looking ticket is neatly inscribed and you are walked across the tracks to the appropriate platform ready for the ride.
The minty green train carriage rocks and rumbles as you slowly make your way through 45.9 kilometres of the track via 39 stations which form a loop around Yangon city. Stopping at each and every station for only a minute or two, people clamber on to the circle train with only seconds to spare, lugging on more belongings than you can squeeze into an average sized car boot. The train returns back to Yangon’s city station before making the same journey over and over again throughout the day, until the early afternoon.
The more stations you pass, the more the landscape changes from city concrete to paddy fields and rustic villages, and the more passengers the train picks up. This is, after all, one of the main and cheapest forms of transportation for the populace.
Local ladies sit peacefully with their plastic baskets (one of whom gave me a lollypop in the same manner in which your grandma would kindly give you a sweet to appease you on a long train journey), monks peacefully stare out the window, eager food and drink vendors wander the carriage trying to rapidly quench the hunger and thirst of every passenger and many people are quick to sit next to you just to strike up a conversation. You will be possibly the only or one of the few foreigners they have ever had contact with.
Later on, as you make the approach to the market towns, locals may jump on with a bundle of 20 live chickens, tied up and ready for sale, tucked neatly under the seat for safekeeping until they arrive at their destination of slaughter. Huge white sacks full of fresh food products are heaped amongst the people like a vegetable garden, while the train guard sits idly watching the commotion in his reserved spot at the back.
Your senses are on overload in the carriage, while your eyes also want to divert to the tranquil countryside outside of it. You relax for a few moments in the calm that sometimes passes through the carriage yet you watch eagerly for the next commotion to unfold.
Before you know it, the train pulls into its next stop and the theatre stage your carriage has become in swapped for a new scene, as a whole new set of mysterious baggage and new characters enter for the next leg of the journey.
The three-hour journey on the Yangon Circular Train was maybe a little too long, especially as you are sitting on a hard seat, and the final hour can seem painfully slow. Yangon time is a long time.
However, the journey on the Circle Line of Yangon is itself unique, not only because you get to interact with the locals and witness their daily routine, but because this really is an intrepid adventure in the big city, and the best value you’ll get from just one dollar in the city.
Things to Know About Riding the Yangon Circular Train
- The Yangon Circular Train departs daily from Yangon Central Railway Station from 8:30 am and departs every 45 minutes to an hour, from platforms 6 and 7. Passports are required in order to purchase your ticket.
- The price for a single journey loop ticket on the Yangon Circular Train is around 200 – 500 Kyat (20 to 60 US cents).
- Plan the train journey as a day trip from Yangon, given that you need time to get to and from the station, take on the three-hour journey and have time to spare for any delays. The Myanmar railway is an old institution and far beyond the romantic images of the Orient Express.
- If you don’t want to ride the full loop you can still ride the train five or 10 stations and get a taster of the experience. Simply jump off at your chosen station, cross to the other side of the platform in the direction of Yangon and head straight back.
- When is the best time to take the train? It’s best to head out in the morning around 10 am (as it can be crowded in the early morning with locals commuting to work), and noon to early afternoon to avoid the late afternoon rains that occur often in Yangon.
- Support locals and purchase snacks, fruits and other treats throughout the journey. Bottled water is also available. In short, you don’t really need to bring anything with you.
- Want to find more adventures on the Myanmar railway?
- READ MORE: Riding the Highest Railway Bridge in Myanmar about crossing the Goteik Viaduct.
- Looking for more information on travelling in Myanmar? READ MORE: Complete Myanmar Travel Guide.