Taking an overnight train in Thailand
Or should that be riding the rolling coffin?
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Nakhon Si Thammarat to visit my lovely lady's family after a wonderful holiday in Phuket. It's a nice and peaceful area, albeit not much to do as I've said in a previous post.
What shall forevermore stick in my memory, though, is getting back to Bangkok. As was @Derek Hopper's experience here on ajarn.com, we (she) opted for the overnight train, and for whatever reason the "normal" 12-hour train was booked, so we had to get on the sleeper train that left around 3:45 p.m. and arrived at Bang Sue in Bangkok at 7:00 a.m. That's right, just over 15 hours on a train.
It's my understanding that these trains were bought secondhand from Japan, and it shows. Sure, there was air con, and sure there were beds, but we got stuck with top beds (par for the course with sleeper trains) with no windows, right next to the freezing air con vents.
There is an on-board lavatory, which genuinely looks like one you would see in a prison cell. Hey, I've seen the movies... although in all fairness, what more can you expect than a giant filthy hole on something that is moving and swaying and bumping constantly.
I've heard of the recent safety problems on Thai trains, and all fairness I didn't sense any of that. Periodically, armed police would walk by (I guess that's what they are)... and, well, that's GOT to make you feel safe, right?
The only thing I can really compare the experience to is being in a coffin in a freezing hospital room for 15 hours with a bunch of people trying to sell you things. The icing on the cake is the 5:00 a.m. "rush" whereby everyone needs to be roused by yelling attendants (read: scavengers) for sketchy breakfast and instant coffee. Call me hiso, but I've seen the dining cars on these Thai trains, and I'm not that brave.
If you're not a morning person, this train is not for you. Case in point: me.
I've been on many trains in Europe of varying price points, but even the lowest class trains I saw in Italy are a more pleasant experience than this "express" train. I won't quite compare it to the [essentially] cattle cars I've traveled by in Poland, but after 15 hours... it may as well be the same.
I've taken other regional non-air con Thai trains around Bangkok, and at least with those you get what you pay for: less than 100 baht, and a leisurely experience. If the price was 400 baht, I'd probably not be so scarred about it, but at 800 baht each-about the same as an overnight bus from Nakhon or Phuket (12ish hours), and not much less than a plane ticket (45 minutes) if you book in advance- I can wholeheartedly say that I'll never do an overnight train in Thailand again.
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.
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Hostility to inconvenience rises proportionately with age. I would not travel in a train now but in my younger days I have traveled on several dreadful train journeys in various third world locations around the world... and thoroughly enjoyed them... for precisely the reasons that you now loathe them!
By Mark Newman, Thailand (3rd December 2014)
Taking sleepers feels like a rite of passage for farang in Thailand. I've been through the rite and now choose Nok Air or Air Asia. Flying wins hands down on the cost vs time/comfort ratio for me.
By Don, Sunny Nonthaburi (2nd December 2014)
I did the Penang trip in the 90s many times and it was great - most of the time spent in the buffet carriage. There was a different kind of traveler in those days than today, much more adventurous.
Recently I did the overnight to Bangkok from Khon Kaen and it was great - 1st class, my family shared the bunk beds in our own compartment for 1000 baht, much cheaper than the bus and we all got a good sleep. Left KK at 10pm and arrived at 6.20 am.
Take the plane and leave the trains for those who don't moan about everything.
ps, don't go to India, the trains there are wonderful never without a dull moment but you wouldn't like them.
By Johnny, Khon Kaen (2nd December 2014)
Hi Sam. It must be 20 years since I did an overnight journey by sleeper train in Thailand.
Of course back in the early 90's, when you had to do visa runs to Malaysia because it was the only option, trains or buses were your two choices. So most people opted for the slower but safer train journey.
I have fond memories of those long train trips because most of them were made together with a few friends and we had a good laugh. Then I suppose low cost airlines came along and well, there's on;y one choice now in my book.
I remember those early mornings on the train though when everyone would be getting up at the crack of dawn and brushing teeth and washing faces. And you were still 3-4 hours from the Malaysian border!
By Philip, Samut Prakarn (2nd December 2014)