As you know public buses tend to be our transport of choice when travelling in Asia. But what happens when the buses don’t go where we want to go? We switch to trains!
We are heading up the east coast of Thailand and find that buses don’t go to Hua Hin from Chumphon. The girl in the bus station waved us away saying “train” over and over again; we get the picture. The helpful man in the train station informs us there is either a 7.01am or a 12.40 to Hua Hin. And it takes five hours and costs about AUS$2 each. I enquire about air conditioning and he laughs, no, there is only third class on this train. Yup, I am officially nervous! I have visions of those Indian trains you see in documentaries with people hanging out the windows and parcels of live chickens.
Being us, we arrive at the station in plenty of time for the 7.01am train (think 6.30am) and find the station a hive of activity. There is even a lovely woman selling coffee, which costs as much as our train tickets! We sit, coffees in hand and wait, we spot four other Western backpackers waiting in a crowd of Thais. So not a well trodden tourist route to Hua Hin.
The train arrives, no people hanging out of windows and not a chicken in sight. James shoots me an “I told you so look” and he is right, inside is quite normal. Padded high backed seats, glass windows with metal shutters, both of which can be opened and it is clean. My sleepless night of worry has been totally unwarranted.
One other thing I can assure you of with Thai train travel is, you will not starve. Not go even mildly hungry. For the entire five hours of our trip we have an assortment of food vendors trawl up and down the train. There is “bucket man”, as we call the chap selling drinks, because he carries them in a bucket of ice. As well as a collection of women selling an assortment of homemade Thai goodies. There is sticky rice in a sort of bamboo casing; noodles with spicy topping in a little paper packet and our favourite, the “hanging tree of delights”. There is everything from speckled eggs to fruit. Whilst you choose what you want, the “tree” is hung from the luggage rack. Talk about made for the purpose! We choose a bag of sliced mango with an accompaniment of spicy/salty/sugary dip and the spicy noodle parcels. Both are delicious and at only AUS 50cents each as cheap as chips!
It isn’t only the food that keeps us amused along the way, the view from the window isn’t too shabby either. The scenery starts off all rubber and palm oil trees but the closer we get to Hua Hin rice paddies sneak into the mix. And we both delight in the well tended little stations we stop at along the way.
And did I enjoy my five hour, third class rail journey? I did, didn’t miss my air con at all. And of course after all the food on offer I didn’t even want lunch when we got to our stop!
Tips for Train Travel Thai Style
We couldn’t find any train timetables online so we went to the station the day before to check on times. We bought our tickets the day we travelled, we were advised to get there half an hour early. The trains are not very punctual, ours was 20 minutes late.
You do not have to worry about bringing your own food or drinks on the train, both are sold for very reasonable prices on the train.
There are public loos on the trains, but I have to warn you girls they are swatters not western loos!
We didn’t stay in Hua Hin itself but neighbouring Cha Am. Neither place greatly appealed to us. Hua Hin is probably great if you stay in your super flash resort on the front and play golf (we spotted a great course). The beach is long and has lovely white sand and the big shopping centre we visited was good but not a reason to go there. We had been told it was a bit like Queensland’s Gold Coast and as we are Noosa people it wasn’t really our sort of place. Cha Am is very much a local’s beach resort, the beach is not as wide or white as Hua Hin.