I love a train, not in a way that makes me want to write numbers in a book or record the sound of the engine on my iPhone, but in a way that makes my heart sing a tiny bit when I enter a train station and leads me to irrationally hoard train tickets for a long time after I have used them. When I lived in England, I even loved my daily commute on the train to work, when I would settle down with a good book, preferably beside the window, and blissfully ignore all the poor crushed souls without a seat, until we pulled into London Bridge and were all spewed off together into the Big Smoke.
As much as I love sitting on a train, I love sleeping on a train even more, and so this time there wasn’t even a moment when I considered any other way to get from Bangkok to Koh Phangan. Many, many years ago when we were even more tight than we are today, Spud and I did the same route on a ‘VIP’ bus to save some money. I can’t tell you now how many hours it took us, but every one was a freezing, uncomfortable nightmare. There are many times when the bus is the only option to get from A to B, but when you have kids and there is a train; trust me, take the train.
Thai trains are great, they are really well organised, numerous, clean and there are enough brown-uniformed official types on board to make you think that you are being taken care of properly. We took the 7.30 train out of Bangkok, and after the initial business of everyone sorting out their bags and bunks, a bit of cheek-pinching of my kids and some nice chit-chat with our immediate neighbours, everyone settled back to wait for the steward to come and make up our beds, which he did very soon afterwards with impressive efficiency. As soon as the beds were made up, pretty much the whole carriage retired behind the little blue curtains and was out like a light. I find the rhythm of the train really soothing and have no problem sleeping even when sharing with a wriggling five-year old, but I realise that this is not for everyone. So, if you are the type of person who sleeps in an eye mask and needs the room to be at an ambient temperature at all times then perhaps catching the train to Koh Phangan is not for you.
We were a bit late into Surat Thani, but that is perfectly normal. Most of the buses from the ferry companies were right outside the station waiting. We had to wait 30 minutes for our bus to the pier, but we did that while drinking fruit shakes in a café across the road so that was not an issue. Due to being put on a decrepit rust bucket boat before by Songserm, we chose to go with Lompraya this time and they were great. The boat was new(ish), clean and fast, a big step up from Songserm and definitely worth paying the few quid more. It takes about 40 minutes to bus it from the train station to the pier and another hour and a half on the ferry before we arrived in Thong Sala on Koh Phangan to a waiting throng of taxi drivers and a Bob Marley soundtrack already playing in my head.
My really useful tips for taking the train to Koh Phangan
- Do NOT buy a joint ticket at the travel agency upstairs at Hualamphong Station. All of the official information staff in the station will tell you to do this if you enquire about booking a train/bus/ferry ticket to Koh Samui, Koh Tao or Koh Phangan. I did follow their directions and only afterwards when I did my maths did I discover that they had charged me an absolutely ridiculous amount of commission. Shame on me, but don’t let it happen to you. If you are already at the station just buy the overnight train ticket to Surat Thani, when you get there you can buy the boat and bus ticket from any of the café/agents across the road from the station. Otherwise you can ask around any of the other agencies in Bangkok and find one that offers a reasonable commission. In the past I have also bought joint tickets before arriving in Thailand from the Thailand Train Ticket company and had them delivered to my hotel which has been very handy.
- Much to Spud’s dismay, it appears that alcohol is no longer allowed on Thai trains. So not only can you no longer ask for an ice-cold beer to be brought to your berth, you can’t even bring your own on board. Boo.
- Get a lower berth if sharing with a child, they are a good bit bigger than upper berths. Kids get reduced or free tickets depending on age and height but unless you pay the full price for them they don’t get their own beds. I did once share an upper berth with a 6 month-old baby so it is possible, but not fun.
- Take snacks if you want them, no one comes to sell you stuff like they do on the ordinary trains. There is a buffet car if you want a meal though.
- Travel second-class rather than first – unless you really hate other people that is, or you snore.
- If you are travelling to Surat Thani, don’t stress that you will miss your stop by sleeping in. The train will most likely be late and the steward will come by before you get there to make sure everyone is up.
- When you arrive in Thong Sala on KPG there are lots of people milling about trying to give you stuff and asking you if you want a taxi – do not be afraid. They will give you free maps and island guides that are really useful so take them. The taxi people will put you in a shared taxi that is headed where you want to go. They tend to have set prices for taxi trips on the island so you are unlikely to make any saving by heading off into town to find another one by yourself.
- For any other info about Thai trains or indeed any trains visit the Man in Seat 61. I have never been on that website to plan one train journey, and not planned a completely different epic rail trip in my mind. He is awesome.