Train 171 is neither a modern long distance train or a local one. It’s somewhere in between – a train with older carriages on an overnight route. In fact it is currently the longest distance train in Thailand, travelling from Bangkok to Su-Ngai Kolok in around 22 hours, depending on the degree of flooding and the progress of other trains on the single track stretches of line. I took this route the other week as far as Hat Yai, 17 hours away, well 20 hours by the time we actually arrived.
My plan is a cunning one. This train stops at Hua Hin after around 5 hours, my destination for the day. This train has air conditioned second class sleeper carriages, a very comfy way to travel during the day, at a cost of 282 baht (£7). The only snag to the plan is that for short journeys you can only buy the ticket 24 hours before departure, so I have to risk doing this on the day.
I had a minor disaster on the way to Hua Lamphong, something I’m not going to write about here, but the result was I was quite late arriving, so no time for messing about, buy water, get on train…and then slowly dry out in the air conditioned carriage after being thoroughly soaked with sweat from the incident. Never try to run in 33 C heat and high humidity unless you are in real trouble!
We set off on time, and carriage 13 fills up after a couple of stops. I have been lucky to get a seat here, but next door in the second class fan carriage there are not so many passengers, and they have the bonus of opening windows, or ‘fenster auf’ as we say in the rail travelling community.
The train swarms with vendors all the way – smoothies, industrial quantities of egg fried rice, snacks, phone chargers, sweets.. it’s all on sale. With the cries of what’s on offer every 30 seconds it’s hardly tranquil, but at least we won’t starve.
The rains come and go outside Bangkok, and I recognise many of the stops on the line from other journeys I have made before we turn south.
I believe this carriage to have been manufactured in South Korea, maybe in the late 1980’s. In second class there are big luggage racks beside the seats that convert into two berths on each side. The seats fold down to form the lower berth and the top one drops down. The attendant does this on request, and some people are retiring for the night even before the sun has set.
There aren’t many clues here when you are going to arrive, and as the guard had made a note that I was getting off at Hua Hin I half expected him to come along and give me the nod – but he doesn’t appear until we arrive as I’m getting my bags down onto the platform. I actually used my phone to give me a 5 minute warning of our arrival as we passed the airport to the north of the town. Handy if you have a signal.
Arriving at Hua Hin is a very special experience. On the platform is the Victorian era royal waiting room and the brightest shiniest station bell that I have ever seen. Behind the old station you can see the raised new tracks and a new station currently under construction. It’s being built in a style in sympathy to the original building, just 30 feet higher in the air.
I’m ready for the usual game finding transport outside – I’ve got all my luggage today so there is no alternative, and the touts can see that I know that too, so all I can do is smile behind my mask and try to be a charming farang. In the end I find a taxi for just 50 baht more than the correct fare to take me to a nearby hotel. A quick shower and an icy beer to finish the day. This looks like a nice place, and a few days to relax before getting back on the rails.