The beauty of traveling like a local is that you build an understanding of what a person in that world endures in daily life.
You also have so much more of a memorable time…
I wasn’t going to write a blog on this but it was such an experience that I couldn’t resist!
What are trains in Thailand like?
I’m sure this is a question which pops into many people’s heads if they’re booking a trip to Thailand.
I certainly managed to end up on a 3rd class train ride which took a total of 10 hours.
In short, it was painful, never-ending, boring at times and uncomfortable but I am SO glad I did it and feel extremely accomplished for persevering but I wouldn’t recommend that pain onto anyone (go for 6 hours maximum if you want to try).
Regardless of my suffering, I wouldn’t exchange the experience for a conventional, comfortable ride because I learnt a lot and developed a pretty solid understanding of what it’s like to ride on a lower-class train in Thailand. But I seriously don’t know how locals put up with it on a regular basis. It certainly made me realise how lucky I am to be in a developed, first-world country.
My learning tips from this experience in a nutshell:
- Public transport in Thailand is so easy
- Give the third-class train a try! (but not for 10 hours, 6 hours maximum)
- Expect the train to be late
- Book bus rides in advance (I chose the train because the bus rides were sold out the day before already ~ they are more comfortable, cheaper and about the same time in travel)
- Don’t worry about bringing food. There is plenty of food offered on the trains. All you need is a big bottle of water and toilet paper
- Make sure you bring something you can use as a cushion
- Make sure you have a book, headphones/music or something to keep you occupied
- Be prepared to lose your seat if you don’t have anyone to mind it for you and need to get up for any reason
- Choose a seat which is facing the direction the train is going otherwise expect lots of dirt to go onto your face
Let me tell you the story of how I ended up on the lowest class train in Thailand for 10 hours…
I ended up booking the 3rd class train because the bus was sold out and after calculating all my options, I realised that I would save a serious amount of baht if I chose the train. It was 80 baht instead of 580 baht. That is about 7 times less! Plus I wanted to give it a shot to have a more authentic experience but of course when I was looking at my transport options and decided to book the train ride, my brain was overloaded with information and I stupidly forgot there was no air-conditioning on 3rd class until it was too late to change my plan.
I ate my breakfast, checked out of my hostel and started walking to the train station at around 6.30 in the morning (my hostel was only a short 7-minute walk from the train station), of course making a pit stop to 7-Eleven for some snacks to eat on the train since I knew I had a long journey ahead (god I miss 7-Eleven in Thailand!).
Once I arrived at the station, I went up to the counter to buy a ticket. I was expecting to pay 83 baht but was pleasantly surprised when the guy asked me for 80.
I took my ticket and waited at the platform. There were already a lot of locals waiting for the train (and not a tourist in site) . The train was due to come at 7.00am but 7.00am had come and there was no train. I expected this would be the case as it’s what I read on the internet.
The train station at Chumpon, Thailand
15 minutes had passed and still…nothing.
But then, 5 minutes later, the train came (woo!) The train was only 20 minutes late.
I rushed onto the closest a carriage and pushed on to get a seat (after reading a blog about how difficult it was to get a seat and how easy it was to lose a seat). Luckily, there was still barely anyone on the train and I got a window seat. The window was open and my seat didn’t seem too uncomfortable at the time even though it felt like i was sitting on a wooden bench. (if you’ve sat on a hard chair for a long time before you would undoubtedly understand how uncomfortable it gets after a while).
It was also nice and a cool temperature at the time so I mistakenly thought that having no air-con would be bearable. Whenever the train moved, the wind coming through the open windows worked like a fan blowing on me and I even felt cold at times.
I thought: “It’s not that bad, I think I’ll be fine for the trip.”
Not long after the train took off, many different ‘street-vendors’ walked up and down the aisles trying to sell all sorts of different food and drinks. I saw fresh vegetables, dessert, coffee, tea, home-made sweets and traditional Thai dishes. It’s almost like having the same amount of choice of food on the street as you would on the train, except the vendors are the ones that do the walking. (as a food lover, this was amazing for me to watch and one of the biggest joys of the ride for me).
At the time, I was skeptical about whether the food was sanitary enough for me to eat but I quickly realised it was safe after seeing virtually everyone buy something. Then I felt stupid for going to 7-Eleven to get snacks for the train when I could have enjoyed a delicious, local-made dish for probably the same amount of money I spent at 7-Eleven 😦
The street food vendors which continued to pop up throughout the train journey
As the train continued moving, the train got more and more crowded as more people hopped on and more street vendors came in the trains to sell food or drinks.
Eventually, all the seats were taken and people had to stand in the aisles. The street vendors had to keep working and walking around the passengers. It was certainly very interesting watch the way they work.
If I wasn’t mistaken, I would believe that selling things on trains was the only thing they’ve done in their entire life and that’s why they were so organised and good at it. They either hung up their items while they organised a package for someone, or prepared their food, gave the change and provided a bag at an unreasonably rapid pace. It’s almost like there was an art to what they did.
Despite regretting my trip to 7-Eleven, I was still proud of myself for feeling like I was really well prepared for my journey. I had mobile data, headphones, a fully-charged laptop and my journal to write in.
Of course, after my excitement and fascination for the food vendors died down, I went to get my headphones because a train ride is much better with music right? I looked in the spot where I normally put them ~ there was nothing.
Sh*t ~ where did I put my headphones???
I had absolutely no idea. The only way for me to have been sure at the time was to go through my whole backpack ~ so what do I do? One by one…item by item… I took everything out of my bag and inspected every pocket and corner to see if I could find my headphones.
I had the time so thought – why not?
Everything was out of my bag but…nothing.
Where could it be?
I re-packed and re-emptied my bag one more time but my luck didn’t seem to get any better (wishful thinking I know).
I had absolutely no idea where my headphones could be so I gave up on the idea of listening to music.
What could I do to kill time?
I didn’t feel comfortable bringing my laptop out because nobody on the train was using a laptop and I didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to myself (I was scared that my laptop would indicate I had lots of money and would attract a pickpocket). As far as I knew ~ I was blending in just fine and felt like everybody thought I was a local…and I wanted to keep it that way.
So….I had no music and no laptop for this trip…and I was starting to get a tiny bit bored.
Then I started to think about writing (to be honest, I really wanted to work on my blog on my laptop during that long train ride – it would have made the ride seem so much shorter). I went to get my journal… but it wasn’t in the usual spot either.
I sat and thought for a bit…trying to remember where I might have put it.
The last time I saw my journal was in Koh Tao, at my Couchsurfing hosts’ place…
I message him: “Hello, how are you? Did you happen to see my blue journal anywhere?”
Host: “I did a clean of the place and didn’t find anything that you left behind.”
After about 30 minutes, when I rested my hand on my bag, I felt a book-like object at the back pocket of my bag ~ in a different area to where I normally put it. I reach my hand in the pocket and realise that it was my journal!
YES! At least I could write.
About 2 hours in, I felt a sudden urge to go to the toilet…but my brain was telling me not to go because I didn’t want to lose my seat and was scared the toilet would be in pretty horrid conditions and I have always been reluctant to use public toilets in developing countries (I was secretly hoping that I would be able to hold in my pee for the whole journey).
I tried to live up to the challenge.
So there I was, sitting with a full bladder…uncomfortably.
As time went on, the temperature started to rise and I began to seriously sweat (especially every time the train stopped and there was no wind).
I continued observing people and all the stations we’re stopping at, writing and drinking a very small amount of water to avoid going to the toilet.
But eventually, nature always has its way with you.
I had to go to the toilet otherwise I would have peed my pants.
But how could I save my seat?
I thought I’d try my luck with google translate to communicate to the boy sitting next to me and write the following words:
“Can you please save my seat for me while i go to the toilet?”
I tapped on his shoulder and held my phone in front of his face. He stared at the screen in serious concentration, reading what I wrote, looks at me, smiled and said:
“Chaaaai!” (which is Thai for yes).
So many times I desperately tried to to do things as slowly as possible to make time go faster (like eating every piece of food very slowly) but it didn’t work. At times I even just stared out the window admiring nature for as long as I possibly could on that train ride but I’d even get bored of staring at nature.
After overcoming my toilet dilemma… I could relax and focus on my writing.
Even though I finally found something to occupy myself and I did write for many parts of the journey – I didn’t have the energy or concentration to write the entire time in the heat. I must say….time could not have gone any slower.
I grab everything “cushiony” and soft from my bag including my pillow, scarves and jacket and put it under my bum to straighten my posture and it definitely helped….for possibly an hour or two but then my back started hurting really bad. I could have gotten up to relieve my back of the pain but I choose to keep suffering.
As time went by, my bum and lower back started to hurt…A LOT. My face and hair was also getting dirtier and dirtier because I was sitting on the wrong side of the window (I was sitting facing the direction opposite to where the train was going).
I grab everything soft and “cushiony” from my bag including my pillow, scarves and jacket and put it under my bum to straighten my posture ~ it definitely helped….for possibly an hour or two but then my back started hurting again…really bad. I could have gotten up to relieve my back of the pain but I choose to keep suffering because I didn’t want to lose my seat.
I somehow managed to sleep once or twice but not for long. I didn’t understand how other people could just pass out for the whole train ride.
I thought I was doing really well with tolerating the ride (I was absolutely sick of it by this point) but every time I checked maps, Bangkok still seemed so far away (I had two hours to go). I even started contemplating getting off earlier and catching a grab and paying more….
But I didn’t give up.
Just as my luck had it ~ the train started becoming emptier and the person sitting next to me left at the next stop. And nobody came on to sit there.
YESS!! I could finally lie down.
Eventually… the train finally stopped and didn’t leave again
I had made it! After 10 hours of pain!
Once I got in the taxi i felt so proud and accomplished. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more accomplished (lol)
Needless to say, I deserved a massage that day…and I did get one…but it was terrible 😭
After putting myself through that pain and being disorganised – I realised that the train ride made me step backwards in time ~ I was forced to live more in the present and observe what was happening around me and truly appreciated every part of the journey.”
I hope you enjoyed this read and got a feel for what it’s like to sit on a 3rd class train in Thailand.
“It’s the not the destination, it’s the journey.” ~ quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson