There’s something unique about long train journeys; a hint of romance, a pinch of nostalgia, visions of The Darjeeling Limited. We decided to ride the rails for the 839km trip from Bangkok to Trang, in Thailand’s far south. It was a beautiful experience that attested to the sentiment ‘it’s as much about the journey as the destination.’
We arrived at the glorious old Bangkok railways station, which unlike the subway or sky train stations, had yet to be upgraded to a sleek modern terminal befitting a modern Asian metropolis. Opened in 1916, the platforms are built around a magnificent central hall, which is also the final stop on the famous Orient Express. The station is due to be decommissioned in 2019 and turned into a museum, which is a shame because it is like stepping back in time into old Siam.
The EX83 overnight train to Trang leaves at 5:05pm each afternoon and it ambles out of the station and through the sprawling outer suburbs of Bangkok. It is slow enough to provide an interesting glimpse into the lives of some of the 8 million Thai who reside in the capital. The city starts to thin out and by the time sun sets you are enjoying stunning views of the rural countryside.
We’d opted for a private cabin, which meant a small room for just the two of us. It had a large couch that converted into bunk beds, a nice big window and a small sink. There were a couple of bathrooms at the end of the carriage, which was the very last one. It was large enough for us to sprawl out and was kind of exciting to have our own space!
Alcohol is prohibited on the train after unnamed ‘past incidents’, though not long after we pulled out of the city a vendor banged on the door ostensibly to sell us some packaged dinners. With a quick glance over his shoulder he opened his shoulder satchel and showed us the top of a glimmering gold can of Chang. For a very inflated price and the promise we wouldn’t let the conductor see us, we managed to purchase two ice cold beers that proved the perfect illicit accompaniment to the setting of the sun.
With hungry bellies we set off to the dining cart, which was at the opposite end of the train. It was a fascinating walk through all the different carriages and classes, checking out everyone’s set up, food and comfort items for the night’s journey. There were families with elaborate picnic dinners; backpackers playing cards and couples snuggled up with an iPad or laptop watching a movie.
The rustic dining car was a great experience – the windows were all open, filling the carriage with a fresh, warm tropical breeze. Most passengers opted to get their food delivered to their bed or else bring their own food, so we had the car to ourselves except for an old policeman in an immaculate beige uniform who was hand rolling a cigarette at the table next to us.
There were four set menus to choose from – we chose to sample a couple of different options. The food all arrived at once in a tray, similar to what you receive on airplane. It was absolutely delicious – fresh, spicy green curry, vegetable noodle soup, red duck curry, salad and a banana cake for dessert. We ate slowly, watching the porters bring orders and deliver meals to other carriages, before wandering back to the other end of the train.
The attendant efficiently transformed our large couch into two decent sized bunk beds, complete with fitted sheets, pillows and blankets! There wasn’t much to see out the window so we watched a movie and read our books before drifting off to sleep.
The ride was a little bumpy and noisy at times, though the comfortable lie flat beds meant that we got some rest and were in fairly good spirits as the sun rose over an entirely different landscape. We roared past kilometers of green jungle, small villages and rubber tree plantations. We pulled into Trang right on time at 8:00am, fifteen hours after we departed Bangkok.
We quickly found a café for breakfast before setting off on the next leg of our expedition to the small island of Koh Muk. It’s a lot faster to fly, but catching the overnight train is definitely an experience worth trying – a comfortable, scenic journey that harks back to a slower, more civilised approach to travel.
First class tickets cost 1,320 THB and can be easily booked online at Baolau.vn.