Leaving Bangkok for South Thailand

The next part of our trip is to head South and experience some of the beautiful islands off the coasts of the southern Thailand peninsular. A budget-conscious way of travelling through the country is to use the national rail service.

Buying train tickets is not really possible online. We found a really great website that was able to inform us everything we needed to know about Thai rail travel – seat61.com. We knew that we could probably find a ticket agent, who would be able to purchase our tickets for us and even have them couriered to our hotel or departure station, however this would all cost extra, so we decided that to go in person to Bankok’s main rail station – HuaLamphong   –IMG_6040 to see what we could sort out.

The rail station is easy to find and linked to the underground metro station of the same name. Lots of buses from across the city and outside of Bangkok also start and terminate at the station. IMG_6038On reaching the vast entrance, we were approached by many touts asking if we needed a Tuk-Tuk or taxi ride. We didn’t find these guys rude or aggressive; our experience is they leave you alone to find another fare, as long as you firmly say ‘No’, and walk away.

Staff at the station were great. we were met by the ticket office by a uniformed official, who asked us what we needed and where we planned to go. She then told us the train number we would need for Chumphon and the train times operating each day. She then put us in line to buy our ticket from a semi- English-speaking Thai Rail sales guy.

It’s important to note that you need your passport number to buy train tickets, as its included on the ‘passenger details’ section of the printed tickets (see photo).

IMG_6140

The chap selling our tickets was very thorough, double-checking the date and times with us several times, to ensure he booked everything correctly. On asking our onward plans, he also explained that it would be cheaper to buy our ferry ticket to the island of Kao Tao with our train ticket, as the fare would work out cheaper and we would avoid additional fees and paying commission if bought via a ticket agent. The ferry ticket was an open-style ticket with no specific date, so we could still stay in our planned accommodation for a few days before crossing over to Kao Tao, without the hassle of having to organise additional tickets.IMG_6141

On the day of travel, we had to leave our accommodation early – 6.30am – in order to cross the city to get to the train station in good time. This was the first time we’d had to properly “backpack”, carrying our own luggage without the luxury of door-to-door service of a car or taxi! We loaded up and travelled to HuaLamphong via the BTS SkyTrain system and underground Metro. This was pretty tough as we had to contend with commuter rush hour and Thai school children. The trains were very busy and it’s pretty hard to squash into a busy tube carriage with a 14kg backpack, a cuddly monkey and a travel cushion…

Backpacks on, we're ready to go!
Backpacks on, we’re ready to go!

But we did it !

After our early start and rush to arrive on time, the 8.05am, number 43 Train to Chumphon was running late. So far, so British rail!

Once it arrived however, we were soon comfortably seated in our air-conditioned carriage (brrrrr!) and within 15 minutes of boarding, a hostess passed through the carriage providing all passengers with complimentary refreshments; water, juice, tea or coffee, and an unusual green-custard filled Thai bun.

We were even more surprised, when a few hours later, we were presented with lunch, all complimentary and part of the ticket price (about £9)! Beat that British Rail!  The lunch was a bit unusual. I’ve never tried mackerel and papaya soup before (spicy!) or mackerel with salted brown beans (nice when mixed with the Thai  boiled rice). The kids ate their rice without the additions and both said they hoped there would be a McDonalds at our destination…

Four hours into the journey, there was no putting it off: I had to use the loo. I’m sure regular readers of this blog have been worrying about this experience as much as I have. Well, I’m glad to be able to tell you that it was a Western-style toilet. However, my good feelings about this didn’t last long. I have suspicions that the locals using the train had been using this toilet in the manner to how they are usually accustomed – squat-style.

Not a squat toilet
Not a squat toilet

And it seemed that the high-powered jet hose (found next to all Thai toilets) was still the preferred method of cleaning one-self, post-abolutions- despite there being adequate amounts of toilet paper available (the roll had never been used and was still sealed – a rare find even on a British Rail train, I think)!

In a tiny toilet cubicle measuring about 2ft x 2ft, you can only imagine the state of affairs. And I won’t say anymore on the matter.

Having travelled through scenic farmland, past mountains and jungle, we finally arrived, just slightly behind schedule, in Chumphon.

And this is where the next part of our adventure begins!

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