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May 15, 2022

Train 31 – The Special Express to Hat Yai

It’s the usual procedure at Hua Lamphong, or as I’ve now been reminded by several people to more correctly call it, Bangkok Railway Station (that’s going to really confuse people later this year when Bang Sue Grand finally opens). Trying to travel light, I have just my daypack and my cool box, loaded with provisions for the 17 hour journey south.

Train 31 turns out to be another one comprised of the modern Chinese carriages, despite some confusion as my ticket agent says its an older Korean train. Whilst its easy to buy tickets at the station for most trains, long distance sleepers sell out fast, so I have used an agent who physically visits the ticket office on the day they go on sale, 30 days before departure.

Despite any urge you might have as a European to head straight out onto the platform, it’s really worth restraining yourself and taking a seat in the main hall. Here air conditioned fans that look like mini jet engines blast cool air into the huge space, keeping the air moving and at a reasonable temperature. In my excitement I forget this and sweat it out on the platform for half an hour before the train gets shunted in. It’s 33C out there, and the humidity is crippling.

I’m in first class again, and I have established now that in Thai train compositions, the single first class carriage normally leaves Bangkok at the rear of the train and is numbered as carriage 13. On the way back it is numbered carriage 2 and is pulled behind the locomotive at the front of the train.

The journey to Hat Yai is my longest one and is usually delayed by weather and single track stretches of line. I’ve seen recent pictures of flooding en route at Surat Thani and will be amazed if we make it. In my bag I have waterproofs, bug spray, jungle fatigues and an umbrella. Plus of course jelly babies in case everything goes belly up.

Thanin, the carriage attendant, is super friendly and tells me to press the bell button whenever I want my bed made as long as it is before 10pm. After my picnic supper I clear up and then summon him. He is incredibly skilled and using friction resistance and neat hospital corners he makes a bed up that the Ritz would be proud of.

I have heard people grumble that these carriages can be too cold, but I don’t find that – just that precision is needed to set the controls on the ceiling of the compartment – one adjusts the amount of air coming in (which is cold) and the other the direction of the blast. In the US I use cling film or duct tape to cover these up as they are harder to control, but that is not needed here.

The night is bumpy, but not in a Trans-Siberian sense, the only concern are the wobbles that make me consider how much worse they would have to be for the carriage at the end of the train to derail.

When I open the curtain the next morning I’m greeted by the sight of palm trees, water buffalo and floods all around. It’s simple to understand weather here at this time of the year – rain, thunder, hot & humid. The same unrelenting weather every day. Flicking the monitor on, the on board navigation shows us to be around 3 hours behind schedule, just as well I have all the time in world.

Hat Yai turns out to be a modern station with lots of shops on the platform and even a hotel right at the station. Out front is one of the original Siamese locomotives, train 32. My hotel is a five minute walk away, and I treat myself to an incredibly spicy Thai-Chinese breakfast opposite in the street

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Hat Yai is a junction station, and the jumping on point for trains heading further south in Thailand to Yala province and also once open again, the Pandang Besar border where the rails cross into Malaysia. I did this a few years ago and wrote about it in a book that became ‘The Bridge Even Further’.

If you are coming to Thailand put this journey on your list!

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