Trains in Thailand

Posted March 2012

Time constraints while traveling usually mean missing out on experiencing everything a place has to offer. Nevertheless, one can't always plan a long holiday like when Kristin and I had just five days to escape life in Bali. We settled on a 4-country itinerary: Bali-Singapore-Vietnam-Cambodia-Malaysia-Bali. The first leg of the trip went fine, and we were in Singapore's well-appointed international terminal by late Friday morning. After spending some time wandering the expansive airport, we caught a train, then a bus over to the LCCT (low-cost carrier terminal). This is where airlines such as Air Asia and Jetstar are situated, and it's definitely a step below the rest of the airport. When I tried to check-in for our flight to Vietnam, I was informed that a letter of invitation from the Vietnamese embassy was required. I didn't have, and it was a big problem.

After running through a few different options, we settled on booking a flight to Thailand. This allowed us to keep the remainder of my itinerary the same. We arrived in Bangkok around midnight, made it through a long immigration line, and caught a taxi straight to the Khaosan Road.

Khaosan Road

Originally Bangkok's largest rice market, Khaosan Road has recently developed into the hub of the city's budget traveler community and earned itself the nick-name of "the backpacker's ghetto". The short stretch of street and the surrounding area has earned an international reputation as a center of partying. Bars, night clubs, tourism agents, guest houses, and hotels line the streets with vendors selling all sorts of goods from food to clothing to electronics.

It was 2 AM on Saturday by the time the taxi dropped us off and the streets were brimming with people. We were worried about finding a place to stay, but quickly found a cheap room at a local guest house. After throwing our bags down, we headed out for some food and beers. We hadn't eaten since 4 PM, and a beer only seemed fitting after 18 hours of traveling.

Finding food on Khaosan Road is not a problem. You can even eat some bugs if you're interested (see photo below). Many insects are considered a delicacy in Thai cuisine. The maeng da, for example, is a gaint water bug said to taste like gorgonzola cheese! Other insects on offer include grasshoppers, scorpions, termites, bee larvae, and silkworms. They are mostly deep-fried with a selection of different spices, such as kaffir lime leaves, cumin, coriander, and/or chilies. I have been known to eat insects, but I don't think I've ever paid for any before. One scorpion cost 30 bot ($1 US), the same as a whole dish of pad thai!

We ended up spending about 150 baht (just over $5 USD) for some delicious pad thai, some chicken skewers, and a couple cold Chang Beers. It was nearly 4 in the morning by the time we retired to our guest house for a short sleep.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

Kristin and I dragged ourselves out of bed the next morning around 9. We had a quick morning coffee before making our way to the nearest bus stop on Ratchadamnoen Klang Road. We watched dozens of buses pass before we finally saw our number, but the driver wasn't stopping. We had to run out into the street to flag it down. 

It wasn't long before we arrived at Chatuchak Weekend Market. Known as Asia's largest market, Chatuchak covers a 35-acre area and houses over 8,000 different stalls selling a myriad of goods: clothing, ceramics, furniture, artwork, handicrafts, books, and of course, food.

While Kristin's top priority was finding some nice Thai clothing, mine was eating. Bangkok street food is awesome, and Chatuchak is known it's great selection. The different types of meat skewers can probably make a vegetarian drool, and each vendor has their own marinades and special dipping sauces so it's definitely worth trying a few different ones. I was a bit surprised that Thai cuisine has such a large emphasis on pork, but there is a broad selection of chicken, fish, and other seafood at these little skewer carts. I'm not much of a pork eater but I have to admit they were probably my favorites: hot dogs, cut into chunks, and wrapped in bacon! Depending on the type and size, one skewer stick is priced at 5-20 baht, or approximately 10-60 cents USD. 

We snacked on skewers as we perused a few dozen stalls full of clothes, housewares, and beautiful arts and crafts. Kristin and I wanted to buy a whole range of things because there are such unique products on offer. Our traveling lifestyle limits us, so we restrained ourselves and bought a few bits and pieces before weaving out of the damp stall area and re-entered the world on a sunny street, stumbling upon several food vendors with little awnings setup. They all looked pretty similar, and the smell of traditional Thai cuisine was very enticing.

We both ordered khanom chin namya, boiled rice noodles with fish balls in a fish-based sauce. The chef prepared it quickly and it was on our table in minutes. Then, we got to customize our bowls with fresh ingredients that took up most of our table space: bean sprouts, cabbage, fresh and pickled cucumber slices, a whole selection of greens (spearmint leaves, Accacia  pennata leaves, and others I can't name), and plenty of different sauces that range from sweet to very spicy. We finally headed back to the guesthouse with full stomachs ready to relax and prepare for our early-morning journey the following day.

Thailand trains may not be the most timely but they may be the best way to travel Thailand

Countryside Travel to Aranyaprahet

Traveling thrifty can be a great way to experience local culture in foreign countries. Whether it's tricycles in the Philippines, becaks in Jogjakarta, or trains in Thailand. Kristin and I knew we wouldn't get to explore too much of Thailand on our short trip, so we allotted for one day travel between Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Most tourists opt for a direct shuttle service, but we decided to take the train.

We sleepily dragged ourselves out of bed and made our way down Khaosan Road at 5 AM. Remnants of the previous night littered the streets as we passed by straggling party-goers returning to their hotels. A short 30-baht taxi ride had us at Bangkok's central Hua Lamphong Station in no time, and we purchased train tickets to Aranyaprahet for just 48 baht each. 

We loaded onto the open-aired train and were soon clacking along the rails through Bangkok. The train slowly filled with passengers during several stops over the first hour or so. The heat of the day crept up as we exited the city into rural Thailand. People came and went at each stop, and vendors from the local villages lined the railways selling passengers snacks and beverages through the windows. The countryside was beautiful. We passed acres and acres of farmland and lakes dotted with swooping birds and cattle.

Crossing the Border into Cambodia

The border crossing from Aranyaprahet, Thailand to Poipet, Cambodia is well known for scams and corruption. It started as soon as we exited the train and loaded into a tuk-tuk for a 15-minute ride to the boder. Instead of taking us to the actual border, the driver took us to a very legitimate looking "visa office" where a friendly "official" greeted us and invited us inside to purchase our Cambodian 'Visa on Arrival' for triple the actual price. We told our driver to kindly continue on to the real border if he'd please, and he dropped us off at the next "official visa office". Again, this is not where you want to buy your visa!

Fortunately, Kristin and I had done our research. We calmly exited through Thailand immigration and followed the signs to the proper governmental office to pay for my 'Visa on Arrival' for Cambodia. Kristin didn't need to get a visa as a Filipino because of the ASEAN visa exemption. A 15-day 'tourist visa' is $20 USD. Even the real customs officers inside the governmental office blatantly tried to extort money, but finally granted my visa after a short standoff.

We finally walked through Cambodian customs after an hour of hassles. The drive from Poipet to Siem Reap is about 2 hours, and we easily organized a shared taxi with another traveler. Normally, a taxi take four passengers at a rate of $13 USD per person (total of $52 USD), but our driver agreed to discount the trip for the three of us granted he could "pickup a friend along the way". I would suggest not agreeing to this. To earn extra money, taxi drivers pick up locals along the long drive to fill up their car. And when I say fill up their car, I'm not joking. We ended up with 7 people in a Camry: 3 in the back and 4 in the front! Speaking of filling up the car, I was surprised to find out that cars in Cambodia use LPG for fuel. The joys of travel, learn something new everyday.

Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton
Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton