Yangon’s “circle line” or “ring train”, circumnavigates Myanmar’s largest city, on a 46 Kilometer, 39 station route that connects Yangon’s satellite towns. The system is heavily utilized by the local populace, selling about 150,000 tickets daily, providing cheap transportation for Burmese and an interesting and engaging cultural immersion for the few intrepid adventurers who hop aboard. The ring train is also a unique opportunity for those interested in “visual story telling”. It costs just one US dollar for foreign nationals and 200 Kyats (about 23 cents) for locals.
Several times a day, the ring train departs from Yangon’s central railway station and slowly proceeds along its three-hour circle route of Yangon, stopping frequently to pick up and deposit passengers on its many stops.
The train cars are old and weathered, not unlike many of the elderly passengers who sit on the hard wooden benches chanting mantras and counting Buddhist prayer beads. Inside the train cars, bits of trash and discarded produce litter the floor. There’s a constant click-clack sound from the iron rails along with conversations and the chatter of vendors who board and de-board, selling all sorts of snacks and the ubiquitous beetle nut that many chew. The windows have neither glass, nor bars, and the breeze that flows through them provides little relief from the stifling, midday, tropical heat and humidity of a late August afternoon in southern Myanmar.
While the ring train lacks any of the creature comforts, it abounds in photographic possibilities. Along with the constantly changing scenery outside, passengers of all ages, shapes and sizes come and go, providing an endless source of photographic inspiration. As with all Burmese, folks on the train are most welcoming and happy to see a “foreigner” among the passengers. All were happy to hear a westerner greet them with a terribly mispronounced version of “mingalabar”, the typical Burmese greeting, followed by a halting, English/Burmese “sign language” conversation. And after such introductions, most were delighted to have their photos taken.
I cannot recommend this railway experience highly enough for those of you who might travel to Myanmar, and so, I’ll wet your appetite with a short 1 minute and 24 second slide show, which includes 28 images and a sound file that I collected during the three-hour journey. Just click the photo above to start.