The Adventure South
Thailand is an amazing, friendly and very inexpensive country to visit and I believe a little knowledge goes a long way. If you haven’t read Thailand Journey And Tips Part 1 then it might be a good idea to start there as well as offering you tips to make your visit to Thailand easier I am recalling my experiences from my current visit.
The story so far….
Hua Lamphong station is the main railway station in Bangkok and is run by Thailand State Railway, for me it reminds me of why I travel and brings back memories of all those Michael Palin episodes I watched and books I read. The station isn’t modern but it’s efficient and has an atmosphere all to itself, this is real travel.
I already had my ticket as a lot of the trains will sell out before the day of travel, especially if you’re going a long way. My train journey was to be 840 KM and 15 hours, so I didn’t want to be sat on a wooden bench. You can book tickets online but not through the Thailand State Railway website, you have to book through an agent who will send someone to the station to book you a ticket and then you can collect the ticket when you get to the station, all you do is hand in the receipt from the agent. It works but I’m always a little nervous about it, so I just buy a ticket myself and if there is a 3 day wait, I’ll go and explore Bangkok for 3 days. In Thailand, slow is the norm and it can be a bit stressful for someone from the West who is used to expecting things instantly.
I arrived at Hua Lamphong station with 3 hours to spare, I checked the departure board for my train, number 83 from platform 10. I located platform 10 before heading to dunkin donuts for a cold drink and yes, a donut. I went to sit upstairs above dunkin donuts as it’s a great place to people watch. Also if you sit in the right place you can see the departure board.
Hua Lamphong station has food stalls, a supermarket and coffee kiosks. There is a left luggage close to the main entrance, so if you have a few hours to kill you can drop your heavy bags off and explore. The toilets are to the right of the ticket offices and you have to pay about 30 baht, don’t be shocked if you go into the men’s and the female cleaner is there, no one seems to bother. Assuming you’re a man. Remember to buy toilet roll first, it’s unlikely there will be any, also I couldn’t find any hand dryers of any kind.
I had about an hour to go before my train was due to leave so headed for the supermarket, I recommend you buy everything you need for the journey. Toilet roll, water, snacks and something sensible to eat for dinner and breakfast. I actually bought what I needed but still fell for buying food on the train, which proved to be a big mistake. Shopping done and 45 minutes to go I went to board the train, it was happily sat there on platform 10 but I couldn’t board immediately because it was being washed. There was about 20 people with buckets, brushes and squeezes giving the train a good old scrub, it was fun to watch as the train is so old I’m sure all this scrubbing causes bits to fall off.
Read your ticket carefully and locate the car number and room number, I was a bit nervous because I had booked a first class sleeper ticket on the overnight train, this was to save me paying for a hotel room. The ticket had car 13 room 4 lower bunk on it and I was worried that I would be sharing the room, not so it’s to let the Porter know which bed to make up. I say check your ticket because you can’t always walk along inside the train, especially first class because it’s a completely separate carriages with its own staff.
Once my luggage and myself were aboard I settled in, this is where you may get caught off guard, I’ve done this journey twice before and this time I got stung. Two women in State Railway uniforms knocked on my cabin door and asked to see my ticket, I complied as they had uniform on. They then produced a menu and asked what I wanted, I initially said I was okay for food but they didn’t go away, in fact the young pretty one sat right next to me. She the went through the set meals on the menu, the menu has prices on and it’s not that expensive, more expensive than the supermarket or any kiosk in the station but it is first class. I picked one didn’t I and as soon as I did they said 2 hours and vanished, I hadn’t paid so I wasn’t worried but they didn’t leave the menu.
I settled down again, the cabin is small but adequate it has a bench covered in fake leather, a sink, air conditioning that I couldn’t switch off, a bottle of water and a plastic cup. Just above the door to the right was a plug socket which I was excited about as all my devices needed charging. The plug socket was slightly charred and my adapter kept falling out and sparks flew when it did, I managed to wedge the plug in the socket and put my gadgets in the basket next to the socket. I think this basket is for your stuff if you are sleeping in the top bunk.
I think I’ve already told you about the amazing 4G sim card I bought but I decided to do a live Facebook broadcast from the train and wow! I was amazed at how well it worked. After my appearance on Facebook TV the Kray sisters arrived with my food, it was lovely, hot, a little spicy and at first I thought the soup was one of those finger bowls you get when you order seafood but no it was soup, I hope.
An hour later the big burly Kray sister turned up to collect the plates and asked for payment and stupidly I fell for it, she showed my the amount which was written in her notebook, she didn’t say or ask anything, just showed me, I didn’t think anything of it but I should have because written down was 540 baht, that’s unbelievably expensive. I guess she didn’t say anything to have some forms of plausible deniability if I complained. I Paid, she scarpered and about 30 mins later it hit me, I had been ripped off, not a good feeling but I did plan my revenge, sort of. I had ordered breakfast and would eat it and refuse to pay, it worked but with a twist.
The Porter arrived to make up my bed, I stepped out, nipped to the loo and on my return the bench was converted into 2 bunk beds, the lower bunk was made up and the upper proved ideal to lay out my phones, tablet and GoPro whilst I charged them. The sun was setting so I watched the sunset and got under my blanket.
Sleeping on a moving train travelling at 86 km then 4 km then 86 km again followed by a sudden stop or three, is, well weird, you think you’ve slept but the next day you realise you didn’t. I had nodded off, I’m known for being able to sleep in odd places and at precisely 3am my adapter fell out of the plug socket and bounced across the floor, I thought the train had crashed, I even checked outside the window, by the time I had figured out what it was I was awake and needed the loo. Once again bring toilet roll, there are 2 toilets in first class, a non western toilet and a western toilet which is also the shower room. How someone showers in a room that small is beyond me, I figured out you would have to leave your clothes in your cabin, close the lid and stand on the lid whilst moving the shower head around to wash, I’ve no idea how you would apply soap without falling off the toilet.
I think I managed to fall asleep again because at 06:00 there was a loud knock on my door, the pretty Kray sister had brought me breakfast. Why so early I said, “Trang 1 hour” she replied, a complete lie Trang was in fact nearly 3 hours later. What I ate for breakfast would ruin my day, luckily I had bought a new loo roll, enough said.
I pulled myself together, decided not to attempt to shave on a rickety train, so clean my teeth and tidied up my belongings after all I thought Trang was less than an hour away. The Porter arrived at 08:00 to put my bed away, so I went for a walk along the train only to discover you are locked into the first class carriage. I returned to my perfect cabin and sat there staring out of the window for the next 2 hours wondering where Trang had got to. The ugly Kray sister turned up and asked me to pay for breakfast and I flatly refused pointing out I had paid 540 baht the night before, as soon as I said no, she very sheepishly apologised for asking and retreated, I bet she still made a nice few baht for herself. I lay down on the fake leather-covered bench and started to fall asleep when the Porter return along the corridor shouting “Trang”.
I knew Trang was the end of the line so didn’t rush getting off the train until the Porter appeared, picked up my bag and got off the train, it’s amazing how quickly you’ll follow your luggage. The platform was awash with tuk tuk drivers and people wanting to help you with your ongoing travel arrangements. I was just heading straight out of the station and across the road to KK Travel. I have used KK before and trusted them to get me to Koh Lanta. The last time I went on a speedboat but because it’s low season I’m going by minibus. I paid my 280 baht, hey! Cheaper than my food on the train!
I had 30 minutes to wait, which is remarkable as usually you wait for the bus to fill up and then go but there was no sign of a minibus so I thought maybe 30 mins until the bus appears and then we’ll see. So I went next door for a coffee followed by a walk round the square outside the railway station. The last time I was here there was a big supermarket on the corner, today it’s just a pile of burnt rubble.
I sat outside KK Travel until the owner told me to get in his pickup truck as he was going to take me to Trang bus station where I was introduced to my driver. I then only had to wait about 45 minutes before we set off and the minibus wasn’t even full, low season then. Trang bus station is a major hub to get around south Thailand, you can go to most islands and Krabi from there, the public toilets are 30 baht (take loo roll).
The journey to Koh Lanta was a bumpy one with a few stops to pick up people and drop others off. Lots of the highways are being worked on and I guessed everyone was getting ready for the tourist season again. You still have to get 1 car ferry to Koh Lanta but since building the road bridge between the North Island and the South you no longer have to wait for the second car ferry, in the height of the season you could easily have waited a few hours, luckily no more.
Arriving in Saladan the main town in the North of the South Island I was shocked, everything was closed or appeared closed. Low season in Koh Lanta is deadly quiet there is very little open and very little to do, if the weather is on your side then sunbathing, hitting the beach or scuba diving is possible. Food is always available and delicious but finding accommodation on the fly is not. I jumped on a tuk tuk and went to my last apartment, it was all locked up with no one in sight. The tuk tuk driver was good he waited and took me back to Saladan where I went into Santorini restaurant for a cold drink and a search on Google Maps, I even tried several guest houses which Google said were open but they were closed.
The owner of Santorini was very helpful and sent a member of his staff out to find me a room. They came back with the owner of a new guest house called La Chambre, I checked in for 2 weeks. It’s a bit more than I budgeted for but when everywhere else is closed!
I contacted the guys from the dive school to see if they had any alternatives and Alison came up with a few further down the island but I was committed and in my new room. La Chambre is a good choice if you want a room near the river in Saladan it’s behind Blue Planet Diving and close, very close to everything else. It has a modern practical design, no carpets and grey patterned walls. Practical because if you’ve been to the Beach all day then a carpet is the last thing you want. The bathroom is a wet room, tiled throughout with a good shower. The water pressure here is nothing like back home so do not expect a power shower. Liquid soap is provided and I had some loo roll but don’t count on that. There’s a big double bed an awesome Internet connected TV, air conditioning, fridge and a table but no chair. The base of the bed is concrete and the plug sockets are halfway up the walls so I would say this room is designed to stand some flooding.
The local area has everything you need from restaurants along the Klong (river) which always seem like the owners live on site, shops, markets, plenty of Dive Centres and the good old seven eleven supermarkets. You’ll find 7 / 11’s all over Thailand.
In my next blog post I’ll go through various smart phone Apps which will help you get around and make some new friends as well as capture some memories.
I think it’s now a given, carry your own loo roll.
Left luggage is cheap, even if you’re staying in the station and sleeping.
Stock up on water and snacks before boarding the train.
Avoid the Kray sisters, well make sure you have agreed a price on train food.
1 st class sleeper is your own cabin, no visitors allowed.
You can track your progress using a smart phone.
When the train stops at a station, food vendors will visit your cabin.
Leaving Bangkok the train will keep stopping, no wonder it takes 15 hours.
Gaffa or cloth tape is handy for sticking your plug in the socket.
I use a multi USB charger because usually there is only 1 plug socket
Have a travel sink plug, it’ll come in handy.
You may need a jumper if the air conditioning is stuck on.
Like photography? Take a huge SD card you’re going to need it*
*Although several small ones are good too, because if you get a corrupt card you don’t lose all your photos.
So,that’s part 2 I will continue with an update and more tips soon. Thanks for your support, keep reading.
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