After a wonderful few days in Bangkok we were ready to hit the beach. I’m assured this is a regular reaction after arriving in the big city and soaking up the atmosphere but perspiring all your body’s liquid it’s soon time to move on.
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A sleeper train south to Chumphon
I think it was because this was the first post Bangkok thing we were doing and I’ll admit that we were slow to decide on a destination. We had a vague idea of going south and knew we wanted a beach so settled on the tiny island of Koh Tao.
To get there, after looking at the various options available we decided on a sleeper train. Personally I just can’t stomach an 11 hour bus/coach journey and much prefer a train where you can at least get up and go for a wander if you fancy it
One of the trip planning resources we’ve started to lean on heavily is the excellent Man in Seat 61 website. It goes into amazing detail about rail travel wherever it is possible in the world and provides handy interactive maps, timetables and costings to help you plan out a journey.
Leaving it late we paid over the odds for 2 train tickets combined with bus transfer and ferry to the island. These were purchased upstairs at the tourist agency in Hualamphong Railway Station in Bangkok. It cost us 1,620 THB per person for the train/bus/boat combination.
In retrospect I’m not sure that’s the best option as mentioned in our Chinatown, Bangkok post but the general advice is to book further ahead when possible!
The train journey takes 7.5 hours from Bangkok to Chumphon and we departed Hualamphong Station at 7.30pm in our 2nd class car. 2nd Class here doesn’t equate to what it might in some other countries and we found ourselves in air conditioned, comfortable wide seats facing each other with lots of leg room as we rolled away from the sweaty city.
I couldn’t resit a sniff of the restaurant car to see what delights could be obtained onboard a Thai train. To get there you have to walk through 3rd class and see all the backpackers saving money by avoiding a bed or aircon, something we ended up doing on the return trip!
There was an interesting array of foreigners and locals in the restaurant car, most people seemed to head there to smoke which is a shame when you are trying to eat. The food itself though was very nice, I had a decent red curry with a few side dishes for a reasonable 220 THB (£4.10) with a can of Coke.
Back in our seats the attendant came along and started making up the beds. This is a mesmerising art form in itself and you should watch the clip below to see how any job can be performed with grace and style!
Sleeping on a Thai train?
Soon after the beds were made we turned in for the night as we would be jumping off at around 4.15am. Kristina took the bottom bunk and I the top one as we settled down for some shut eye.
It was one of those instances where you feel like you’ve had no sleep at all but you know you must have caught some. The train jolts and bounces around a lot which of course you notice more when you’re horizontal and despite having some ear plugs in, it was still very noisy.
I think it was the fear of falling out of the top bunk that keep waking me up what felt like every 5 minutes, but I can say with experience, it still beats a night in 3rd class!
The bus and ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao
Bleary eyed we left from the train around 4.20am onto the platform at Chumphon station. It seemed quite lively for such an early hour as most of the train seemed to also alight here.
We were taking the boat with Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran and they have a ticket window right outside the station. You line up and present your ticket to check in and get a sticker to make sure you get the correct bus transfer down to the pier.
The bus eventually left at 6am and took about 20 minutes to arrive at the pier. We then joined another line to check in for the ferry but this was fairly quick and we were soon onboard and heading out to Koh Tao across the Gulf of Thailand.
By now the sun had risen and it was a beautiful sunny morning as the palm lined coast disappeared behind us. A short way out it quickly became obvious that this might not be the smooth crossing everyone onboard had expected and people soon came rushing to the top deck for some air.
Despite it being a bit choppy it was relaxing, rocking back and forth in the sun, and without the ‘train lag’ we might have enjoyed it more. It takes closer to 2 hours than the 1.5 advertised as when you near Ko Tao the vessel first docks at Koh Nang Yuan, a small island meters from the Koh Tao shoreline.
Finally arriving at the harbour I saw they were in the process of building a new pier. This is much needed as the current one looks like a strong breeze will take it away and it struggles to cope with the hundreds of people disembarking with all their luggage.
We swiftly exited the pier and ignored all the regular touts and taxi folk heading off to our bungalow on the tiny island, our home for the next few days.
Have you taken trains in Thailand? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below and if you found this post helpful please share it!
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