NOTE: If you’re interested, I added some photos and two new videos to the Snorkeling Trip post…
(Written on the train earlier today…)
It’s now about 9:30am Saturday morning and I’m on the train from Hat Yai to Bangkok. We were supposed to arrive at 10am but we just experienced a 2-hour delay, sitting on the tracks at a small station perhaps 150 miles south of Bangkok (a total guess: I wish I had brought a map!) Apparently, there was an accident ahead or some trouble with the tracks. I get very little information except through the kindness of fellow Thai passengers who speak a little English and I suspect they may not really know much either. It seemed for a while that we might be here for quite a while and some passengers had already departed the train to look for alternative forms of transport to their destinations. But, just as I began writing this, the train resumed its northward journey.
I am in first-class which means that, during the day, I share a cabin with one other person and, during the night, when the bench seat is converted into a “bunk bed”, he/she sleeps on the top (upper berth) and I on the bottom (lower berth.) The cabin has an electric outlet, a sink and and air-conditioner (though it doesn’t work real well) but the toilets are down the hall. The first class cabins are not fully-booked so I have had this cabin to myself all night. The bed is quite comfortable and I did sleep several hours but I guess the situation is just a little too unusual for me to relax and sleep well. In between bouts of sleep, I noticed the train often slowed and even stopped during the night. Part of the reason for this must be the fact that, in some stretches, only a single track is shared by all northbound and southbound trains, hence they take turns using these stretches.
Yesterday, the minivan from Pak Bara dropped me directly at the train station in Hat Yai. I had about 4 hours before the train left so I had a quick Chinese lunch and then a latte and banana muffin at Starbucks. Using the Starbucks WIFI, I was able to upload the additional snorkeling photos and video.
At the Hat Yai train station information desk, the young lady spoke English and told me she “thought” my train (#38) would arrive at platform #3. To get to platform 3, you must walk across the tracks for platforms 1 and 2, so I was a bit worried that if the train arrived at platform 1 or 2, I would be on the wrong side for boarding it. I tried to get corroboration from others about the correct arrival platform but proficient English speakers were not to be found. I asked a group of young boys who were apparently members of a football team to help me and they really wanted to help. But mostly they competed with each other to look at my ticket and argued with each other about what it meant in English. They were nice young men and I wished them well on their football match.
By the time the train arrived, it seemed very likely that 3 was the correct platform as that was where most people were gathering. As I waited there a man asked me where I was going and I told him Bangkok – he asked to look at my ticket and, seeing that it was car #2, he said (via sign/body language) that I better start moving north on the platform as my car would be near the front of the train. I thanked him and started moving in that direction but hadn’t made it very far when the train came to a stop at the platform. I saw a “2” on the side of a car so I got onboard. There were already many people sitting in their seats with bags protruding into the narrow aisles and getting all my bags through them was difficult. When I found my seat (#12) it was occupied so I asked for help and some nice young ladies told me that this was car #5 and that I would need to keep moving forward to get to car #2. After quite a struggle, I made it into car #2, which was dramatically different than the others I had seen. It turns out that the “2” I saw on the side of the car I first entered meant “second class” and my ticket was in first-class. Such a major difference in accomodations! My cabin here is almost the width of the train car, leaving room only for a narrow aisle along one side of the train.
(written this evening after arrival in Bangkok)
The train arrived in Bangkok’s classic Hua Lamphong railway station about 3:30, about 5 and a half hours late. Altogether I was on the train for 21.5 hours. It is a long way: almost 600 miles according to Google. But Google also estimates it to be between 10 and 11 hours in duration. I think the infrastructure for the railway is not good and that is adding to how slow things are moving. The glamour of travel by train has lost its allure for me now, by the time we got here I just wanted to get off that train!
It was fun having a first-class cabin to myself and to see some of the countryside during the daylight hours but, next time, I would fly from Hat Yai to Bangkok 🙂
I’m now in the Cozy Bangkok Place hostel very near the train station and it’s probably the nicest place I’ve stayed. Although I’m on the 3rd floor (:-() I had forgotten that this is a private room… hooray!! (and still only about $13 for the night!)
Tomorrow I’ll fly to Chiang Mai which is about 450 miles north of here (glad I didn’t reserve a train!) and I’ll be there for 4 nights.