Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Train Rides 2014 - Bangkok to Arayanprathet

Date: 26th December 2014

Bangkok Railway Station, unofficially known by the local as Hua Lamphong Station, is referred to by the State Railway of Thailand as Krungthep Station (Krungthep carry a meaning of Bangkok in English). It is the main railway station in Bangkok. The station is located in the city center in Pathum Wan District and the railway is wholly managed and operated by the State Railway of Thailand. Hua Lamphong is the informal name of the station, widely used by both foreign travellers and locals. I managed to capture the whole station from an external view when we walked to reach the station by foot from the hotel. There's no traffic to stop us viewing a beautiful sight of the station at an early morning.

For locals, the station is commonly referred to as Krungthep Station, and the name Hua Lamphong is not well-known, hence you need to mention “Krungthep” to the transporter. Similarly, all documents published by the State Railway of Thailand (such as train tickets, timetables, and tour pamphlets) the station is uniformly transcribed as Krungthep in Thai. The station was opened on June 25, 1916 right after it achieved 6 years completion of it's construction. The site of the railway station was previously occupied by the national railway's maintenance centre, which was moved to Makkasan in June 1910 before the commencement of the construction. At the nearby site of the previous railway station a pillar commemorates the inauguration of the Thai railway network in 1897.

With no queue Anne successfully purchased our ticket

The station was built in an Italian Neo-Renaissance-style, with decorated wooden roofs and stained glass windows. It's architecture is attributed to Turin-born Mario Tamagno, who with his countryman (another Italian), Annibale Rigotti (1870–1968) who responsible for the design of several other early 20th century public buildings in Bangkok. The pair designed Bang Khun Prom Palace (1906), Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in the Royal Plaza (1907–15) and Suan Kularb Residential Hall and Throne Hall in Dusit Garden, among other buildings. We used our Iphone to snap the photos at the station. As soon as the ticket was purchased, we offered a Fajar prayer at the Surau, located on the 1st floor (staircase next to the food court and toilet). Thereafter, we tried to look for food but unfortunately no stall was open as yet.  

There are 14 platforms, 26 ticket booths and two electric display boards found at the stations. For the record, Hua Lamphong serves over 130 trains and approximately 60,000 passengers every day. Since 2004 the station has been connected by an underground passage to the MRT (Metropolitan Rapid Transit) subway system's Hua Lamphang Station (see my earlier entry). The station is also a terminus of the Eastern and Oriental Express luxury trains.

2nd return at Krungthep Station - feeling so lucky 

Aranyaprathet, 255 km from Bangkok, is just 6 km away from the Cambodian border post at Poiphet from where buses run to Siem Reap and Bttambang for onward bus or speedboat to Phnom Penh.   2 dedicated trains, train no. 275 (runs in early morning) whilst train no. 280 (runs later in the afternoon). You can't be choosy as they have only a 3rd class seats (take note-free seating), but then the Thai 3rd class train is quite clean and comfortable. In fact it was quite a pleasant way to travel, with vendors selling food & soft drinks in and out.  Both train 279 and 280 is a diesel railcar.

All trains are 3rd-class, which means no air-conditioning and windows open allows for a substantial breeze. There are toilets and sinks. Seats are a mixture of padded benches, padded bucket seats, and wooden benches. If taking the afternoon train try to sit on the shady (north) side of the train (i.e. left from BKK, right to BKK). The morning sun isn't so bad and doesn't so greatly affect the early departures, but it's still cooler in the north side. Plus, power lines are on the south side, so the view is better as well. The train is a great opportunity to watch people, countryside and wildlife. During the dry season, smoke and ash can blow through the windows from the burning rice fields.

Food and drink vendors work around the clock in the cars, providing cheap food and refreshment. Many of the foods were wrapped in banana leaf and easily taken. There's also an exotic food, unimaginable and so peculiar to us including the fried worm. An American who was on the same train with us, gave a try and offered us some. He said that whenever you are in Thailand you had to try their exotic food as we wont be able to find elsewhere. We both  politely turned down his offer. There's also a thick bamboo tubes contain the imaginatively named "bamboo rice", a mildly sweet and savory sticky rice, most easily eaten with chopsticks.

For 255km travelling distance from Bangkok to reach Aranyaprathet, the ticket price is only 48 baht, much cheaper than the tuk tuk fare (6km) to reach the Cambodian border. Please also take note that no reservation is required, you just need to turn up before the departing scheduled train, buy a ticket and hop on like we did. Two trains, no. 275 & 280 as mentioned earlier available every day in each direction connect Aranyaprathet with Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station. Train to Aranyaprathet depart at 05:55 and 13:05, scheduled to arrive at 11:20 and 18:05 respectively. From Arayanprathet o Hualamphong direction, i.e. to Bangkok, trains leave at 06:40 and 13:55, arriving at 12:05 and 19:55, respectively. We were forewarned for multi-hour delays but the train that day arrives in time in a good weather.

During the rainy season the region around Aranyaprathet was said to be flooded, resulting the train to terminate at an earlier stop, e.g. about 20km before. If that is the case, you may need to get off the train, follow the crowd to the main road north of the railway and wait for a bus that should take you to Arayanprathet or even directly to the border for about 30 baht. But the weather was really on our side. The sky is blue under a hot sun and it was quite humid. We were truly blessed that our whole journey from 25th December 2014 till we return on 3rd January 2015, we did not even encounter a tiny bit of rain.

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