Which bus do we need to get in the morning, Ice?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be up before you. I’ll take it with you“
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.
6am in the morning and these were our last hours in Bangkok, we’re up early for a train out of Thailand’s capital city & our Couchsurfing host Ice, was still snoozing away in bed.
Aren’t we supposed to wake up Ice?”
A knocking of doors, a stumble & a crash of sound and Ice is up and ready to send us on our way.
Next, it’s downstairs for breakfast, then it’s backpacks on our shoulders ready to go but not without some amazing little lunch boxes that Ice’s mum kindly made for us – what a legend – we were feeling the love! 🙂
With a very sad faces, after having said goodbye to Ice, we were off to the train station with a little piece of handwritten paper with all the information necessary about the train we needed to catch written in Thai, as it turned out, it was not essential because the lady at the ticket office spoke pretty good English – they must get a lot of farangs (Thai for foreigners) like us.
Surprise, surprise there weren’t any seats left on the 2nd class. This was to be expected. Trains in Thailand (and plenty of other countries in Asia) tend to sell out days in advance of its departure, so getting one on the day can be quite hit-and-miss. The fact that we decided to go to the smaller city Phitsanulok on the Sunday of the Chinese New Year celebrations when many other people travel too wasn’t such smart move either; our bad!
The only chance we had was to buy the 3rd class tickets where reservation isn’t required and the rule is: first to arrive, first to sit.
We had read and heard a few stories about the 3rd class on Thai trains, so we weren’t totally sure on what to do, but we had no choice and we thought that it surely couldn’t be that bad in the end, plus, hearing the price convinced us more.
3rd class ticket Bangkok to Phitsanulok = ONLY 69 Thai Baht each (£1.53, $2.31 and €1.75)
I don’t think I’ve ever done a train journey of more than 8 hours (or any amount of hours) for such a small price, I couldn’t believe my ears, it was extremely cheap! True, it was great for our wallet, but the fear of what was expecting us was growing with as equal a measure.
Luckily for us we were at the station very early and the train was already there, we managed to find a seat, and we did without any problems, and what a seat! All we had was a wooden bench by the window, no air condition of course, just a few fans in the carriage of which we couldn’t feel any benefit.
“Oh well, at least we have a seat. Can you imagine standing for more than 8 hours?” we thought.
As the minutes passed by, the train got busier and busier and by the time we left Bangkok, there were only a couple of free seats; no other foreigners on our carriage, only locals. In fact travelling in the 3rd class carriages is free of charge for all Thai people, hence why it gets so busy despite how uncomfortable it is.
We felt many eyes on us that were observing and watching our movements, probably inquiring what two white people were doing in 3rd class.
From the beginning people were walking up and down, shouting in Thai to try to sell their goodies. It was all about drinks, bottled water and food, from pre-cut fruit to little cooked meals, literally everything you could think of, and you should see how well organized they were with their prepacked little parcels.
The vendors kept getting on and off at each stop and every time they had a new ‘delicatessen’ to sell.
It worked well for them though, because also more and more people were getting on buying more stuff. Soon the carriage was overfull, people were standing everywhere and seats made for 3 people were forced to fit 4 and sometimes 5 altogether.
All windows were wide open, there was no other way to make that trip otherwise.
We couldn’t believe how crowded it got so quickly, we felt very lucky to have a seat, no matter how hard it was. We carried on reading our books, occasionally admiring the scenic landscape of the Thai countryside outside the window and hoping the train would be a little faster.
After a few hours our bottoms started to complain and we felt liking taking a break from the hard wooden benches and strolling along the carriage, but we knew that as soon as we stood up somebody else would have taken our place, so we preferred not to unless a necessary trip to the toilet was required.
Only Dale went to the loo and to my question ‘How was it?’, he replied ‘It was like standing on a huge metal neck brace’. That was enough to make me want to hold mine as long as possible.
No photos taken unfortunately! (Dale – Thankfully!)
People were constantly eating/snacking around us, vendors kept going up and down, it wasn’t long before we felt the munchies too and got our cute lunch boxes out.
You should have seen the face of the people around us, they started to point at our food, talking to each other and to us too (all in Thai), smiling and nodding at us. I guess they were either very surprised to see two farangs eating a fresh, delicious and homemade Thai meal or perhaps super jealous. Not sure, but the meal was superb!
If the people weren’t eating, alternatively they were sleeping, I’m not sure how they could on those seats where you could feel every single movement of the train. I guess sitting so close to each other helped to maintain their sleeping position or someone might even ‘borrow’ their neighbors shoulder to rest his or her head like on this occasion when it happened to Dale when a woman, probably at the peak of her dream, simply leaned on him.
Watch the woman with the black jacket and red top slowly making her way towards Dale.
All you need when is super hot, you are feeling uncomfortable, your bum hurts and there are still more than 20 stops to go out of the total 40 & at least another 6 hours before reaching your destination, is to have somebody sleeping on you. Poor Dale, but it was quite funny at the same time and we couldn’t help laughing about it.
In fact, when the lady woke near the end she was really nice & had a good giggle with Dale, full of smiles.
It’s Not Over Yet!
When we thought it couldn’t get any worse, a massive cloud of dust came inside from the surrounding countryside making everything brownish and terribly dirty including us two. Nice!
The rubbish underneath the seats was growing and growing, in fact the other passengers – if not using the windows as an open bin – were throwing everything on the floor and with such naturalness. I wasn’t very impressed with that at all and made me think and in a way miss the super clean Japanese trains.
Page after page, Dale with yet another Game of Thrones book & me with The Fountainhead, we thought there wasn’t long to go. We had been warned though that Thai trains are often late and, even if they leave on time, they might arrive 1 or 2 hours later than expected. Happy times!
It’s 7pm and, hours after we departed Bangkok, we finally made it to Phitsanulok, with only 1 hour and 10 minutes of delay, result!
Today it’s still probably the most uncomfortable trip we’ve ever made, it felt endless. We were quite broken and very tired, but at the same time it has been an unique experience and a lesson about Thai culture and we had our ‘funny’ moments too which helped to take it easy and be more patient.
Would we do a train trip on the 3rd class again? Probably, depending on the distance I guess.