TRAIN TRAVEL in THAILAND with KIDS- From TRANG to BANGKOK
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
Transition days can be tough when traveling with kids. Sure, they have gotten somewhat accustomed to this strange, nomadic life of ours by now, but moving on to that next destination can still stir a mix of emotions. As much as they can get excited about what's ahead, packing, early wake ups, waiting in long line ups, security and immigration checks, are all things the kids have come to dislike. Only this time we weren't flying. We were taking the 846 km journey from Trang to Bangkok via RAIL. After 2 weeks in Koh Lanta, Molly and Owen were about to embark on a whole new experience: their first overnight train ride.
Train travel in Thailand is a safe and economical way for tourists and locals to get around the country. However, the trains are old and by no means fast. At a max speed of 100 km/hr but usually averaging much lower, you will need to afford the luxury of time. While there are high-speed bullet trains due to be completed in a few years, there is a lot to be said about traveling slowly and appreciating the long journey itself. Avoiding air travel also helps lower our carbon footprint, something we are still learning to improve upon. So, instead of a 1.5 hr flight to Bangkok from Krabi, we were headed for a 15+ hr overnight train from Trang to Bangkok.
WHY STAY IN TRANG
As soon as we stepped off our mini bus, after a two hour ride from Koh Lanta, we were second guessing our plans. Why did we book a night in Trang? Why didn't we just head straight to Bangkok by train that very night? We shamefully broke the cardinal traveller's rule and judged the city within the first 10 minutes of arrival, and all for superficial reasons. We were hot, tired and hungry so that didn't help.
After we checked in at our hotel, we slowly started to warm up to Trang. We stayed at Mitree, a clean, friendly, family-run hotel with breakfast included. At $35 CAD a night for a family room, it wasn't the cheapest, but the convenience of being within 5 minutes walking distance from the train station had us sold.
As we headed out on a hunt for some yummy Thai food, within 10 mins of walking, at least 5 random people said, "Hello," or tried to talk to us on the streets. We were a bit startled at first. Our initial thought was, were they trying to sell us something? Nope. Just genuinely friendly folks everywhere. We then walked past a highschool and an elementary school just as a slew of kids in uniform were rushing out of the gates with all eyes on us, smiling, waving and saying, "Hello!!" Molly and Owen were a bit overwhelmed by all the attention, but they too began to see Trang as a welcoming place.
Bottom line is, Trang is not a pretty town. Hardly any english was spoken and there are not a ton of things to do. It's a busy, noisy place with lots of road construction and dilapidated buildings. But it deserves to be mentioned that if you want to meet some of the FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE IN THAILAND, Trang hands down is the place to be, and definitely worth staying at least for one night to experience a local Thai town where very few tourists stay. Bonus: they have great street food and amazing DIM SUM.
SECOND CLASS SLEEPER TRAIN with AC
We took the exact route 12 years ago, so we knew roughly what to expect. The trains have certainly aged since, with noticeable dinge accumulated over the years. We booked our tickets in advance (via 12go.asia) knowing it would cost more money through an online agency, but with the high season in full swing and Christmas approaching, we wanted to ensure our spots. It cost $36 CAD per adult, and $30 CAD per child.
With all our gear, a bag full of food and a couple of excited kids, we boarded the train just before 5:30pm. The kids curiously investigated their assigned seats, looking for clues to find out how they could possibly convert into beds. As the train slowly began to rumble and leave the station, a sharply dressed train attendant walked down the aisle to check tickets. Another man came around with a menu to take dinner orders. Food was slightly overpriced with questionable quality, perhaps proved by the lack of locals ordering. There is a restaurant car at the end (photo below) where you can also order food and eat at a proper table. FYI, they no longer sell or allow alcohol consumption on the trains.
An hour into our trip, the attendants came around regularly to transform the seats into beds at your request. The bottom bed is noticeably wider and more comfortable than the top bunk, but with only a couple of seat-belt like straps to prevent the kids from falling, they ended up sleeping on the bottom. Also no windows on the top bunk. Each converted berth is prepped with a sheet, pillow with a fresh pillow case, and a light blanket. The curtains help with privacy, but much like a large dorm room in a hostel, all it takes is one loud snoring passenger nearby to make your night a sleepless one. EAR PLUGS are a must!
Although the seats and beds were relatively clean, the bathrooms were quite basic and not maintained regularly. There is one squat and one western style sit down toilet at the end of each carriage. Also, there was no toilet paper, soap or paper towels available.
More than cleanliness, noise was the biggest nuisance. Between the loud food vendors walking up and down the aisle before 6am, neglected phone alarms endlessly going off and snoring passengers nearby, we didn't have the most restful sleep. Luckily the kids managed to sleep better than us.
The train had also made a couple of abrupt stops during the night, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and was stationed for quite some time. Animal on tracks? Mechanical issues? Train conductor taking a break? Who knows. There were no announcements. Not surprisingly, we arrived in Bangkok over an hour past our scheduled time.
For the price you pay and the experience you get, it was worth it. It was definitely more comfortable than sleeping on a plane, and far more scenic too. Also worth mentioning that the train attendants were professional and very friendly, especially towards the kids.
Best of all, the train trip just so happened to fall on Owen's birthday. Waking up next to my newly 6 year old, and watching the glowing sun slowly reveal itself over the horizon was a priceless moment. "I love train rides..." he whispered as we cuddled under the blanket together. While most passengers were still asleep, we took in the peaceful morning scenery out the window, watching rural Thailand slowly stir with life, passing farm fields and rice paddies, spotting herons, water buffalos and even monkeys. A food vendor peeked his face from a corner to offer us some mystery bundles. We raised our eyebrows with intrigue and accepted. Coconut waffles for breakfast. Yum.
The scenery began to change as we got closer to the capital city, with more people, traffic and buildings in sight. Our beds magically got converted back to seats and after a few nibbles for breakfast, we finally arrived at Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok.
All in all, the kids loved the experience of sleeping on a train. It sure beats a bus or an airplane in terms of space and comfort. It is only a matter of time before these slow, rattling, geriatric trains will cease to exist. We were happy to show the kids a different, not so luxurious but fun way of traveling and seeing a country. Going from Trang to Bangkok by overnight train will hopefully be a journey the kids will remember for a long time.
NEXT STOP: LAOS