On our last night in Phuket, we arranged with a very pleasant lady a ticket to Bangkok. The plan was that we would get picked up from our hostel and taken to Phuket city, where we would take a coach bound for Surat Thani, a four or five hour drive away, connecting with a night train to take us to the capital.
We knew this could be done, and we’d read online that tickets could be bought from most agencies in Phuket. We’d been asking around a bit all week but with no luck, so when we found an agent in a little hut by the side of the main road who said “yeah, no problem I can do that”, although alarm bells were being prepared they weren’t yet ringing full blast. We booked a top and bottom berth on the night train and went to bed on our last night in Phuket with peace of mind that we would be collected at 12.30 the next day and wouldn’t have to worry about anything.
12.30 arrived and we were collected and taken across to Phuket City to take what we thought would be the 1pm bus we’d booked, but what apparently had always been planned to be the 2pm bus. Not quite what we’d had in mind, but still never mind we had a seat on the bus and it should still arrive in Surat Thani in time for the train we’d booked.
After a 45 minute wait in the bus terminal, we were finally allowed on the bus, and what a cracker! We took our seats towards the back (there were only about 10 people on the coach so we had plenty of choice), past the towel on the floor mopping either the leaky air con or a whole in the roof, avoiding some of the wet seats, and choosing a spot where we might be able to relax a bit without fearing for our health in any other manner.
The coach ride took four hours, and we slowly picked up more travellers along the way. Eventually, we were brought into Surat Thani on the verge of dusk. We pulled up alongside a main road, and were greeted by cries of “Samui!” and “Bangkok!” by people who were looking to take the tourists on to further destinations. Not really having any other choice, we went with the man shouting Bangkok who took us over the main road, and down a little side road to what might as well have been his garage with a desk in it.
“So, you want to go to Bangkok?”
“Yes, we’ve already bought our tickets.”
“Already have your tickets? Can I see them?”
“We don’t have them, we came here to collect them.”
“Hmmm. You can buy new ticket?”
“We don’t want a new ticket, we want our tickets.”
“Hmmm, where you buy ticket?”
“I don’t know.”
Just at the point when I thought we were stuck and had been screwed over, the man’s wife called him over and had a word him; he returned to his desk, opened the top draw and pulled out an envelope. Two tickets to Bangkok. They weren’t for the train we’d booked, or for the berths we’d booked, but they were still tickets to Bangkok and they were on a train that left that evening, so whoever’s they were, we said “great yep they’ll do”.
“So where’s the station?”
“I call you taxi.”
“Can we walk there?”
“No, it’s 20 minutes in taxi or tuk-tuk. I give you good price.”
“Sure you will.”
A 20 minute tuk-tuk ride later and we arrived at Surat Thani station. We were tired and hungry, and just wanted something to eat and to have a sit down. I checked with the guy in the ticket office that the pieces of paper we’d been given were actually legitimate tickets (they were) and asked him which platform the train would depart from (platform 1). It was due to depart in an hour and a half, so we had a little wander along the platform and found a cafe where we had some dinner.
With departure time approaching, we headed back to the platform and asked a guard to check that we were in the right place and that our train was coming soon. “Not yet, 90 minute delay.” Great. The 90 minutes soon turned into 120 minutes, which was made even worse by the fact the train we should have been on wasn’t delayed by nearly so much. Tired, and getting bored of reading our books having done it all day, we swatted away the flies and waited forlornly with the other passengers on the platform.
Shortly after half past eleven, the train finally arrived. Scurrying along to the other end of the platform, we hopped on and went to look for our bunks. The corridor was narrow, restricted by luggage placed in racks every six feet and hemmed in by curtains pulled across sleeping Thais. We found our beds and climbed in and finally had a little relax. Shoving our bags into the rack somewhere so they wouldn’t fall out during the night, we pulled up into bed and pulled our curtains across to try and get some kip.
We were in a second class berth, and both had upper bunks after our ticket fiasco. The lower bunks are supposedly slightly bigger, and the fear of falling out is only allayed by two 2-inch wide straps I imagine there to keep you from falling off. In the bunk there was a little pocket to keep valuables, and a reading light which was rendered completely redundant as the main lights of the carriage stayed on all night and the curtains didn’t really keep much out. Bedding-wise we were furnished with a pillow and a sheet, though the air con was whacked up so high we needed to get more clothes out to actually keep warm throughout the night.
Still, we’d made the train, and for 10 hours rolled across the Thai countryside (presumably, we had no window on the top bunk to check) and struggled to get off to sleep what with the light, the cold, and the constant bumping and noise of the train, before we arrived the next morning in Bangkok Hualamphong station.