A friend often drives up to Thailand and has given me some details which may be useful for some readers, so I share them here.
He has used the Bukit Kayu Hitam crossing many times…
Fairly recently a big Ganesha has been erected outside of Bangkok, at Wat Saman Rattanaram. See the size of it by Google Street view. It has proven so popular that other temples and statues have sprung up in the same area. By private transport it would be a half day trip. We thought we’d try public transport, which meant we were away most of the day.
You can catch a train to Chachoengsao, but we read it’s very crowded and you’d have to stand for two hours. And after that you catch a pickup for the rest of the way, to Wat Saman Rattanaram. We went by mini-bus (‘Rottoo’) instead to Chachoengsao, and then a pickup ( ‘Ten sou’) to Wat Saman Rattanaram.
The mini-bus to Chachoengsao departs from Bangkok Bus Terminal (Eastern), on Sukumvit Road, opposite BTS Ekkamai Station. We caught the 8AM minibus, but there are three earlier departures, and the next is at 11.00. However, check the day before, as timetables change frequently. A ticket costs THB18, from memory. It took us about two hours to arrive at the Chachoengsao bus station. We were there at 10.10AM.
The pickup to Wat Saman departs from a side street next to the market, about two minutes walk from the bus terminal. Our mini-bus driver showed us where. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the next departure, at 10.30. The fare was THB30.
And then we arrived at Wat Saman at about 11.25AM. It has no entry charge.
It was interesting to do once and to experience the ordinary public transport. Bangkok traffic can be bad, so consider which day you make the trip. And take some water to drink, as usual.
In the Wat market area, we saw a lot of local produce shops, fruit, nuts, cookies, flowers, plants, spice, and charcoal BBQ chicken take away.
The hawker area serves food: food, quality, hygiene, volume and value all were quite satisfactory for a super touristy place.
If you became over heated you can escape to Amazon cafe which is the only air-con place in the Wat. It is a couple of minutes walk past Ganesha.
I’m just back from a week in Bangkok. So much has been written about Bangkok, I will just make a few observations, rather than duplicate others’ efforts.
Now it was time to do it. But with no planning. I flew in to Bangkok with no advanced planning and no bookings, and caught local public transport from the airport to the railway station. See a recent blog about this.
There were quite a few English-speaking staff around to help you – at first I imagined when I was accosted they’d try to sell me something, but they were just helping you with any information you might need.
I have been told you have to book a few days in advance for the train to Butterworth (the train terminus for Penang). Indeed, when I arrived at the train station they told me the train was fully booked.
It was 12:00, the train to Butterworth departs at 14:45. I then asked for a ticket for the next train to Hat Yai, from where I thought I might be able to board the aforementioned train if it was running late, or otherwise get a minibus to Penang. Train 35 to Butterworth is scheduled to leave at 14:45 and arrive in Hat Yai at 06:35, on the way to Butterworth; and Train 171 leaves at 13:00 and arrives in Hat Yai at 06:45, but then goes on to the south-east of Thailand.
I got a lower bunk in the air conditioned sleeper for about 845 baht. They didn’t accept cards so I had to pay cash.
Bangkok Station is old and run down.
I looked around a little and then decided I may as well just get on the train as it was sitting in the station. I didn’t bother to buy any food or drink in advance, although it was available at the station. I just wanted to take things as they came, and probably pay a bit more buying on the train, instead.
Finding the train, carriage and then the seat number was easy as everything was labelled.
At 13:00, with no whistles or fanfare the train pulled out of the station. Amazed it was punctual, I sat and watched the view – for 100m until it stopped and sat for a while. Then moved another 500m and stopped for a while. you got a nice view of urban blight alongside the line.
The train continued along with occasional stops for an hour and a half, and one notices some modern new stations being built along the route.
Otherwise mostly urban blight.
And then finally we seem to be getting out of the city.
Sitting in the train seats is reasonably comfortable, but many people had their beds made up by the attendant quite early, and then either relaxed on the bed, or slept.
The lower bunk was then much better as you had a view.
People walk through the train selling snacks, drinks – water (15 baht), beer (50 baht), or meals – egg, and beef (?) on rice. At some stations people also are selling things. The first time I bought beer I was charged 75, and then the guy assumed he could keep the change and just walked away. It also turned out he overcharged me, as I now know.
As is predictable, the toilet is pretty disgusting. There are wash basins at the end of the carriage, which are OK.
The train stops at some stations, and you never know for how long, or when the train is about to leave, so it is unwise to get off at all.
I didn’t see any mosquitoes, but I did get one bite.
We reached Hua Hin at 6:15. The attendant comes around and tells you just before you reach your stop. Otherwise, you have no idea where you are, or if the train is on time or running late. There are no announcements. When it gets dark you cannot read the signs at all at most stations.
At some stage I walked through the train. It is kind of dangerous walking between the carriages, and sometimes the doors are open, so you want to keep a firm hold. The second class air-conditioned sleeper carriage I was in was the last carriage.
Next were second class non air-conditioned sleeper carriages, then a carriage of just seats,
and then the dining car. I don’t know if there were any carriages further in front, as the dining car was my destination. I thought it would be perhaps better to wait until the train stopped to move through to the dining car.
Following are some photos of the menu, but they are blurred as the train is not very stable or smooth.
I ordered chicken and cashews, and it was nice. The dining car was quite a pleasant place.
By Surat Thani we were running one and 1 /4 hours late. On the platform I saw many foreigners sitting and waiting, although I have no idea why.
The train continued on through the night, and the attendant slept, and when it became light I was wondering how we were progressing.
We arrived in Hat Yai around 8 am, one and 1 /4 hours late.
I got off, but worked out I couldn’t continue on the Butterworth train, so decided to get a minibus. A company across the road quoted me 550 baht to Penang, so as the normal fare is 300 baht I rang up another company and asked to catch their 9am service, and said I was at the station, and asked to be picked up – which they did at 9am.
We went back to the office to pay, and they wanted to see my passport. Then we drove and picked up some others, and then headed south. Only the driver and front passenger had seat belts, so it wasn’t so safe. And the driver drove very fast. At 10:40 we were at the Thai border, which wasn’t so crowded, and so were through in 15 minutes – leaving the luggage in the minibus, and just showing our passports and departure card.
At the Malaysian border a few minutes later a lot of people were waiting, but we were processed fairly quickly. We had to also take our luggage and put it though one of those airport type scanners. By 11:30 we were on our way again.
We were dropped at Komtar about 2:30 pm, for a total trip time from Hat Yai of 5 1/2 hours. We should have also had the option of alighting at Chulia Street, but the driver didn’t want to.
Overall, then, if I had the chance , I would book in advance for a lower berth in the train for the whole Bangkok – Butterworth trip. It is safer, more comfortable, and easier. Just don’t expect any alcohol to be served on the Malaysian side of the border.
There is free WiFi in the airport, airside, but not once you’ve passed Immigration and Customs. I found this out the hard way – the not getting any WiFi way.
After Immigration and Customs there is an airport information counter, and a tourist information counter, which will give you a map of Bangkok and erroneous information. There are a couple of ATM’s at the end of the hall. I found my cards didn’t work, although they should have, as the cards are members of the right groups. I had some cash to exchange just in case this happened, and cash exchange booths are to be found near the ATM’s.
To get to the station go down to level B1, where there are also ATM’s, and buy a ticket to Makkasan, which costs 35. I bought from the counter so I didn’t have to struggle with lack of change and possibly incomprehensible machines. Actually you get a red token which you press against the sensor at the entrance turnstile. This station is the fifth stop. It’s very easy to understand.
When you arrive at Makkasan follow the hordes out, put your token in the turnstile, and follow everyone downstairs.
There is a free shuttle bus that takes you about 100 metres up the road.It’s quite funny when you realise it’s taken you only a few steps – and had they organised the station better they could have had an exit there anyway.
Or you can walk it. Either way, at the end of the stretch of road,
turn right and walk about 50 metres
and you’ll find Phetchaburi station – it where everyone else was walking to, too.
They have a security check, and I simply walked past the metal scanner and opened my bag for their inspection. ATMs are there, too. Then go downstairs to buy a ticket, which is 29, and again you get a token. The trains are further downstairs.
The railway station, Hua Lamphang, is the last stop, so it’s easy to pick the right direction. It’s the seventh stop.
Announcements are given also in English on both trains.
Once you arrive you take Exit 2, which takes you directly to the railway station. More ATMs in both stations.
There are information desks there to help you.
The trip took about an hour, and cost 64. Another guy on the train caught a taxi, which cost 500 and took an hour and a half.
Health note: Bangkok airport now, it appears on a sporadic basis, employs full body scanners, which scientific studies have shown cause cancer, and damage DNA. In the US the machine attendants are coming down with cancer. Besides, many dangerous objects have been snuck through them, and so they are not even effective. I for one will not fly out of Bangkok anymore. An alternative to flying to Malaysia is catching the train south.
I am planning sometime this year to catch the train from Bangkok to Penang. The first step was to check The man in Seat 61. There you can find good information and photos. The information here is in addition to Seat 61.
Then I asked a friend who has done the journey a number of times.
You have to buy a ticket at the station in Bangkok. They speak English.
There is only one class of travel to Butterworth.
However, there are upper and lower bunks. The lower is far more popular as there is more headroom, and a window..
The ticket is about RM110 for the upper bunk, the lower a bit more.
The station is at the end of a subway line, so easy to get to.
There is only one train a day – around lunchtime. Two carriages go to Butterworth. It arrives about lunchtime in Butterworth.
But the train can be three or four hours late arriving.
Food is available on the train – the conductor comes around and takes your dinner order fairly soon after departure. Dinner is basically Thai food. Beer is available anytime and isn’t expensive. You can also get food when the train stops at stations.
The train is reasonably clean, and the bedclothes are clean. There is a basin and a toilet at the end of the carriage – which is not clean. There is no shower. There aren’t mosquitoes.
The aircon is too strong so it is cold.
The beds are made up around 8 or 9pm, and then people tend to sleep. And the beds are returned to seat state when people wake up – but it is done so noisily everyone wakes up.
Scenery tends to be paddy fields in Thailand and jungle in Malaysia.
The train stops at the border, and everyone disembarks, and goes through first the Thai Immigration and Customs, which is quite quick and not thorough, and then through the Malaysian equivalent, which is much slower and may check luggage. Then it’s back on the train – which hasn’t moved. All told it takes less than an hour to cross the border.
At Butterworth the train terminates, and then you can catch the ferry across to George Town, Penang.
Addendum on 8th September, 2012:
Now I have made the trip, which you can read about here.
Friday April 13th, the festival started. This one is in Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus.
They bus people in
And it’s still early, so not yet crowded…
People are mostly celebrating at the Burmese Temple. My neighbour tells me that in past years both the Thai and Burmese celebrated on the same day, and then they got into fights with each other, and the police came. So this year the Burmese celebrate on April 13th, and the Thais on the 14th in their temple across the road from the Burmese one.
They are selling beer already…
But it is still early, so people are polite, and don’t pour / throw water over you unless they ask first…
And they are selling food…
But there are still quiet havens…
And a stage show…
SATURDAY APRIL 14TH, 09:45
It is quiet. More people are in the Burmese temple observing the new year, but in the Thai temple they appear to be setting up stalls.