I always had such romantic notions of travelling around Thailand by train. On my first trip to Thailand in 2013 I had my heart set on travelling between Bangkok and Chiang Mai on overnight train but unfortunately my travel schedule meant it didn’t quite work out. So, when it came time to leave the Muay Thai gym I was excited about experiencing my first train journey in Thailand.
And it was most certainly that…an experience. I had just finished training at Kiatphontip and was in need of some serious rest and relaxation. A beach was essential but I didn’t want to venture too far from Bangkok as my next stop was Northern Thailand. So I decided on Hua Hin, a beach town a few hours south of Bangkok, along with a few friends from the gym. Despite being warned against train travel by locals who informed us of how notoriously slow and unreliable it was, we decided it would be the most scenic and fun way of getting to there.
It turns out they were not lying about the slow and unreliable part. We boarded the train (which was late of course) much to the amusement of the entire carriage of Thais who were laughing and staring at us. Maybe they don’t see too many Western tourists in that carriage. Or perhaps they knew what was in store for us. The seats were just hard wooden benches and the only ventilation came from tiny fans dotted along the ceiling. The journey to Hua Hin is (supposedly) only 3 hours so it was more than comfortable for that length of time. I must say I have absolute respect for the Thais who travel tremendous distances on those carriages without the slightest complaint because I genuinely doubt my ability to deal it.
We were pretty comfortable for the first 30 minutes and having a great time. However, when we arrived at Nakhon Pathom station we were moved by a group who had made reservations. We scattered throughout the carriage, squeezed ourselves into any available space and waited for the train to start moving. Half an hour later we were still waiting. I was on the verge of dying of heat exhaustion, sat next to an open window with the midday heat beating down on me, squashed next to a guy who was clearly not pleased at having me there and opposite a young Thai couple who spent the entire time staring and giggling at me. Every vendor that came into the cart seemed to zero in on me and at one point I was surrounded by an entire group of them shouting “Farang! Farang!” (the Thai word for foreigner) and pushing their goods into my hands whilst I tried to decline as politely as I could.
I was not the only one struggling. Everyone was getting pretty irritable by now; the carriage was like an oven, nobody had a clue what was happening and the smell from the toilet was getting increasingly more potent. At around 4pm in the afternoon (already an hour after we should have departed Nakhon Pathom) there was an announcement that the train would not be leaving that station until 6pm. The engine needed replacing!
Luckily for us we were able to get off the train and explore the town. Another few hours sat on that unmoving train would have undoubtedly finished me off.
Being off the tourist track, Nakhon Pathom is a quaint, slow-paced town. The main road is crammed full of street vendors selling various delicious treats and the whole town is towered over by Phra Pathom Chedi, one of the royal temples and the biggest pagoda in Thailand. I was already templed-out by then but this temple was quieter and more peaceful than others I had seen (and especially refreshing after being trapped inside a train carriage for the past few hours). We spent an hour or so exploring it, feeling much better about life and preparing ourselves for getting back on the train.
Back on the train, the carriage had emptied out as people not willing to wait an extra two hours had left. We were still being overwhelmed by fumes from the toilet but aside from that the rest of the journey was pleasant and uneventful. It was evening now and we were speeding through the countryside past little Thai villages before finally arriving in Hua Hin, exhausted, in serious need of sleep and in even more serious need of a shower!
I was going to write a separate post on Hua Hin but there really isn’t a huge amount to say. It was a lovely fishing town and served the purpose for what we needed but it perhaps wouldn’t be my first choice for a beach destination in Thailand. It was also the site of my first bout of food poisoning which would plague me for the rest of my travels around Asia. But that is for another time.