As some reading this would know, as I have no real hurry to be anywhere, I prefer the slow travel options when it is available, it gives me more time to relax, read, and see the countryside – that and I prefer to book my travel on day of departure rather than to plan anything. Generally this means trains due to the fact that they have more room, can often have beds, and usually have some form of bathroom + food on board.
Having acquired my 60 day Thai Visa in Penang it was now time to head into Thailand itself. I plan on spending most of my time in the quieter parts of Thailand, but first of all I’m going to hit the capital, Bangkok to catch up with friends.
I did a bit of research after reading The Man in Seat 61 before hand and knew roughly what to do. To get my tickets it was a simple case of walking from my hostel in Love Lane, Georgetown to the ferry terminal, and catching a ferry to Butterworth across the harbour. I spent the trip wondering where the tickets were sold, and am still unsure if its free one way and you pay on the return trip. Regardless, be prepared to spend a princely sum of 1.20 ringitt each way!
Train tickets were between 104-111 Ringitt one way depending on whether you got the upper or lower bed in the train. Unfortunately for me, all of the next days tickets were sold out, so I ended up staying an additional day in Penang (I guess thats why its called slow travel!) and there were none of the lower beds left (which are bigger) so upper bed it was.
The above is the official timetable from the Thai Railways website, which is in Thai time (1 hour difference from Malaysia) – Even though our train departed late from Malaysia, it still arrived in time in Thailand.
Seats are huge, if you can try and get a seat near the very front or very back of the carriage and a bottom bunk. The bottom bunks are much larger (though the top is still adequate) as these are within reach of a power point for charging your phone/laptop etc. The power points on the train take the European sockets.
The train takes around 3 or 4 hours to get to the Thai border crossing which is a quick and painless process, I’m not sure whether you are supposed to take your bags into customs or not, we didn’t appear to go through any customs checkpoints – just immigration.
There is food available on the train (once your cross the border into Thailand) which can be purchased using either Malaysian Ringitt or Thai Baht (prices are slightly cheaper in Baht) but the food isn’t exactly good value for money when compared to prices in Thailand.
After dinner a staff member comes and resets the seats into the bunks for the night, where you have much more room than a European sleeper train (two rather than 3 bunks per side, and much larger as well). It does get VERY cold on the train as their aircon is turned up – I ended up using my Merino thermal top for warmth – a first in SE Asia. You are provided with all your bedding so you don’t even need a sleeping bag or pillow.
The tracks aren’t in as good condition in Thailand compared to Malaysia, so the train ride can get a bit bumpy and a lean on, but its still pretty relaxing. I managed to sleep through most of the night – which isn’t normal for me on these sort of journeys.
We arrived in Bangkok on time at 10:30 am Thailand time and went straight for the food court in the train station, which you need to purchase vouchers (at 40 baht per meal) and of course, I had my first Pad Thai (of many) in Thailand.
All in all it was the most comfortable train journey I’ve had (having traveled long distance trains in Croatia, Bosnia, Germany, France, Austria and Poland so far) and definately my preferred way to travel still.
Taxi’s are dirt cheap in Bangkok once you take into account the exchange rate, you can get almost anywhere for 50-100 baht which is around $2-4 NZD for up to an hours taxi journey, but many taxi drivers don’t know where they are going so a map or GPS is useful. Always use the meter as it is cheaper than whatever “off the meter” rate the friendly taxi driver will “negotiate” for the new Foreigner. If they won’t use the meter hop out and go to a new taxi.