April 26, 2022

Train 25 – the Special Express to Nong Khai

Bangkok Railway Station – known to most people as Hua Lamphong – is cool and calm in the early evening after a sweltering day in Bangkok. There is no queuing, red tape or any of the common problems to be found at modern airports here. Walking into the huge central waiting area, there is a single departures board and an open entrance to the platforms underneath a portrait of the King. I walk straight through, and exactly one hour before departure, spot my train – number 25 – being shunted back onto platform 3.

It’s a modern train made up of around 6 to 8 second class sleepers, and at the rear end, one first class sleeper, carriage 13. All are nearly new Chinese built rolling stock that came into service 5-6 years ago. None of the grubbiness of old sleeper trains here – everything is well maintained. My compartment has two berths, and the lower one has two seats and a table that convert into a bed. It had an interactive TV screen showing a variety of things, but as soon as pressed the food menu button it went haywire. Maybe it was trying to tell me something..

There are no foreign travellers on this train. There is no point, as the border to Laos is currently closed – no visa runs or weekend breaks in Vientiane. Instead the passengers are mainly families and workers headed home from a weekend in Bangkok. Second Class is pretty good, but to allow the luxury of mask free travel, having my own compartment is a real bonus tonight.

Without fuss we depart on time at 20.00 and the guard appears in the doorway to punch my ticket. Soon after we pass through Bang Sue Junction and Don Mueang, the old airport, the carriage attendant offers to make my bed, which he does with well practiced skill and speed. The bedding is high quality and he even finds me an extra pillow. Sadly there is absolutely no catering on this train owing to COVID regulations. Strange that in 3rd class they let vendors sell all manner of food, but the operating company isn’t itself allowed to sell food. I’ll know for next time to bring a picnic. NB alcohol of any kind has been banned on the railways in Thailand for the last few years – so gone are the possibilities of a (legal) icy sunset beer..

The train sways and pitches quite a bit, but other than that the lines are smooth, and I manage to get some sleep before our 6.40am scheduled arrival. There are no roller blinds in these sleepers, so I woke at dawn and opened my curtain to watch the sun rise over the jungle plains. In the end we arrived 30 minutes early into Nong Khai.

Things are quiet on the platform outside. There are only a handful of passengers left on the train, and I’m the last off. I’m interested to see how this train would connect to the service over the Friendship Bridge to Laos. On the platform is a sectioned off area for passport control, and the diesel car carriages that run across the bridge are on the opposite platform. I spot just two people getting on, one of them I saw taking an ATK test and presenting it at the ticket counter.

Outside the station I find a few motorbike type tuk tuks, not the Thai type, but the ones I have seen in Laos and Cambodia. I reach agreement on a (high) £3 fare to take me to somewhere to stay in town. The breeze in the back is good. It’s barely 7am and the temperature is already well over 30C.

I’m staying here for a couple of days before heading back to Bangkok.

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