Bangkok to Surat Thani by Train

My last day in Bangkok fell on a Friday. I spent the day doing laundry, picking up a few toiletries, and generally lazing around the fantastic hostel that had been my home for 12 days. I thought it would be hard to leave Siamaze Hostel but by mid-afternoon it somehow felt like it was time to move on.

I had pre-booked train and bus tickets from Bangkok to Phuket. The train was to depart Bangkok on Friday evening and would arrive in Surat Thani around noon on Saturday. The bus from Surat Thani to Phuket was said to take three hours. I checked the distance on a map and this seemed totally unrealistic. I decided to just go with the flow.

Around noon on Friday I checked out of the hostel and took the subway to Hua Lamphong station. I put my backpack in storage and headed out onto the street to grab lunch and something to take onto the train as it wasn’t clear whether food would be available. There’s no shortage of street food in Bangkok and most of it is really good.

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There’s also no shortage of cats and dogs roaming around the streets and even the train station. The fact that the cats are pretty skinny tells me that mice and rats are rare in Bangkok. The cats wouldn’t be particularly good eating so I can see why they never seemed to be looking over their shoulders.

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The train was set to depart at 7:00 on Friday evening so I returned to the station at 5:00 and killed an hour poking around the great hall. There was one TV in the station and it attracted a large crowd… of six-year-olds who were mesmerized by a video of teenage boys doing skateboard tricks at Santa Monica Pier.

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I had an interesting experience with an antique fortune telling machine in San Francisco (see Saturday #8: Mulţumesc Mult) but I couldn’t figure out how to work this one so I saved a quarter.

And it’s a good thing I had a quarter as the toilets are not free. I mean, these aren’t your everyday ordinary toilets – they’re happy toilets.

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I didn’t immediately realize why there would be a laundry business located within the train station but once I was handed a package of crisp white sheets and a white wool blanket, I realized what had been in the bags that were stacked on carts in the station.

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The train arrived at the station at 6:30 and a crew washed down the exterior with a fire hose. A second crew came along and took a squeegee to the windows. This seemed like overkill since it was a night train. I think they could make better use of their time by taking that firehose to the happy toilets.

We boarded at 6:40 and were pulling out of the station at 7:03, or about three minutes behind schedule. I sat in a group of four seats; two on each side of a centre aisle. On my side of the train was a young woman from Southwestern China who runs a scuba school in Thailand. She mans the office in China as most of the customers are Chinese tourists, but every few months she has to travel to Phuket to fight fires with the local staff.

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On the other side of the aisle were two women from Montreal who had been traveling for a year. They spent the last month at a yoga retreat that strictly prohibited alcohol. Their #1 priority for this trip was securing a drink. I was the one that broke the news to them: they don’t serve alcohol on the State Railways of Thailand. There were some long faces until a guy came along offering to sell packaged meals. They waved some money in front of him and 10 minutes later he returned with a 6-pack of beer in a plastic bag. He insisted that they place the cash in another plastic bag and leave it on the floor. He picked up the bag and jumped off the train while it was moving but still in the station.

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The overnight train ride was pretty uneventful. The French women polished off their beers and fell asleep in their seats by 9:30. I had the cabin steward make up my bed at 10:00 and within 10 minutes I was lulled to sleep by the gentle swaying of the train.

When I awoke on Saturday morning we were about 90 minutes out of Surat Thani.

Stay tuned for the story of Saturday #43.

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