The Overnight Train

When S and I were planning our travels to Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, I was ecstatic.
Less so when I found out that instead of a 1 hour flight we would be taking an 11 hour train journey from Bangkok to Chumphon, combined with a one hour bus trip and a 45 minute boat ride, all in one hit, before even getting to Koh Tao. To be fair, it was our choice – we wanted to experience everything we possibly could, and that meant making the most of the wide range of transportation options that Thailand had.

During my time in Thailand I had met a fair few people who had taken the overnight train and when asked what it was like, their response was something along the lines of “not as bad as you think, not as good as you hope”.
I could live with that, so we went to Hua Lamphong and booked our tickets.
The ticket booking was relatively easy, with the helpful staff organising us a joint ticket, which meant that our train, bus and boat ride were all booked for the right time, and we didn’t have to worry about missing anything. It also only cost 1,240B which at the GBP equivalent of £23, was a pretty good bargain considering it covered more than 250 miles.

On our day of departure Thailand was having a few protests.
Huge traffic jams, masses of people marching through the streets and pick up trucks filled with people in the back covered in red, white and blue face paint, meant that after 20 minutes of sitting in gridlocked traffic, we realised we weren’t going anywhere fast. Desperate to get to the station before our trains 7:30 departure time, I managed to persuade S that we’d be better of walking across the bridge and getting a motorsai, after all they’re available on almost every street corner, how could we not find one! … But it appeared that luck was not on our side on this particular day, as after 30 minutes of walking in Bangkok’s hot evening sun, we had not found a single one. But finally, a few minutes later we found our mirage in the dessert and a group of motorsai’s lightened our pockets by a few hundred baht and took us on our way.
The protests were huge and as a result traffic was spanned across our entire journey.
Weaving through Bangkok traffic on the back of a moped with a 45L backpack that stops you being able to hold onto the back properly, was not easy, but after 30 minutes of car-weaving and some seriously achey thighs later, we arrived at Hua Lamphong, living to tell the tale.
I had been expecting the train to be full of large groups of backpackers, raucous and excited to hit the islands, but instead found a mostly friendly bunch of people who were just keen to sleep. The carriages themselves were reasonably clean and made up of sections, each with two seats below (that transformed into a bed) and a tuck away bunk above. Unfortunately, that’s where the pleasantries ended. Our bunks were situated right next to an adjoining carriage with a broken door, meaning that as soon as we left and the train picked up a rhythm our soundtrack became “chugga-chugga-chugga-BANG”. I bought headphones with me as a precaution, so the noise wasn’t too much of a problem, the problem was that because the door couldn’t stay shut, our carriage had constant diesel fumes seeping in, making for a very smelly and smoky ride.

In attempt to hide from the fumes and buckle down for a few hours sleep, I climbed onto my top bunk and snuggled up. The bedding given out was a thin textured blanket and a pillow which would have been perfect were it not for the aircon unit blowing right over my bunk curtain, turning my bed into a freezer. After putting on a few more layers of clothes to protect myself from getting a chill, I popped to the bathroom to freshen up. Only there was not a single thing fresh about the bathroom. It was that… Un-fresh, that I actually had to stop mid-pee to be sick out of the window. (Soz for the overshare – I wasn’t happy about it either!) Banishing myself from taking in any more fluids to avoid another trip back to that hell… hole (literally) I settled into my bunk and the rocking rhythm of the train soon had me fast asleep.
We arrived at Chumphon station at half 4 the following morning and as I opened my eyes I felt terrible. Dry mouth, scratchy throat, migraine, nausea and a chesty cough. Assuming I was dehydrated I threw back a bottle of water and made a mental note to take a nap and get some hydration salts when we arrived in Koh Tao.

Despite the pleasant bus ride, I still didn’t feel any better, so when we boarded the boat we made a point of sitting outside so that I could get some fresh air and warmth. A few days prior to our departure Koh Tao was on weather reports for having notoriously rough seas, but we hadn’t heard anything new before our departure and assumed this had passed. Only we were wrong. The ferry journey that usually took an hour, took over double the amount of time as it struggled through the 5-7 metre high waves that came crashing against it.
Half way into the journey I could feel my migraine getting worse so curled into a ball on the bench (which its ridiculously hard to do) propped my head on S’ lap and tried to sleep it off. Unfortunately I was awoken to the sound of passengers running over to the side of the boat to ‘dispose’ of their sea-sickness, and it was mere minutes before the nausea gained on the train had me joining them. With bile rising quickly and sea spray covering me in water that had been hastily chilled by strong winds, I ran to the back of the boat and said goodbye to my dignity as it projectiled into the deep blue.

It was not my finest moment, and with a boat full of people watching me as I became violently ill, I was mortified. After that I felt drained. S gave me his towel to wrap around myself to keep warm, but all of my energy had gone and I felt increasingly weak. So much so that when we arrived in Koh Tao, I couldn’t even lift my own bag, which just hours before was considered to be extremely light.
S was my saviour, and after lugging both of our belongings off the pier and hailing us a taxi, we were finally at our hotel. I borderline crawled to the reception desk when I found out we were three hours early to check in, but the staff at The Simple Life resort were extremely accommodating, and after looking sympathetically at the state of me, gave us a room straight away.

I felt worse than I had ever felt before, and hated that I couldn’t set out straight away to explore. Putting it down to dehydration and exhaustion I went straight to sleep in the hope that I could sleep it off and wake up renewed and revitalised. But five hours later I awoke, only feeling slightly better and wanting to see more of the island, dragged my sorry ass out of bed and down to the beach where S was chilling.
We took a short walk through the town and along the coastline, and the atmosphere on Koh Tao was almost palpable. Laid back chilled out vibes with a huge emphasis on diving. The expat and backpacking community here is huge and you couldn’t help but get swept up in the joy of the people staying here.

An hour later my energy levels depleted so I decided to spend the rest of the day resting in the hopes that I could recover and enjoy our remaining days in Koh Tao. However two days on, several hydration salts and a whole lot of sleep later, I still couldn’t leave my bed. My energy levels were depleted and I felt so sorry for myself that I couldn’t stop crying.
Knowing this wasn’t some passing bug, S managed to pull me out of bed and and help me waddle to the doctors. 500B later and I was told that not only did I have an abnormally fast heart beat, but I also had a chest infection, a stomach infection and some kind of virus. I was prescribed antibiotics but unfortunately they didn’t kick in and improve my health until we were in Koh Phangan, so I missed out on seeing pretty much all of the island, which devastated me. Especially as I had been looking forward to scuba diving, visiting Nang Yuan and zip-lining between the islands for so long.
It will always bug me that I never got to see Koh Tao properly, especially when S showed me that at the top of Koh Tao lay this view:
Undoubtedly it would have been quicker, and better for us to fly, but it was an experience.
And one I doubt that I’ll ever forget…
Hopefully it’ll become less of a travel woe, and become funnier as time goes on.
This post isn’t supposed to put anybody off of the overnight train. I know many people that have taken it and had an enjoyable experience, and being the fate-tempting souls we are, we braved the overnight train on the way back from our travels and it was so much more pleasant than our previous experience.
The toilets were still gross and the aircon was still far too cold, but in the end S and I snuggled up together on the bottom bunk and I arrived back in Bangkok without anymore woeful strories to add to my repertoire.
Transport in Thailand is unpredictable.
But luckily there are things you can do to prepare.
So without further ado, here are my top five tips for surviving a less than ideal overnight train.
1) Go to the toilet before you leave, trust me when I say that you do not want to go in there.
2) Wear thick clothes, or carry a travel blanket with you.
3) Try to book a ticket that includes a lower bunk, not only are they comfier, but you’ll be away from the deathcon unit.
4) Eat before you go, the food on the train is less than appetising.
Or alternatively – 5) Get so absolutely wasted that you just don’t give a fuck.
Or yano.
You could just save the hassle and fly.
But then how would you be able to tell your great grandkids about the time that you travelled the world and threw up in your own hair?
Has anyone else ever travelled on the overnight train?
What was your experience like?
If you haven’t but you have had an equally humiliating/ horrible travel experience I’d love to hear your story and know that I’m not alone hiding in all of this shame!

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