Monday, February 15, 2016

Thailand Train Stations (Southern Line)

This is a brief journey along some train stations on the Thai Southern line. Where do these names come from? Some very old history is revealed!
At the terminal (in the end) we talk about single track trains.


Kantang, the original capital of Trang province, is Thailands main port on the Andaman Coast. There is a direct train to Bangkok. The railway station is the oldest one still in use, all wood. Kantang is derived from "gantang", a Malay / Indonesion unit for measuring rice.

Love Station is a coffee shop in one of the original wooden buildings of Kantang station. They serve excellent coffee.

Nearby is the former house of Phraya Ratsadanupradit, the man who introduced rubber to Thailand. The house is a pretty two-story wooden house.


Trang's name comes from "terang", the Malay / Indonesian word for light. It reflects the large Malay population, though my guess is the Chinese are the majority.

Surat Thani

Passing through Surat Thani, which is named after the ancient Indian city of Surat. That in turn may have its name from Suryapur (city of the sun god Surya). Or maybe "Surat" means "attention" or "face", that is, an outward expression of the soul.
In India this train station would have been called Surat Junction or Surat Road, as it is 15km from Surat. Or it would have been called Phun Phin, as that is the town where it is actually located. What the hell, let's rename it.


The name Chaiya originates from the Sanskrit word jaya meaning "victory". Over a thousand years ago it was a major town in the Sri Vijaya empire, that included Sumatra, Java and the Malay peninsula as far north as  Chumphon / Ranong.

Wat Phra Boromathat has clear similarities with temples and chedis in Central Java.


There are several theories on the origin of the name Chumphon. According to one, it originates from Chumnumporn (literally "accumulation of forces") which is in line with the fact that Chumphon was a frontier city (See Chaiya comments).

Another theory says it means “gathering place of friendly people”. Well, most just seem to pass through, either to a Gulf island, or further south.

What strikes me most is that Chumphong seems to be a village and a town at the same time. The streets are busy and full of facilities while the back of the hotel overlooks a field with two cows and I hear cockcrow.

Prachuap Khiri Khan

Prachuap Khiri Khan means the "city in the mountains". A remarkable name for a town on the shore. Then again, it has its back to the mountains that make the border with Myanmar. Thailand is at its most narrow here. Just 10km wide...

It seems impossible to capture the town and the bay in a picture, but just imagine a perfect setting and you will be close.

Nakhon Pathom

The name comes from the Pali words "Nagara Pathama", meaning "first city", and Nakhon Pathom is often referred to as Thailand's oldest city.

Formerly situated by the sea, the city prospered during the Dvaravati civilisation. According to archaeological findings, Nakhon Pathom was the first city to possess influences of Buddhism and Indian civilisations. Scriptures in a 7th century South Indian  language have been found.
It is the site of Phra Pathom Chedi, the first religious landmark that signified the influx of Buddhism into Thailand. The Chedi has been rebuilt several times and is now the largest in the world!


Kanchana means “golden” in Sanskrit and Hindi.

Originally built as a defense against the Burmese, the town is now most famous for the Burma railway, built by forced labourers and prisoners of war in WWII to supply the Japanese army over there.
One of the key passages was the notorious Bridge over the River Kwai, made famous by the movie with the same name.


The origin of the name Bangkok is unclear. “Ban” is a Thai word meaning "village by a stream", plus “ko” meaning "island". 

Another theory suggests that it is shortened from Bang Makok, makok being the name of a plant, (Spondias dulcis, ambarella, kedondong, golden apple, golden plum). This is supported by the fact that Wat Arun, a historic temple in the area, used to be named Wat Makok.

The official Thai name of the city is Krung Thep, which means "City of Angels".

Single track trains

We did all our longer transfers by train. Often there were just one or two trains a day that were useful to us (there are also many night trains). These are old tracks and diesel trains, with antique signaling systems that work with hoops, tokens and flags.

To prevent two trains running into each other on a single track, each track section has one token (a metal disc) that a driver múst 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 more easy 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 with a moped!

The express trains reached up to 120 km / h. And even the wooden (!) local train that we had, reached almost 90 km / h. After 4½ hours, wooden benches are very hard  indeed…

1 comment:

Peter said...

The great railway journey