I woke up early on New Year’s Day morning. I had nothing to do and I remembered that there is one train a day from Bangkok to the beach resort of Pattaya (พัทยา). On the spur of the moment I decided to take a day trip to the seaside.
The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) posts timetables for most, but not all, of their services on the web. Here is the timetable for the Eastern Line.
Ordinary train #283 leaves Hua Lamphong Station at 6:55am (Monday to Friday only). But I did not need to take the Subway all the way to Hua Lamphong. The Eastern Line passes quite close to my apartment as it travels along Phetchaburi Road. It’s the corridor used by the new elevated Airport Express trains.
The train gets to Asoke Station at 7:22am. It was easy to take the Subway two stops to Phetchaburi Station and walk a short distance to the station. Note that the trains stop on the eastern side of Asok-Montri Road after they have crossed it.
In contrast with the modern Airport Express Station above Asoke is a tiny halt. There’s a simple concrete platform next to the single track and a hut for the level crossing operator. Even though Asok-Montri Road is a major thoroughfare the level crossing gate is a simple wheeled affair that the staff push across the road – dodging the cars and motorcycles that try to get by them.
I checked with the level crossing operator and he confirmed that the train to Pattaya was running on New Year’s Day. “Ka-pom!” – so I was fine.
Thai trains “always” run behind schedule and my train was five minutes late even this short distance from its starting point. I do not know why SRT do not update their timetables to be closer to reality. I hoped that the train would be quiet on a holiday and so it was.
I had my choice of seats in a 10-carriage train drawn by a 1980s vintage Alstholm diesel locomotive. Unfortunately there were some men in the first carriage I chose who were already drunk on Chang beer – that at 7 o’clock in the morning. Maybe they’d been up all night partying. I quietly left them to their party and went to a quiet carriage.
Progress is slow through the eastern suburbs of Bangkok. It passes the newly built Airport Express depot. I saw some of their new rolling stock parked outside. It will be some months before they are in daily use.
Like main ordinary trains this one was free for Thai people. Foreigners have to pay the normal fare. The fare to Pattaya was 33 Baht – about US$1. I paid the conductor and he gave me some small blue coupons as a ticket. By contrast the express bus costs 113 Baht (US$3.33).
I didn’t have any breakfast, but I didn’t have to worry. A group of vendors boarded the train at Khlong Tan Station. They had baskets of goodies for sale. I chose fried rice with a fried egg on top plus a bottle of water. That cost me 30 baht (less than US$1).
The vendors walk up and down the train all the time shouting for customers. That can be annoying if you’re trying to sleep but it all adds to the local colour. I did wonder how they are organized and whom they have to pay to have the right to sell food on a particular train.
Many more passengers joined the train and by Hua Mark Station it was full. I shared my seats with a Thai family on their way to Chachoengsao.
Once we got outside the city the train speeded up and it got to Chachoengsao on time. For the rest of the journey I had a lot of space. I kept on switching seats in an attempt to photograph each station.
The carriages were second-hand Japan Railways stock. They used to be air-conditioned but the SRT disabled the units and installed fans. The doors and windows were open all the time.
The SRT are upgrading the Eastern Line to double track. This is mainly to speed freight (goods) traffic to and from the port of Leam Chabang.
The train stopped at many small stations that are not listed on the English timetable. It was good to get out of Bangkok into the country again. Because everything was open my Nikon Coolpix P6000 kept its GPS connection for the whole journey. Thus all my pictures were geocoded by the camera. The train was slow enough that the positions were quite accurate.
The train fell behind schedule as it crossed from Chachoengsao Province into Chonburi Province but we arrived in Pattaya only 13 minutes late at 10:48am. That’s very good for the trip.
Most of the remaining passengers disembarked at Pattaya. The train continues to a place called Ban Plu Ta Luang. As I said, it is the only train of the day. It returns to Bangkok, passing through Pattaya at 14:21 (according to the timetable). That was too early for my day trip. I took the express bus back to Bangkok. In contrast to the 3:30 train ride the bus takes at most two hours and is often quicker than that.
That’s typical for developing countries where the train is slow but inexpensive. The Bangkok – Pattaya roads are so congested there is a great opportunity to upgrade the railways and provide a true alternative that gets many diesel buses and maybe some cars off the road.
I paused on the to take some photos. That was a mistake. Public transport in Pattaya relies on songtheaw. They are small pick-up trucks (mostly Isuzu DMax and Toyota Hilux Vigo) with two rows of seats under a metal canopy. (The Thai name means “two rows”). They take about 12 passengers at a squeeze. Only one songtheaw met the train and that quickly filled with passengers and departed.
I waited around but people shrugged when I asked if another songtheaw would come. I should have pushed my way aboard.
So I had to walk into town. The station is about one kilometre from the main road. Fortunately there was a local map on the wall of the station. I memorized the route and walked all the way to Sukhumvit Road. There I was able to get a songtheaw to Beach Road and the sea.
Fortunately it was not too hot and I found a “108 Shop” on the way to get some water. It was a lesson learned – I shouldn’t have hung around the station being a train-spotter and should have pushed my way onto the songtheaw.
I posted a selection of photos to Picasa Web Albums here with a slideshow at http://sites.google.com/site/thebkkphotographer/home/by-train-to-pattaya.
Here’s a map of the Thai railway network: