“Yangon Central Railway Station”

Yangon, Myanmar. November 2019. (12 photos)

This is Part 2 of my posts about Myanmar, and Part 3 of my posts about my near month-long visit to Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore in November 2019.

The Yangon Circular Railway is the local commuter rail network that serves the Yangon area. It’s a 46 kilometre 39 station loop system that connects satellite towns and suburban areas to the city. The entire loop takes about three hours to complete. A ticket for the entire loop costs 200 kyat, approximately 20 US cents, government subsidised to be deliberately cheap as the line is used by up to 150,000 people per day, mostly of lower-income by Burmese standards.

As with any train trip, the experience begins at the train station. Above is the Yangon Central Railway Station first built in 1877 by the British. However the station became a favourite target for Japanese bombers during World War II. In 1943 it was ultimately destroyed by British forces retreating to India as the Japanese forces advanced. The current station is designed in traditional Burmese architectural style, making prominent use of indigenous tiered roofs called pyatthat, and was completed in 1954. The Yangon Central Railway Station has been designated a landmark building since 1996.

“Taking the shopping home”

This is a very common sight in Myanmar, women carrying shopping on their head, particularly so at the train station. Waiting for about 30 minutes for my train was enough to convince me to come back to Yangon Central Railway Station a couple of days later, just to observe and photograph local life for about 3 hours.

But on this day, I was here to catch a train.

There are only two tracks for the Yangon Circular Railway, one for each direction. Trains are relic ex Japan Rail carriages and the average train speed is only about 15kph, or 9.5mph. Yangon has a hot humid climate, but it wasn’t a particular surprise that the trains have no air-conditioning. But the doorways of the carriages have no doors which means you can hang out of the train and catch a soft breeze to your heart’s content. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

“Food vendor”

Vendors patrol up and down the train carriages regularly, mostly selling food/meals, although I did see a vendor selling sunglasses, and another selling chewing tobacco. Balanced on the above woman’s head is a tray with the ingredients needed to make her particular meal specialty.

“Train life”

“A moving feast”

If you’re hungry, you signal the vendor to come over. They set their stool down, sit, take the tray off their head, and assemble your meal right in front of you. Most people seemed to eat immediately on the train.

Judging by the number of women with kitchens on their head parading up and down the train, the Burmese must get very hungry on trains.

“Going nowhere slowly”

Above is the front carriage and you can see the front is open. The driver is sitting in the booth on the left. His assistant is sitting in front of the door. As I mentioned, the trains travel slowly – through the open door you can see a guy walking on the tracks right in front of the train. I went up to the assistant and asked if I could stand at the door to take photos – his big smile let me know he had no problem with that.

Myanmar only opened up to tourism recently. As such, foreigners are still a novelty to many, particularly away from the tourist areas. Three of the people in the photo above took selfies with me.

“Monk’s laundry and bathing house”

I got off the train twice, and at this rural location I took a long walk, eventually finding myself in a shanty-style village with a local monastery. The building with religious script on the walls is the bathing and laundry house for the local monks. Soon, a small crowd of locals gathered around me. I posed for the obligatory selfies with those who had cameraphones, including monks, something that I would have to repeat several times more during my stay in Myanmar.

“Meanwhile, back at the local train station”

Indeed, this is the train station and you can see the women with sacks, their shopping for the day, waiting for the train to arrive.

“All aboard!”

The train arrives and everyone gets ready to climb on board, and at this station you really do need to physically climb on board. Trains only stop for a few seconds at some stations, and longer at others. It’s a well practiced routine – people help each other with those multiple large sacks of shopping get on and off the train as quickly as possible.

“Wait for me”

“The ride home”

When you (deliberately) get on last, as I did, you tend to get stuck behind all the shopping. Unbelievably, the shopping sacks are no obstacle to those food vendors with a mini kitchen balanced on their head who continue to walk up and down the train…

“Coming through”


This is Part 2 of my posts about Myanmar, and Part 3 of my posts about my month-long visit to Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore in November 2019.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

The Yangon Circular Railway


62 thoughts on “The Yangon Circular Railway

    • Thanks, Myanmar society revolves around markets and street food, so it’s no surprise to see that happening on the trains as well. It was more of an experience than any other local train ride I’ve taken. I enjoyed it.

  1. Wow. I really have to stop complaining about the β€œhassle” of driving to the store to get groceries. I can’t imagine trying to balance them on my head and lug them on a train home. (Though, living in Chicago, I did experience trains and walking to a store with a little wheelie cart to shop.) Somehow, that still seems like a luxury in comparison. I enjoy seeing where you go and what you find there!

  2. I think I have never seen this side of Yangon before. By taking this train, you don’t have to go to any street market. There is already one on board πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing these unique photos!

    • It’s very much a market oriented society. Entire streets become street markets daily. When stopped in traffic, vendors come up to your window. On the trains, and at the station, street food is everywhere.

  3. J.D. Riso says:

    No wonder you returned to just hang around and photograph the station. So much vibrant life in motion. I bet the train rides were just as fascinating as the destinations. No selfie of you hanging out the door? πŸ˜‰

    • The whole experience was well worth the 20 US cents equivalent it cost me. πŸ™‚ Such a great theatre of life on show. Even the things you see out the window. Yes, selfies taken but I won’t darken this site with those images. πŸ™‚

  4. Wow, food prepared right in front of you. Not something you would see happening here. Even in First Class the food is prepped and brought out…not that I have ever flown in that section.
    I’ve often wondered about street, in this case train, photography for candid inconspicuousness. I have a friend who carries his camera on his belt and clicks from there. That’s something i don’t have to worry about with my subjects. πŸ™‚

    • I was very pleased when a couple of people near me ordered food and I could watch it being prepared. Not the sort of thing you encounter in the modern Western world. The train ride was a great experience.

      On the train I used a manual focus prime lens and preset the zone focus distance. Then just shoot. Easy.

  5. I’m kind of glad I wasn’t born Burmese. I’d never manage to tote that lot on my head. And woe betide anyone I was serving! That trayload would end up in someone’s lap, for sure 😦 😦 Looks a fascinating experience, Draco.

  6. I am gaga for train travel and managed to get the Captain to ride many of the trains in Myanmar, but I failed to get him to take this one. Delighted to experience the ride virtually through your lens, The food vendor images say it all as does the monks laundry. I love that the locals were asking you to pose of selfies. While we’ve experienced such requests in many places around the globe, the selfie bug hadn’t taken hold at the time of our visit. Looking forward to more.

  7. Great photos and colors! I was on a train in Peru once and a woman came through with roasted guinea pigs lying on their backs with their little legs sticking up in the air. I didn’t buy one. I would prefer the looks of the food on your train!

    • Thanks. I think you made the right choice about those roasted guinea pigs. I only ate Burmese meals the whole time I was in Myanmar and didn’t get sick. But I was careful about what I chose.

    • This train ride was on my first full day in Myanmar, so I deferred on eating anything not cooked to my satisfaction. It might have been different if it was last day there, though. The food smelled good.

  8. The ladies there must have great posture and strong necks. It’s amazing how adaptive people can be. (And unfortunate how often people choose not to be adaptive.)

  9. What an experience it must have been! It was a joy travelling with you through your lovely photographs. I can only imagine all the stories that accompanies those selfies that were taken with you. πŸ˜‰

  10. I saw the photo with the front of the trainset in my WordPress feed, noticed the Japan Railway logo and thought “Whoa, Japan’s really gone wild lately”. Then I read the title and I knew I was in for a great ride. Thanks LD!!!!

The Wood Dragon is listening...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.