From Bangkok, we wanted to slowly make our way south, so that we’d eventually end up in Krabi. As we had plenty of time, and no fixed itinerary, we decided to forego the straight route from Bangkok to Krabi, and instead opted for trains and buses along Thailand’s East Coast. Our first stop, was the sleepy seaside town of Prachuap Khiri Khan. Here’s a look at how we got there.
We knew we wanted to take the train, but we were worried about finding last-minute tickets. Online I read that tickets should be purchased one or two days prior, as they can sell out, and here we were scrambling to find tickets the morning of our expected departure! Our hotel in Bangkok was on Khao San Road, and there was no shortage of tour operators and travel agents. We went to a few to get quotes and to see if tickets for our desired time were still available. They were, and we were quoted prices ranging from 600-900 baht per person. Feeling like it may be cheaper to buy tickets directly at the train station, we threw on our backpacks and hailed a taxi to Hua Lamphong Station, which cost us 80 baht.
When we arrived, we walked into the main terminal and weren’t quite sure of where to go. An attendant immediately came up to us and directed us to the ‘Foreigner Ticket Office’, where we saw tourists lined up. I wasn’t surprised to see separate payment for ‘farangs’ (foreigners), as I had read that we’re often charged more than what locals pay when it comes to attraction fees, restaurants, taxis, etc. But I was a bit amused by the fact that they didn’t even try to hide it.
The nice lady at the Foreigner Ticket Office asked us where we were going, and which departure time we wanted. We thought we were cutting it close by arriving only half an hour before our train was scheduled to depart, but she laughed and said we had plenty of time. She told us that she didn’t have two seats together, as they had all been sold out, but she found two seats that were close by. We weren’t offered a choice of first, second, or third class tickets – she just told us that tickets were 395 baht per person. I later saw on our ticket that we were travelling in second class – fine by me!
We received our tickets and were told which platform to wait at. If you’re a smoker, you should have one last cigarette before you get on the platform, because there’s no smoking there. Our train was waiting for us when we walked up, but hardly anyone was on it. I checked the time and saw there was only 10 minutes before we were due to leave – where was everyone?
We dutifully took our seats and stowed our packs. There were luggage racks on the floor as opposed to overhead, which was great as we didn’t have to worry about keeping an eye on them – they were literally beside us the whole way. There were fans mounted on the ceiling every 10 feet or so, but they were small and not very effective.
The seats were quite wide (two small people could fit side-by-side) and there was a decent amount of leg room. They were also fairly soft and well-cushioned.
Carey and I sat in our assigned seats and hoped we would be able to switch with someone, so that we could sit together. At exactly the time we were scheduled to depart, a crowd of people came on board. I guess the locals know that while buses and trains are often late in Thailand, they’re never early. As luck would have it, we had no problem trading seats, and settled in across from one another, eager for the view out the window.
The conductor came by after we had already left the station to check tickets, and he came back throughout the trip to randomly check tickets again. We only had to show our tickets once, but we noticed that he asked some Thai people to show theirs multiple times, and he also searched their luggage. I guess we were exempt from from this scrutiny because we were foreigners, or maybe we just looked trustworthy…?
If you are considering this journey because you’re hoping for a scenic ride, you will not be disappointed. This train ride was one of my favorite travel experiences in Thailand so far, even though it was long and hot. Up to this point, Carey and I had only seen the sexy side of Bangkok; the white buildings, the temples, the modern new condos, the quaint markets, etc. As we slowly left the city and made our way to the outskirts of Bangkok, we started to see a different side to the city. The train tracks were flanked by makeshift shantys, dilapidated hovels and piles and piles of garbage. When we slowed, we could actually look into these slum dwellings and see the people living inside. There were just thin mattresses on the floor and piles of blankets. We saw people bathing using buckets of water, and children running around barefoot and naked. I had wondered where all the poverty was, and I guess I had found it.
As hard as it was to ride past these sights, I felt it was important for us to see a different way of life. I had seen poverty before, but never in such disarray and neglect. Even the slums in Cairo seemed less depressing, and some of those huts were literally made out of garbage. Maybe it was my tourist guilt acting up, knowing that even though I had no job, no home, and only the possessions on my back, I was still better off than the people living by the tracks.
Well outside of Bangkok, we passed small towns, open fields of palms, rice paddies, and farms. Even though this was a 7 hour ride, I was never bored just staring out the window. We saw farmers in the fields leading their emaciated cows to pasture; children climbing trees and picking fruit; women walking with large baskets of vegetables balanced on their heads.
The landscape is stunning and diverse. It goes from flat to tree-lined hills; from dry and brown to green and lush; from barren to bustling. As we got closer to Prachuap Khiri Khan and therefore closer to the narrow stretch that Thailand shares with Burma, we saw beautiful cliffs and mountains across the Burmese border. This scenery was especially stunning during sunset, with the silhouettes of the mountains set against a pink-stained sky.
On board Amenities
If you are worried about snacks and provisions, fear not. There are vendors that walk up and down each carriage selling water bottles, fresh fruit, packaged lunches, and sweets. Actually, they can get a bit annoying because one will pop up every 10 minutes or so, but their prices are good. We paid 10 baht for a water bottle, and 20 baht for a large can of pop, which is cheaper than you’d find in most restaurants, though obviously not cheaper than 7-11 or Family Mart.
There are bathrooms on the train, but they’re not Western sit-down toilets. It’s just a stall with stand-up toilet, which if you aren’t familiar with, is just a hole in the ground. There was no toilet paper when I had to go, so carry a few squares with you. There’s no flushing mechanism in this kind of toilet; everything just falls through the hole and on to the tracks below. There was a sink for washing hands, and a mirror- so you could see exactly how sweaty and gross you look!
There are conductors and stewards that periodically check the carriages, so if you need any assistance, you can ask them for help. Just keep in mind that they may not speak very good English.
For passengers who are traveling overnight, the seats get converted into beds. There’s a top bunk that is stowed during the day, so you can’t really see it, and the porter comes in the evening to make it up. The two seats form the bottom bunk by extending and folding down. Linens and pillows are provided, and you have a curtain that you can close for privacy.
Getting to Prachuap Khiri Khan
We were confused as to where we were in our journey, as we had stopped at numerous towns and villages on the way, and it was hard to keep track. When we passed Hua Hin station, we knew that Prachuap was approaching, and the conductor let us know it was actually 2 stops away. At this point, it was dark, and we couldn’t see anything but inky black outside our windows.
We arrived in Prachuap exhausted from the sticky heat of our carriage, and we had no clue where to go. Actually, it’s quite easy to navigate around Prachuap Khiri Khan. The train station is at the end of one of the main roads, and following it straight down will take you to the boardwalk. There’s a map of the city outside the station, and while we were looking at it, a lovely Thai woman who spoke very good English asked us if she could help us. She confirmed what we had already surmised, and we set off toward the boardwalk. As soon as we started walking we started to see some guesthouses and restaurants, so we knew we were on the right track. It was around a 10 minute walk down to the boardwalk, which is where the majority of hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops are.
- Take the chance and buy your train ticket directly from the train station. We saved almost 300 baht per ticket by not buying them from a tour provider or agent.
- See if you can book a third class ticket. These are much cheaper, and the comfort is the same as a second class ticket (we’ve traveled in both and actually preferred 3rd class!)
- Bring a bottle of water, even though you can buy snacks and drinks on board. Sometimes the water seller will only come around once every hour or so, which is a long time to wait if you’re hot and thirsty.
- Wear comfortable, breathable clothing. The fans do little to cool you down, and you will most definitely sweat. Also a good idea to have a Wet Wipe or two so you feel less disgusting.
Overall: It’s not the fastest way to travel, but it is affordable. The breathtaking scenery is totally worth being hot and uncomfortable for.