Travelling in Thailand. Now, I am far from an expert, but I have learned a little while travelling around. I try to use public transportation as much as possible when I travel, one simply tends to see much more that way. And yes, it is also comfortable not having to worry about
- Falling asleep
- Where to go — in detail. Or at least not how to get there...
- And I don't have to worry about parking either
Of course I need to know the basics of where I am going when using public transportation, that goes without saying, but I don't need to worry about which road to take, how to get there, I just show up and off we go.
Also in cities where taxi is cheap, I prefer to use public transportation — where I can. I love to interact with people and it taxis there is far less opportunity to do so, one just gets stuck with the taxi driver. Now, I know that doesn't have to be bad, a friend of mine here in Düsseldorf seem to have a really nice driver that he uses in UK, and that driver has introduced him to restaurants , etc., but in general I find it more interesting to take a bus or a tram, or train. I have met so many interesting people when using public transportation all over the world, and even when you don't talk to anyone it is interesting, just sitting down and observing them is interesting...
Travelling around Thailand is no exception. It is easy to travel in Thailand, people are nice and friendly and especially the network of busses is pretty well developed. But the distances are pretty big, something many people forget. The roads seem to be good, at least where I have travelled, but it does take time to get from point A to point B - and that needs to be taken into consideration.
Travelling from Bangkok to Chaing Mai I were looking into different options, did much of the research while I was still in Europe. That way I learned that part from flying, which is certainly an alternative, considering the distances, you can take a coach (bus), minibus or train. It's not just one alternative, also the coaches come in different setups, including a VIP bus. Not taking the flight into consideration, VIP bus seem to be the fastest option — but we are still talking many hours. While the VIP bus is comfortable, and has a bathroom, I am a bit worried about travelling for quite that long on a bus, unlike a train I can't really read on a bus, I simply suffer from motion sickness, and a minibus is not better. And feeling ill for hours is not exactly my dream holiday... I can do it if I have to, but I prefer to spend a few hours on a bus/coach/minibus, and if it is longer, train is certainly my preferred option. Also, on a train it is far easier to move around, to use the bathroom — peeing on a bus toilet is not exactly easy... So while I realised quickly that the train wasn't going to be quite as quick as some sort of bus, I decided to take the train anyhow, at least one way.
The other thing I learned in Thailand was to never book return tickets, and I have written about it before. Even if the return ticket would be slightly cheaper, you may be stuck waiting for a boat or a bus that doesn't leave in hours instead of taking the next available one — so it is not worth it, even if it would save you a few baht — unless you are a very poor traveller, but as a westerner you are normally not in that situation.
Anyhow, I decided to travel via train and I booked my trip to Chaing Mai via a travel agency, but you can of course book at the train station too - but I do recommend you do it in advance, don't just show up with your bags and expect to find a seat. It may work but it may just as well be full - and if there is a holiday there are a lot of people travelling - the station gets busy - see the picture above. You don't want to drag big heavy bags around while trying to figure out which tickets to get! Worked well to book via an agency, the train booking that is. I was thinking long and hard about how to do it — day train or night train. The advantage with day train is obviously that you see a lot more, but the advantage with night train is that you have one night accommodation already arranged for you, sort of included in the price. And you don't have to worry about the hours and hours on the train. And besides I do find it very interesting to sleep on trains, I sleep really well when rocked back and forward — as long as I have good earplugs with me, and I did. So I decided to take the night train up. Trains are a fun experience.
The trains have three classes, first, second and third. If you travel first class you get a cabin for two. These are sold out first, and it is convenient to have your own cabin — but one disadvantage is you don't get to share with an unknown person, which means if you are travelling alone you either have to find someone to buy a ticket with before, or you have to pay for two people, and just use one bed. That can turn into a very expensive option.
The third class option is normal seats, is what I understood - I didn't check.
And then there is second class on the night train. Second class means you share a train car with a bunch of other people. There are upper beds and bottom beds. I was told that the bottom bed is the best, and I can agree, for many reasons, one being that you don't have to climb up and down when you need to use the bathroom, and it is slightly more spacey too. And you get to have a window view! There are curtains that close off every bunk so it is like your own room, only very small. Each car is closed and locked during the night, so people don't wander from one to another, you "only" have the other people in your car to worry about. There is a Thai person taking care of the service in each car, and he is the one who also locks the passage between the cars when night falls - and he is the one to talk to if there are any problems etc. He is not the same serving the food, in most cases, but he will be able to help you with any request you have. That said I anyhow recommend you have a little bag with your valuables that you bring with you into your bed, because it is never 100% sure. My money and cards I like to keep close to me, but I also had a small backpack with other things that I'd rather not lose. The big backpack I left on the racks just outside the bed though - and I had no problems what so ever. But it is better not to be naive, when you share you can never be totally certain about the other people. So just don't be stupid, use common sense.
I was lucky and got the last bottom bed, or at least that was they told me - that I was lucky, that is, I got the bottom bed indeed. It is slightly more expensive than the top bed, normally, but one of the guys who shared the same train with me was in a top bed and I was under the impression that his ticket was more expensive, due to the train being sold out completely when he booked.
Anyhow, I will write more about the train ride itself later, if I find the energy, but I just wanted to talk a little about practicalities and taking the train in general.
I brought my own toilet paper with me on the train. I have learned that about travelling in Asia: Always carry paper tissues/toilet paper. Many toilets simply don't have paper — it is very expensive in Asia, mainly because, I guess, toilet paper isn't exactly cheap — there aren't many trees in that part of the world, at least not trees that are that suitable when it comes to making paper... People has the tradition to use water instead, which in a way makes perfect sense, you rinse your private parts instead of using paper. To be honest it's probably much more hygienic, but we are all creatures of habit, so I prefer my paper, especially if there isn't good enough facilities to wash your hands afterwards, I am not good at keeping track of which hand is my clean hand and which is my dirty hand...
But I didn't just bring toiletpaper, I brought my own stash of everything... I don't want to be stranded without drinks (water , etc.) — it is hot in Thailand. I don't want to be stranded without food — it's a long train ride. I don't--- Well, you get the idea. I had bought supplies. And then, when I boarded, it turned out to be unnecessary... See the picture below;
Dinner as well as breakfast is then served at your seat. Before the bed is made, you and the person who has the top bunk has two seats facing eachother. These two will turn into the bottom bed later, but only later (don't worry, you don't have to do it, the staff at the train will make the bed for you - probably a good idea to avoid fingers pinched etc - these guys are pros and know how to do it). Anyhow, during dinner, you are in your seat, and the food is brought to you, as well as your drinks. It works really well and at least I was grateful that I didn't have to, like in many European trains, try to balance a tray of food myself, while the train was rocking back and forward...
So anyhow; Don't worry, you don't have to starve on the Thai train, so there is no need to bring your own food, unless you really want to, there is more European food - look at the menu, sandwich for example - and there is Thaifood - my own preference. A snack might be nice though, and always always make sure you bring a drink, because Thailand is hot and it is better to have too much to drink than too little... I always make sure I have a water bottle with me...
The toilet paper tip I still insist on as well. Bring it. You never know when it may come in handy.
And an extra bottle of water never harmed anyone, as I said...