Monday, May 23, 2022

The Slow Train from Trang to Bangkok

The train is a wonderful way to explore Thailand. It is convenient, takes you from city centre to city centre, and offers the most stunning views along the way.
This is my journey from Trang to Bangkok.

Stage zero: Trang – Kantang – Trang

Trang is another quiet provincial town. It sees quite some tourists passing through to Andaman Sea islands, but few stay. They miss out on a small night market, some traditional Chinese coffee houses (Copi, Sin-ocho), a modern clocktower, a lively Chinese New Year and the colourful Underwater Wedding festival and parades.

Some ten km south of town are botanical gardens with a stunning canopy walk, a rare patch of original forest.

30 km southwest, in the mouth of the river Trang, is the old seaport of Kantang. Connected by railway it is potentially an important harbour for east-west cargo, but its glory days are long gone. There is one daily (nightly, actually) train connection between Bangkok and Kantang.

You can join that train from Trang for the last hour. As most people get off in Trang, there are hardly any passengers. It was odd, being on that enormous train almost by ourselves. It’s a smooth ride through flat rural land, quite beautiful and very green.
The Kantang station is the original century-old wooden building, still brightly painted, with the original ticket windows and signs. One room is a small museum, an outbuilding now is a nice coffee shop: the Love Station.

We walked to the former residence of Praya Ratsadanu. A century ago he was a local entrepreneur who introduced the rubber tree to Thailand. The impact is still visible throughout large parts of Thailand. It’s the most grown crop nowadays.
His house was a two-storey wooden villa with many verandas, airy and undoubtedly very luxurious for the time. It was poorly maintained, but still had some old furniture and old photographs. The dining table on the back porch was quite impressive. It was surrounded by lush forest with the deafening sound of crickets.

To catch the same train back to Trang, you have to make it a very quick visit. If you want to explore more of the town and the harbour, you have to go to the (shared) taxi stand at 140 Ratsada Rd, or stay the night.

Stage one: from Trang to Chaiya

If, like me, you are not a fan of night trains, you have to use the Kantang – Trang – Bangkok train to cross from the west coast to the east coast and get off when night falls. I had a second class ticket that gave me an old wooden carriage but with comfortable modern seats. For hours we passed rubber plantations, banana groves, jungle, huts and hills.

At Thung Song Junction we joined the main line from Bangkok to Hat Yai. Surat Thani is the first major stop, and a possible stopover, but I rode a bit further

After 230 km Chaiya is a small town with just two streets, mainly with wooden houses, mostly shops. There is one hotel and one place to get egg fried rice. At 7 everything is closed and dark.

In the morning I had enough time to visit famous Wat Phra Boromathat. There are clear similarities with temples and chedis in Central Java. This once was part of the Sri Vijaya empire, that comprised Sumatra, Java and the Malay peninsula.

Stage two: from Chaiya to Prachuap Khiri Khan

For the next 300 km north it is best to take the special express #40. It is a Rapid Diesel Car. No locomotive and only three coaches, each of which seemed to have their own diesel engine. More modern and faster than yesterday's train, although the seats were older. A/C. There were quite some western tourists on it, about ten in my carriage. Lots of rubber plantations along the way, and also pieces of uncultivated land.

Train number 40 is the only day train from Surat Thani to Bangkok and sells out quickly, so you may want to get your ticket in advance. I am still confused when you should, when you must, and when you can buy advance tickets. It seems to vary per stretch. Tickets are definetly more expensive in advance, with rapid surcharge and a/c surcharge.

Construction was going on along the track between Chumphon and Prachuap Khiri Khan. You saw large sand beds, ramps and new concrete sleepers in the grass. Culverts were dug, iron bridges forged, concrete flyovers erected, skeletons of station buildings appeared. Train travel in Thailand was about to change.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is situated on a fairytale-like bay, a half circle with pointy rocks on the ends that protrude into the sea. It hardly has any tourist facilities. No strip with bars and restaurants that are specifically aimed at foreigners. Still there are hundreds of tourists in town.

It’s a nice walk to the next bay to the south. The beach is actually inside an airforce base!

Stage three: from Prachuap Khiri Khan via Nachon Pathom to Kanchanaburi

From Prachuap Khiri Khan you can take the rapid #40 again and arrive in Bangkok at around 21h. But I did it the long way.

I took the slow train north, 255 km to Nachon Pathom. It is fun and there’s a lot to see, but it is also slow and hot. The open windows provide a warm föhn wind.

The rubber trees were gone. They were replaced by pineapples, coconuts, vineyards, fish ponds and the first rice fields. Towns, villages, bamboo huts. In Hua Hin, more tourists got off than on. The journey was long and hot. Sometimes a long wait for an oncoming train. The train slowly emptied, unlike what you would expect getting closer to Bangkok..

The train schedule forces an overnight stop in Nachon Pathom. If you want to avoid that, you can get off at Ratchburi and take a bus to Kanchanaburi there. Get off at Chulalongkorn Bridge and it’s just a short walk to the bus stop in front of Numsin Hotel. Be careful getting off, as the last carriages may halt where there is no gravel path next to the train and the ramp is too steep to stand.

Nachon Pathom is a pleasant and thoroughly Thai town. The downside is that there is no decent hotel near the train station, and there is nothing to see but the huge Phra Pathom Chedi.

The most lively place at night was the train station, with tourists who came from Kanchanaburi waiting for a night train south.

The next morning I took the ordinary to Kanchanburi. It was another third class train, mostly filled with locals and food vendors pacing up and down the aisles.

Stage four: Beyond Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is an excellent base to see nature, waterfalls, caves, elephant camps and tiger gardens. But it is most famous for the Burma railway. One of the key passages was the Bridge over the River Kwai, as in the movie with the same name.

I walked from town to the Bridge. You can pass underneath it via a small park, in the shadow of the bridge itself. I heard the whistle of a train. Yes, there was one coming. It turned out to be the Eastern & Oriental, the super-deluxe train from Singapore to Bangkok, which made a small detour to catch the Bridge over the Kwai. It just drove over it, and then back again.

I made a daytrip by public bus to Hellfire Pass, a notorious part of the Burma railway. There was a small museum with information panels about the construction of the railway by prisoners of war. Outside was a walk, first a long staircase into a valley, where I walked in a bamboo forest. Hellfire Pass was a piece of rock "just" 100m and 30m deep, hewn out of the rock by hand (!) and dynamite. After that I walked a bit further on the railway track bed, sometimes flat, sometimes parts were sagging and I had to climb and descend. The gruesome history is impressive and a strange contrast to the beautiful bamboo forest, which stretched all over the area, and where there was a continuous concert of crickets and other insects.

On my travels I visited several Khmer temples, satellite cities of the famous Angor Wat. Prasat Muang Singh is the westernmost Khmer site and far from the others in Cambodia and Isan. Also relatively far from Kanchanaburi, 40km, and the only public transport is the train. It only runs a few times a day and there is just one combination of return trains that can be done. If the trains are on time.

According to a sign in the station, the train would arrive 10 minutes late. That should leave me just enough time. Three special coaches for foreigners at tourist price (100b) were already waiting, because this ride also did the passage of The Bridge. When the train arrived from Thonburi, the locomotive was disconnected, it picked up our carriages, drove forward, then back again to connect to the coaches from Thonburi. So we became an extra long train.

We drove over The Bridge very slowly. After The Bridge, the tracks followed the valley of the Kwae Noi. Lots of agriculture, rice fields, corn, bananas, and crops that I did not know. Occasionally unexplored tracts of land with the bamboo bush that was so characteristic of the Hellfire Pass. Villages, Buddhist monasteries, schools, children and farm workers waved to the train. Sometimes we had a view of the river, which was quite wide despite its name. With a fifteen minute delay we arrived at Tha Kilen station. I was the only one who got off and walked the km to the entrance to the historic site. The site was beautiful, and I could even get lunch. But I had to hurry to catch the train back. And at 37 degrees, that's not what you want. Back through the gate, the access road, through the village, the station road. With 5 minutes to spare I arrived at the station. Time to buy a cup of coffee before the train arrived.

The final stage: from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok

There are two daily slow trains from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok. The terminal changes over time. They used to run to the old Thon Buri station (then called Bangkok Noi) close to the river. Then a new station more inland was built. These days it may be more convenient to get off one stop earlier at Jaran Sanitwong to connect to the Metro. And soon all trains will terminate at the Bang Sue Grand Station. That will be the new era of train travel in Thailand, with double track, and electrification and fast trains.


Thailand, February 2015-16-19-20 – Amsterdam, May 2022



The Slow Train from Bangkok to Hat Yai

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Slow Train from Bangkok to Hat Yai

Thailand is working hard on a new railway system. Double track and electrified. No doubt train travel will become more efficient. But the older slower trains had some charm too...
This is a trip we made in 2019.

Stage one: Bangkok to Samut Songkhram (Mae Khlong)

Going south there is an alternative to the main line. There’s a stand-alone line from a Bangkok suburb to the almost-coastal town Samut Songkhram. It’s actually fewer kilometers, except it doesn’t connect to the mainline, making it a cumbersome enterprise.

The journey started with the modern Skytrain from Siam Square. We crossed the Chao Phraya river and got off at Wong Wian Yai. It’s a bit of a puzzle to find the right exit and the right flyovers.

Hidden behind a market is a small train station, also named Wong Wian Yai. It’s the starting point of the slow train to the southwest, single track. There are only a couple of connections per day  for this trip. We rode along small houses and the backs of buildings, past banana trees and market stalls. Slowly the urban development became less dense. After an hour, in which we covered 30 km, the terminal station was in a large fish market in Maha Chai /  Samut Sakhon.

From there it was a short walk to the river, which we crossed by ferry. There was just enough time for a quick lunch and a coffee at a halfway café that obviously catered to travellers making exactly this trip. It was much more modern and stylish than its surroundings

Then another ten minutes walk to the next train station, Ban Laem, where a similar train ride took us to the next river. This stretch was more rural, with large fish ponds and salt basins. Here too, the line ends in a market. When a train comes in, the goods have to be moved from the tracks and the marquises folded back. This has become a true attraction in recent years, and is visited by thousands of tourists as a day trip from Bangkok. So our train was welcomed by a huge crowd that was photographing and waving at us.

Unlike most visitors, we stayed the night in Samut Songkhram. That gave us the opportunity to see the evening train arrive. But now the market was closed and there was hardly anybody around.

The next morning we watched the scene from the other side. Already busloads of tourists had arrived from Bangkok to watch the spectacle. Some stall owners had put their crates of goods on a moving rack, which slid over small rails to make just enough space for the train. Others had stacked their vegetables so low that the train ran overhead the cabbage and mangoes. What struck us was how little space there was between the market stalls and the train. Really just 2 to 3 cm clearance. And a train is very big when it passes a few centimeters from you ...

Stage two: From Hua Hin to Chumphon

Hua Hin

It should be possible to take a bus from Samut Songkhram to nearby Ratchburi or to Petchaburi and catch a train there. But we happened to end up in a minivan to Hua Hin. A combination of a typical small Thai town and a seaside resort. Lots of Scandinavian families there.

Hua Hin railway station is a beautiful wooden building, almost a century old. The famous royal waiting room isn’t that old. It was all very pretty, with fancy details.

We bought a train ticket for the next day.The station café was closed, but opposite was Patty’s Corner, a nice place with excellent coffee.

To Chumphon

Our train should leave at eleven thirty. It was delayed for half an hour. Apart from our express train, several slow trains were due to leave both north and south.

We had the fast diesel train, reaching up to 120 km/h. It had only three carriages, air-conditioning, and reserved seats. It was filled half with tourists and half with Thai. We saw a lot of construction work along the way: all for the modern fast track being built. The further south we came, the more green, palm trees and rubber trees we saw.

A lot of the tourists got off at Chumphon. You can take a ferry here to the popular islands Koh Samui and Koh Tau. We stayed on the mainland, and had a couple of days at the almost deserted Thung Wua Laen beach.



Often there were just one or two trains a day that were useful to us (there are also many night trains, which we disregard). These are old tracks and diesel trains, with antique signalling systems that work with hoops, tokens and flags.

To prevent two trains running into each other on a single track, each track section (block) has one token (a metal disc) that a driver must have to be able to drive on that section. At stations where opposite trains pass each other, the token is given to a station employee. To make the transfer easier from a moving train, the token is clamped in a large hoop. The station employee brings the hoop with token to the other train. Sometimes the employee pulls a long sprint for that, once we saw him driving down the platform on a moped!

If the train enters a new section at a station where it does not have a scheduled stop, the co-driver may just throw the token of the past section onto the platform, and pick up the next token from a post it is hanging on – without stopping!

Stage three: from Chumphon to Surat Thani (Phun Phin)

When we bought our tickets for Surat Thani, they were a lot cheaper than for the previous stage. Even though it was the exact same train. Was it because we bought them on the day of travel in stead of in advance?

Next to the station is Aeki’s Bar, a great place to have lunch before the train departs. Lunch time was quiet. It seemed to have more tourists coming from the islands, waiting for the night train to Bangkok.

So we had the same train, with the same delay, but today it was a much older one. A lot of tourists got off again, but we were the only ones getting on.

At a quarter past five we arrived at Surat Thani station, which is way out of town in the suburb of Phun Phin. The transfer point between the Gulf and the Andaman, and between Koh Samui and Bangkok. We were immediately approached by touts who wanted to sell transport. But we quickly slipped out of the back of the station via the footbridge. Via a small market we arrived at our hotel. The room was very basic but absolutely ok. With train view if you leaned out the window.

Close to the station were some restaurants that catered to tourists waiting for the night train to Bangkok. In one of them we had a great pad thai. The waitress and the cook were in a good mood, so it was a happy bunch. Everybody was very friendly in Phun Phin, which was a lot livelier than I had imagined.

For most people this is a transfer point. But you can actually use Phun Phin as a base for a day trip to Ratchaprapha Dam a.k.a. Khao Sok National Park.

Stage four: from Surat Thani (Phun Phin) to Phathallung

We had tried to book our ticket the night before, but the reservation system was down. When we returned to the station in the morning, the express train was full. So, we took the “ordinary”, the slow train. A very local  affair. The interior, the benches, the walls, the floor, everything was made of wood. Open the windows and the warm air blew through your hair. The noise from the engine and wheels was deafening. Earplugs highly recommended if you don’t want to damage your hearing. We reached almost 90 km / h.

The landscape was green, humid, hilly, rural. We stopped at dozens of small stations. Some were hardly more than a platform, others had cozy looking station buildings and a well tended garden. We could closely watch the procedure of the passing of the hoop. At one station the opposite train was rather long. The station guy drove his moped to the end of the platform to collect the hoop!

It was a lovely ride, but after 4½ hours, wooden benches are very hard indeed and the afternoon heat sort of cooked us.


Phathallung is another dusty provincial town, with a lot of charm once you see it. To reach the foot of Khao Ok Thalu, the mountain overlooking the town, you can go via the shunting yard. Luckily there were some floorboards over the cables that served the signals and switches. One more ditch to cross and we were out of town.

About 8 km to the east of Phathallung is Thale Sap, the largest lake of Thailand, connected to Lake Songkhla.

30 km to the north is the smaller Thale Noi. Still pretty large and with a stunning bird reserve. If Thale Noi is your destination, you may consider getting of the train earlier, at Pak Khlong station. No guarantee though further transport will be awaiting you.

Stage five: from Phatthalung to Hat Yai

We picked up sandwiches and coffee at the Seven – their coffee is simply the best. We drank it at the station. Slowly it became busier, especially with elderly ladies who carried baskets of food to sell on the train. They targeted the express- and rapid trains – our ordinary didn’t have many passengers.

Our train was on time. It was another nice ride through a lot of greenery. Rice fields, rubber plantations, cows, birds. It was quiet on the train. Until we arrived in Hat Yai and so many students got on so fast that we could barely get out.

Hat Yai is the centre of the deep south. From here you can take trains further south to Yala, Sungai Kolok or Padang Besar. The latter is the place for crossing the Malaysian border and catching a train to Kuala Lumpur or Penang (as we did the year after in the opposite direction)

We could have taken the direct night train. But this was much more fun!
Train travel is the way to go in Thailand. It is easy, easygoing, comfortable and gives you a beautiful view of the country and the countryside.


Thailand, January 2019 – Amsterdam, May 2022



The SlowTrain from Trang to Bangkok 

More blogs on Thai trains

More blogs on Thai travel and destinations