December 11, 2023

The Khao Yai Express

I took the train to Pak Chong last week, departing from Bangkok’s new Central Terminal station for the very first time. Train 71 is described as an Express, which makes it sound more exciting than it really is. It’s a DMU with air conditioning in 2nd class and seats that are okay for a couple of hours. The guard on the train was great at marshalling baggage and finding passengers to remind them of their time to get off. ‘Pak Chong’ he says to me patting me on the shoulder like it’s time to take a parachute jump out of a plane.

But at the other end of the excitement spectrum was my connecting train, the Khao Yai Express. Sadly it’s not a real train, but a vision of what train travel once was – or could be again – created by architect Bill Bensley for the Inter Continental resort at Khao Yai, located in a beautiful national park 3 hours away from Bangkok.

My room turned out to be a heritage rail car villa, a whole 60 foot carriage all to myself. There are several of these, all up-cycled real carriages, but now with a very different look inside. Pictures hardly do justice to the stunning interiors each with its own style. Mine was number 428, ‘Ayutthaya’.

A place like this is all about the detail, and everywhere I looked I found clever touches of railwayana and retro memorabilia. The guests at the hotel may not be railway enthusiasts, but they spend hours taking photographs of the rail theme for their instagram accounts. I’ve never seen so much time and effort go into this practice before. What a strange world we now live in.

Every day my fantasy train departed Khao Yai station at 17.57. That is 3 minutes before happy hour starts in an amazing bar carriage called ‘Papillon’. Behind it, the restaurant carriage ‘Poirot’, and at the back the kitchen car. There may be no E&O Express train in Thailand next year, but this has to be the next best thing.. or even better!

I spent several days lounging about taking in the rail inspiration of the resort before heading back to The Big Mango for some book events. I’m looking forward to returning!


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