Thursday, June 6, 2013

Train Ride 2013 - Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Bangkok (BKK)

Travelling date: 24th till 31st May 2013

Anne and I have been planning the 1st leg of our huge plan to travel earthbound via train, bus, taxi, boat, ferry, tuk tuk, motorbike or even bicycle since February 2013. We both had a big ambition to travel Central Asia (to begin with) and later to Russia and perhaps Europe. Initially we thought of taking a month break when we reached 50 years old for the travel but we were too excited and eager to wait, hence, we split our proposed big earthbound travelling plan into numerous leg. This trip being our first.

On Friday, 24th May 2013 right after work we both headed to KL Sentral train station to begin our adventurous journey. We have, of course, our planned itinerary and a hotel confirmation slips. The night train "Senandung Utara", car no. 22, booked 2 months earlier departed at 11pm @ 2300 hours. The fare for lower berth, 2nd class is RM46/pax. The bed was already being prepared when we boarded the train. It was nice as we can sleep right away.

We arrived slightly few minutes delayed at the last train stop in Butterworth at 6.45am @ 0645 hours (originally scheduled at 6.30am). It was obvious from below photo that I had a long and beautiful sleep a night before. The train bed is quite comfortable. 

The Butterworth station was at that time and currently still under construction as part of the Northern Double Tracking contract awarded to MMC-Gamuda Joint Venture in 2007. I was supposed to join this project if I did not quit the company that year. According to 1 of the KTM's staff (Keretapi Tanah Melayu @ Malayan Railways), the project from Ipoh to Padang Besar shall be fully completed and commissioned in 2014. On 25th May 2013, we safely arrived at the temporary station of Butterworth built by the JV for uninterrupted service for KTM user's. 

It was a misty morning when we passed below train head which carried the driver name and few details of the train engine and it's capacity. The driver name is Mat Salleh, a Malays and his driving licence is 24104. For the record, the Malaysian famously referred the whiteman as Mat Salleh and/or the Kwailo. I thought it was very unique to have my picture with it. 

The Butterworth station seated adjacent to the Bus Stations (which covers all destination that you wishes to go in West Malaysia - to the west, east, south etc.), the taxi stands and the ferry jetty that carries passengers and vehicles to the Penang Island. With Anne persuasion, I had to agree to her wishes to cross the island and had a wonderful trip in Penang with her. Am going to write about our Island adventure in separate entry.

After we freshened up and done with our obligatory prayers at KTM's provided surau, we boarded the train no. 36 connecting Butterworth to Bangkok, departed at 2.20pm @ 1420 hours. This is how the 2nd class cabin looks like where the passengers can sit comfortably at day time. The bed will be prepared by the train personel assigned for the car by dawn times.

Anne and I have agreed for 2 POI (Place of Interest) in every split of the leg that we go. The first POI @ train stop is at Surat Thani station in southern Thailand for our sunny holiday at Koh Samui Island. Hence, our Butterworth to Surat Thani station costed us at RM92.20/person for lower berth on the second class train whilst direct trip is charged at only RM127/person. We make a conversation with the passenger seated on upper berth, the lady in front of me is working in Penang Island after her Master Degree graduation from University Science Malaysia (USM). She is preparing for her wedding to a nice Malaysian guy who sent her off at the station. I started our conversation by telling her that the man who waved at her must have really love and adore her so much. Whilst Anne was getting tips for our Koh Samui holiday from a fellow Malaysian who made regular trips to Thailand seated across her seat.

The train arrived at around 0100 hours (1am) the following morning, 26th May 2013 in Surat Thani station. The first thing we did was rushing to a ticket counter to purchase a ticket to Bangkok and ticket home to Butterworth from Bangkok. We were lucky as 1 counter is left open, 24 hours to serve a customer like us. Following an advice from "The Man in Seat 61" blog, we chose train no. 86 to Bangkok from Surat Thani and the only direct, international route Train no. 35 to Butterworth. Train ticket to Bangkok cost only RM81/person and RM127/person to Butterworth as mentioned earlier on. Important to note that Thai Railways does not open online booking and never responded to our queries sent 2 months before our departure (we  were adamant to get the online booking despite a known fact.. haha).

From our research, the 1st ferry to depart to Koh Samui is at 6.30am @ 0630 hours, so we decided to hang out at the station until we can get the first taxi to the jetty. I was too exhausted and found a place that I can lie down for a short nap. It was not a nap as I was at below position for 2 hours and Anne said I snored. It was amazing with so loud noise from the arriving trains and the unpleasant smells of the old station I can managed to doze off like that.

At about 4.30am, we started to look for an alternative transport to Koh Samui. Firstly, the taxi driver just outside the Surat Thani station approached us and asking for THB1,200/taxi to bring us to the ferry. We said "no" to him. There was a guy who heard our conversation with the taxi driver later showed us a way to the travel agent who offered a much cheaper rate for transportation to jetty and the ferry fare, at only THB600 for2 persons. You may find rows of travel agent shops just behind the train station.

We enjoyed our holidays relaxing on the beach, eating, massaging and shopping for 3 days and 2 nights. We early booked our accommodation at Samui Buri Resort (click which amazingly satisfied all our need, located at Maenam beach. It is a very peaceful and private place for you to clear your head and total relaxation. I will put a separate entry for it later. On our return to the mainland on 28th May 2013, we took a bus in below photo, charged by the Seatran Ferry (click company at THB100/person from jetty to Surat Thani town. It was nearly 1 hour journey from the jetty to the town. From the town, we took a tuk tuk for another 1 hour journey to reach the Surat Thani train station at THB150/person.

As soon as we arrived at Surat Thani train station, we went to the same shop we booked our travelling arrangement to Koh Samui for late lunch. Thereafter, we went to look for train no. 86 which seat is smaller than the train no. 35 but the bed is really really comfy. This is how second class coach looks like. We admired the side baggage rack which makes the train looks very organised. The train was scheduled to depart at 6.37pm but it was delayed for nearly 2 hours. It supposed to reach Bangkok at 6.30am the next morning but we only arrived at almost 10am in Bangkok.

Beside chatting and making friends with the strangers in the train, Anne and I spent quite a deal of time playing Candy Crush game in our smart phone. When I was taking Emirates plane from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur in May 2013, the plane was full with the Aussie as part of the collaboration with Qantas Airways, I saw that the Aussies are too playing with this phenomenal Candy Crush games. 

After 3 days 2 nights stay in Bangkok (please wait for my separate entry ya!), we finally completed our itinerary happily since all places that we intended to visit are all covered and we were so ready to go home. If we took tuk tuk at THB350/trip to the hotel on our arrival, we decided to take metered taxi who charged only THB100 from "Ong Nut" to Bangkok Railway station. It is most recommended that metered taxi and trains (BTS and MRT) be used for your local transportation within Bangkok city. It was very safe and convenience.

We placed our luggage (charged at THB40/bag @ depending on bag sizes) at the station as we thought that we will have so much time for other things. But the main reason was, we came with 1 luggage but when we return we had 3 luggage's with us. We had lunch at the train station food court. Please note that Stall No. 1 serve Muslim food.

Our train was already waiting for us at Platform 5 with elegant officers right in front of the 10 cars (all 2nd class). I was really excited when I saw the officers and seek permission for exclusive photo with them. Only Anne knows why I cannot posted my photo here but instead put hers. 7 of the cars were going to Hatyai and only 3 direct to Butterworth.

Our train departed at 2.45pm @ 1445 hours punctual and scheduled to arrive at 1.51pm @ 1351 hours the next day, 31st March 2013. Though saddened by the result of the photo with the officers, I thanked Anne for below photo of me and the background  Bangkok station. It's beautiful to my eyes, an evidence that I was there standing on 30th May 2013. Thank you Anne.

Anne took my photo having unrestricted mind and enjoying my peace in the train ride with book, drinks, snacks, camera and of course, not forgotten the Candy Crush. 

We took below photo with our reflection on the mirror after the train officer had prepared our bed. I hope you may agree with me when I opine that it's very nice to have a clean sheet and blanket, private space when you pull the curtain and enjoyed the night in the train.

Another photo after the curtain has been pulled by the passengers going into their own space. For information, each car is provided with 2 toilets and a basin. As for the food, there is 1 car dedicated for a decent restaurant. The foods are excellent but for Muslim you have an only option of not having pork in your ordered food. Else, you can wait for the food seller who get on the train when it numerous stop. We had our breakfast at Hatyai from a Muslim lady, a sticky rice served with fried chicken.

We arrived at Immigration Check Point at Padang Besar at around 9 am where everyone has to bring down all their luggage for Malaysia Immigration check point. For the record, when you are entering Bangkok, it's not necessary to bring down your luggage as the Thailand Immigration will not required to check. It was a little bit strange. 

While waiting for Anne, I saw a process whereby the KTM had placed their engine in front of the 3 SCR car. Another information to share with you guys, the international route between Malaysia (Butterworth) and Thailand (Bangkok) was on the joint venture agreement between the 2 railways company. It travels daily connecting the 2 country. You may only book your ticket from Malaysia to travel to Bangkok and any place you wish to stop from KTM, but you cannot purchase any ticket from Thailand to Malaysia. It has to be purchase from Thailand side. 

To be continued with other details of the journey....

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