You know those movies where people are riding trains and they take a stroll to the dining car where they are waited on by white-gloved butlers and then they return to their private compartments to find their bed turned down and a mint on the pillow and they change their clothes in private and brush their teeth in their en suite bathroom and are gently rocked to sleep by the gentle sway of the train chugging down the tracks? Well, train travel in Asia does not resemble that at all! I didn’t really think it would be exactly like that, but I did expect a little more. I have been using a site called The Man in Seat 61 to plan most of our train trips and this is how he described the trip from Malaysia to Bangkok:
“Daily air-conditioned departures with amazingly cheap prices, comfortable sleeping berths, and great scenery. Taking the train is the safe, comfortable & adventurous way to travel overland between Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang & Bangkok. Unlike flying it’s a real experience, and relaxing on a train on the traditional colonial single-track railway past palm plantations and little country stations is far more civilised than a cramped bus on an ugly modern motorway… A restaurant car is attached between Hat Yai and Bangkok for dinner & breakfast. The food is remarkably cheap and good.”
Let’s just say that his information is bit dated, which I also plan to write him about as he does take a lot of user feedback into consideration. Luggage racks have been added to the side off the seats, so the aisles are very narrow, although convenient if you need to access your bag. There is no dining car. You can choose from a set meal shortly before leaving Malaysia, with the options of adding a beer. The train then stops at the border where you have to get stamped out of Malaysia and into Thailand. Dinner is then served when you return to the train, along with your beer. The only problem with adding the beer is that you are not allowed to drink beer on the train in Thailand. So, you have about 10 minutes to drink up before crossing the border. It was fun to watch Ray panic and chug his beer as the Thai border officials came on board told him to hurry it up!
For sleeping, the two bottom seats that face each other turn into a bed and the upper bunk folds down. This happens when the man who makes the beds decides it happens, not when you are ready to go to bed. We turned in early and some of us slept quite well while others were jolted back and forth all night long.
With no restaurant car attached, there is no breakfast unless you pay what amounts to $2 for a Dixie cup of warm coffee, which again, is not what any of you reading this would consider real coffee. But Bangkok was just around the corner… and that’s where my streak of booking good hotel rooms came to a crashing end!
Our travelling rule has been to find a hotel at our destination for at least one night so that we have a place to land when we arrive. I let Ray find the hotel in Singapore and we ended up in the red light district. He claimed it was for “educational purposes” but that ended his hotel booking. I took over and we ended up in nice, reasonably-priced rooms all through Malaysia. I followed the same system when booking a hotel in Bangkok. I read the guide book and looked at where the attractions were; I read up on recommendations; I went online and put in my criteria, which has been 3+ for user reviews and at least 3 stars; and then I booked. And this is what I ended up with…
We had definitely arrived in the heart of party central! Little did we know that Khoasan Street is known as a “backpackers ghetto.” While Ray and I had the street view in a room that was stocked with earplugs, the kids’ room was just across the hall, but had no windows, which may have been bad in a fire, but at least meant less noise! Luckily, we were so tired from our half-sleep on the train, the noise didn’t stop the sleeping and it did settle down after 2 a.m.
We only ended up in Bangkok for one day, but we will most likely return there in November. We found airline tickets from Bangkok to Hanoi for only $34, which actually beat the cost of taking the slow route via train and bus to DaNang. And we didn’t want to rush through the rest of Thailand and Cambodia just to get to DaNang by October 2 when we knew we’d be back that way. Hanoi is also where we had planned to start our journey in Vietnam.
So, on our one day in Bangkok, we visited the Grand Palace, a home to the King of Siam and later Thailand since 1782. Visitors must have long pants or skirts and women must have shoulders covered, which is why we all look so sweaty in pictures taken here! The buildings were really cool and the detail everywhere was amazing. We followed up with a visit to the National Museum, which was pretty old and dusty. The tuk-tuk drivers were definitely trying to pull one over on us telling us that the palace was closed due to holiday and offering to take us elsewhere. Luckily, we had read that this might happen and avoided trouble, although we almost let our guard down.
Ray will tell you that Thailand has the BEST food of anywhere we have visited thus far. Even the street food was great… the “normal” street food that is. After about 8 p.m. the scorpions, crickets, and tarantula spiders come out on the carts; no one was brave enough to try those quite yet. We found a little street food cart where we had breakfast both mornings – delicious and cheap, but quite ordinary fried rice or noodles. Quite a few people have asked me about what we are eating and are wondering where the food pics are. I have to say that we really haven’t ventured too far outside the norm yet. We have tried new things, just not that are terribly photo worthy. We’ll keep looking though.
More pics from the palace…
RJ and Buddha.
RJ and Ray on Khoasan Road.