Last month, I had five train journeys which took me on an epic rail voyage from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.
As part of this week-long ride, I had two Second Class train trips with State Railways of Thailand. The first was from one of the southern most cities in Thailand: Hat Yai (E on the map below) 292 kilometres (181 miles) up to Surat Thani (jumping off point for Koh Samui). Scheduled for a 16:23 departure this four-hour eight-minute train journey in Second Class comes with a meal for nine US Dollars! The other Second Class train trip was from the pretty beachside town of Hua Hin (G) to Bang Sue, on the outskirts of Bangkok (H), Thailand’s immense bustling capital. $11.76 bought me a three-hour 44-minute train trip through 222 kilometres (137 miles) of Thai countryside. Food included again!
Next week, I will post about the wonderful First Class Sleeper train trip from Surat Thani to Hua Hin (F to G).
Booking: 6/10 There are a few ways to buy train tickets. One is to rock up to the railway station, not always practical if you want to buy the tickets from outside Thailand. There are travel agents such as the efficient 12Go who will buy the tickets for you and hold them at various counters across the country. There is a very small fee for this convenience. I decided to try the State Railways of Thailand (SRT) brand new on line booking service. I need to qualify “brand new“. SRT has previously added an online booking service –twice. Reportedly, under pressure from the aforementioned travel agents who did not want to lose commission, they quietly dropped the service each time. For the last four years there was no online service. The new State Railways Thailand (SRT) online booking website operates in English and Thai. It is not a totally straightforward website but works nonetheless. NB You can only book for tickets inside 60 days but move quickly as seats sell out on some trains on some lines. There is nothing worse than watching travellers screaming at SRT ticket agents because there are no seats on a particular train. I get embarrassed watching and hearing. First of all, you need to register on the site. The second step is to know which one of the four key Thai Railways lines you are travelling on:
- Northern (Chiang Mai)
- Southern (Hua Hin, Surat Thani and Hat Yai)
- North Eastern to Nong Khia (and Laos)
- Eastern line trains are only third class and not available to be booked on -line.
Thirdly you need to know the order of the stations the train passes through for this is how the stations are listed on the booking site. Not helpful for overseas visitors. Book with the rail map handy. Choosing train time, class of travel and seat is easy after that. Finally, I found that payment did not work with my first Credit card but my second card went through with no problems. I often have this experience with Asian travel sites so no biggie! I always have two cards ready at restaurants, airports, and for websites!
Check in None required. You can track trains in Thailand by train number here or SRT have an app you can download. Both of the trains arrived about 30 minutes after their scheduled departure. My experience is that I have never been on a SRT train that was on time (excluding the Bangkok airport link)
Boarding: 8/10 Station staff were very proactive in asking locals and tourists which carriage they were in and then directing them to the relevant point on the platform before the train arrived. This sped up boarding enormously. European platforms have map diagrams of where the cars stop. This would be helpful in Thailand! The stations have low platforms which means quite a climb to get into a carriage. Staff and other passengers were on hand to help people clamber up and provided assistance with baggage. At both Surat Thani and Hua Hin stations, the trains did not dwell for long. Carriages and seats were clearly labelled. There was the occasional person who had re-seated themselves which entailed some friendly re-arranging. We were welcomed by a pink uniformed crew attendants who seemed very focused on doing a good job to look after passengers.
Departures These were no fuss. The trains simply moved off smoothly. Tickets were checked a few minutes after departure by a smartly uniformed guard.
On Board: 6/10 The trains were diesel railcars with three Second Class carriages. Assembled by Daewoo Heavy Industries of Korea in the mid-1990s, the carriages are showing some wear. Trains are air conditioned with fans as well. We found the climate comfortable. There were 76 seats in the carriage. Leg room is good but I found the seat to be too hard. The seats do recline and they come with tray table and magazine pocket. There are curtains that can be opened and closed at each window. A wrapped blanket was provided at each seat. While the Thai says “blanket”, in English, it was confusingly labelled “towel”. When we got on board each of the two trains, a cleaner was valiantly mopping the floor.On both trips, the cleaner carted away rubbish, mopped floors, cleaned and restocked the lavatories. I have never seen this on another train in the world! Unfortunately, our train also came with cockroaches, an occupational hazard in Thailand!
Lavatories There are two Western style lavatories in each carriage. With the regular cleaning effort, they were not too bad. Like many Asian toilets, they have a nozzle for cleaning up. It had good pressure. Take extra tissue paper as the toilets seemed to run out regularly.
Meals: 7/10 Soon after boarding, our cabin attendant came around with a tray of drinks. There was a choice of a free water or free fizzy orange drink. This was followed by a soybean filled bun. Delicious! Shortly, after that, the meal was distributed. We had a choice of chicken with coconut milk or yellow curry chicken. the meal came with a water and for dessert, a “smiling sweet pastry“! I cannot think of a second class ride anywhere on a train that offers a meal with it. Especially when the ticket costs under $US12! On the Thai Third Class trains, food sellers wander up and down the aisles with snacks, drinks and other goodies. There were few of those on this train. It amazes me that these sellers can board a train, sell several snacks and be off the train before it leaves the station! You can, of course, stock up with plenty of food from one of the outlets at each railway station before boarding! Just watch out for the motorbikes! Entertainment: 3/10 There are three or four power outlets in each carriage (look behind me in the above picture!). People were pretty generous about sharing access to them. There is no wifi, Tv screens or magazines! The The windows give great views of the passing Thai countryside. On my first trip, the woman in front of me closed the curtains so that neither she or I could look out. While she dozed, I subtly pushed the curtain forward so that I got my countryside view and she got her shade! It was very funny. If you have a Thai sim card, all of the carriers seemed to have good coverage along most of the southern rail route with occasional black spots. Otherwise, this is a great opportunity to sit back, and curl up with a book or a stack or postcards or a journal.
Arrival Announcements of approaching stations were quite muted but the cabin attendant personally walked through the car to ensure passengers were ready for their stop. We arrived at Surat Thani on my first journey 54 minutes late. On my second trip, our arrival at Bang Sue was a mere 33 minutes late.This means that the train only lost three minutes over the whole trip from Hua Hin as it was already half an hour late when I joined the train!
My Rating: 67% (3.85 out of 5). A higher result than my third class trip!
About SRT: The State Railway of Thailand is the government-owned rail monopoly in the kingdom of Thailand. It owns 4,070 km (2,530 mi) of track which are split into four lines: Northern, North Eastern, Eastern and Southern. The network serves around 44 million passengers per year. Last week, the Thai Prime Minister sacked the entire SRT board under controversial Section 44 and appointed a new Board. Positives: Meal, Cabin attendant, helpful staff Negatives: Dated trains Would I travel with them again? Yes Related Posts:
- Asia Rail Experience: Journey #1 – Kuala Lumpur to the Malay/Thai Border
- Bucket List Check: 900mi By Train from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok