Before I write anything else, I’d like to apologise for the distinct lack of posts here during the COVID pandemic. I just didn’t want to water down the DNA of my blog, which is all about organising and taking amazing rail trips. I hope that you are safe & well and are thinking about your own next adventure.
Determined to finally escape my lockdown life and get back on the rails, at last I now have a plan, and I think it’s a reasonably cunning one. This feels really good. The first year of my life in the pandemic wasn’t so bad, as at least I was able to use the isolation to write Silver Streak, and still had quite a bit of work to finish off on my HQ. But the second year has felt a lot worse. With nothing in the diary to look forward to or plan towards, I began to drift and lose my train mojo. Like many of us I have experienced some dark moods, but I’m lucky to have some wonderful friends around me who have helped keep me smiling. So I pressed the button on booking some flights just a week or so ago, and just the act of making a booking has immediately lifted my spirits. I find myself back with the satisfying focus of planning and organising my new adventure. Having been a bit of a hermit here for two years, it’s going to be thrilling to be back out in the world.
I’m going back to Thailand. This wasn’t my original plan and at face value might not sound too adventurous. Apart from the delayed Mauritania trip, I had been working towards returning to Sri Lanka to further explore the country by train. My problems there were not insurmountable, but I felt that I was pushing absolutely everything uphill. This was rather surprising to me at a time when you would think people would welcome writing about a place that badly needed to promote tourism. My frustration grew for a few weeks, and then one evening in front of the fire (with a reasonable glass of sherry!) I made the decision to completely change tack. It was a decision of the heart, but sometimes you need to trust your gut feel. I think its good to be able to recognise when its better to start again and move on, so I have packed my research notes and maps into a small box, hoping to revisit this plan in the future.
So on to Thailand. I love Thailand; I love its trains, I love its food and most of all, I love its people. So why not explore Thailand by train instead? And there it was. I worked into the night concocting a rough plan to see if it would pass my litmus test of enough trains, interesting places and unusual things to do. A careful blend of comfort in a plan, but unpredictability that things are bound not to go as planned. By dawn I had a new map on the wall, and it already had lots of labels and coloured pen marks.This is always always a good sign – white smoke out of the chimney here at the Engine Shed!
It’s not going to be an A to B kind of journey, but more of a slow burn series of adventures. I’m thinking of it as a ‘grand tour’. All the rails in Thailand lead to Bangkok, so that will be my forward base, and I will head out on the 4000 kilometres of tracks as far as I can – within sight of Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. The journey has had to be adjusted a little bit as a result of the current COVID rules. I’d love to visit places on the other side of each border, but at the time of writing, this would entail a huge amount of red tape and multiple quarantines, so I shall stay within the land of smiles. In passing, the photos in this blog were taken when I did the run from the UK to Singapore a few years ago – this become the book A Bridge Even Further. Back then I came across the border from Cambodia at Poipet and left through the Malaysian border at Padang Besar. I shall be revisiting these routes.
I’m looking forward to witnessing some big changes to the Thai rail network first hand. This year Bang Sue Grand will finally open, the largest railway station in South East Asia, and many fear that the wonderful Hua Lamphong will cease to be ‘Bangkok Station’. Like most, I’m rather sad about that, and want to see it in its full glory for one last time. At the same time new rail links are opening up. Perhaps the biggest one is from China across Laos to Thailand, proving a new way to reach further south bypassing Vietnam and a few dusty bus trips in Cambodia. But even that route is changing, and there are also plans for investment in electrification of parts of the Thai rail network. This all has to be good news for train travel in South East Asia.
Travelling by train in Thailand is fun. It’s also cheap and easy to organise, allowing me to be less constrained by a fixed itinerary than I might normally be. I will add a list of trains I’m planning to take on the adventures page (link above). I’m planning a mix of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, day trains and night trains, Korean carriages, Chinese carriages, Japanese carriages and Thai carriages. I’m getting it all sorted as you read this. The red tape to enter Thailand is quite substantial at the moment, and many travel blogs describe the challenges with the process of getting extended visas, a Thailand Pass, and quarantine arranged, but I’m sure it will all be worth it. I’m trying to achieve a few things each day, and building up bundles of documents to upload in a format that will hopefully be approved.
If you have any thoughts, or ideas for things to do or top tips for getting the most out of life on the rails in Thailand, please do leave a message here or say ‘hello’ on Twitter – OnTheRails. I will update on the plan once I have things more organised.