Low-Key Train Travel Across Thailand
I get a buzz from traveling and discovering new places. I always anticipate the excitement of each new stamp in my passport every time I enter a different country. If your travelers are from Europe, like me, passport stamps within the open EU borders are a thing of the past. Indeed living in Asia for the last couple of years has meant my passport has run out of space a lot quicker than had I remained in Europe!
Along with the excitement of international border crossings, I believe a fun and low-key way to travel in Southeast Asia is using public transport. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet and bond with local travelers and get a feeling for their country. In Thailand, I recommend taking the daily train from Bangkok to the Cambodian border at Aranyaprathet. On a recent trip to Siem Reap, instead of going by car, I decided to give the train option a go in the hope of experiencing something new.
The train leaves Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station at the crack of dawn at 6 AM. I boarded fifteen minutes later at the Phaya Thai station next to the BTS Airport Link. At this time of the day it’s still dark and I caught a glimpse of the sunrise as the train slowly crawled its way out of Bangkok. I bought my ticket on board and thought there was some miscommunication when I was told it was only 48 Thai baht to get to Cambodia. I checked again and it truly was a mere 48 Thai baht (£1.00 or $1.50). Talk about value for money!
Most people on the train weren’t on it for the long run like me. At the early morning hour it seemed to be mainly local commuters. Other passengers, such as monks in saffron robes, inquisitive school students or friendly food sellers got on for ten minutes or so and then exited at the next station. Outside the train on the edge of the tracks there were street vendors cooking up congee for breakfast.
I felt very gratified for these scenes of authentic Thailand. With the busy activity outside the train window, this train journey reminded me of the Circular Railway that loops around the perimeter of Yangon, Myanmar. Once out of Bangkok the train sped up a little, (emphasis little), as it never really got above a chug. The slow speed was part of the attraction for me. After ninety minutes we finally left urban Bangkok so I got a real sense of the size of the Bangkok metropolis.
The train certainly wasn’t luxurious but the seats were comfy enough; the simplicity was part of the charm. Even though the temperature outside was in the mid 30’s it was never hot in the carriage as one could open the windows and feel a soft breeze. Traveling on a high-speed train with air conditioning might be more comfortable; however, I love the open windows in order to take photographs. There was no dining car, but there was a selection of tasty snacks for sale by an attendant walking up and down the aisle.
Just before midday the train arrived at the end of the line at Aranyaprathet District on the Cambodian border. After the Thai border crossing, I hired a tuk tuk for the short ride to Poipet, the town on the Cambodian side. After securing the visa on arrival and happily collecting another stamp in my passport, I left for my next destination in Siem Reap. After a two-hour bus ride, I arrived by 3pm with plenty of time to prepare for my early start the next morning. Many travelers scramble to take an iconic photo of Angkor Wat silhouetted by the setting sun. My strategy was to beat the heat and crowds and enjoy my visit to this magnificent temple at dawn.
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