Bangkok to Koh Phangan by sleeper train. Fall asleep in the city, wake up in the jungle.
Day 2 – The overnight sleeper train.. Bangkok to Koh Phangan
“Chick.. are you sure we’re on the right train?”. Stacey looked unimpressed.
Four very unhappy faces stared back at me.
A month earlier we’d been planning this trip. A trip of a lifetime for all of us, over a bottle of wine, in a restaurant on The Strand. Planning is stressful enough. Planning to suit the needs of 10 headstrong girls – almost impossible. Doing it in a busy restaurant, under the influence of a few bottles of wine.. carnage.
Some opted to fly straight down from Bangkok. The remaining four had sat at the table undecided that night. A toss up. Fly straight to the island and cut out a day of travelling? Or ride the train with me? I admit I used my artistic license that night, painting the scene of an overland, overnight adventure. They were sold. Though in hindsight I think I had sold them the Orient Express.
The sleeper train is not the Orient Express.
The train was basic. Old. Run down.. and so I instantly fell in love with it, though not a bunk bed in sight. I admit, even I thought perhaps I’d booked the wrong train.
My ticket sat me away from the group, opposite a young, but weathered looking traveller. I opened my book, squirming slightly at how uncomfortable the seat was. How was I going to sleep upright for 12 hours I thought? I bought a bottle of beer from the passing train attendant, as did the chap opposite. I hear commotion behind me as the rest of the group discovered the vodka. I looked back to see them smiling. relief came over me. I hadn’t ruined their holiday.
The traveller and I chatted. He had an American accent, so I was surprised to hear that he was actually Swedish. When I grilled him on this, he explained that Swedish people learn English from watching American sitcoms, so most have an American accent. I was even more surprised that his name was John. John Anderson. “Not very Swedish?” I questioned. “Very Swedish” he explained. John was in fact “Jon” and Anderson was “Andersson” meaning “son of Anders”. the most popular name in Sweden. Huh! You learn something new every day.
Within an hour the guard came round and the uncomfortable seats were folded down into beds. Mine and Jon’s seat folded out into the bottom bunk, and a shelf was pulled down above as the top bunk. Eureka! Each bunk had a small fan at one end that simply blew a small whisper of warm air back at you. A flimsy green curtain for each was all that separated the beds from the aisle. A sea of green unfurled in the carriage as passengers were already bunking down for the night. It was only 9pm. I was too excited to sleep.
I met back with the girls. They’d got over the shock of the train and were having the time of their lives. The bottle of vodka was demolished, so we stock up on a second.. and third.. just incase there was a shortage, heading off down the carriages to explore.
Moving from carriage to carriage, you were exposed to the open air, no railings to protect you should you take a tumble off the train. I love that about Thailand. The Health and Safety police have not reached it yet. It felt like we were in an old movie. We lingered for a while, watching stations and towns zip by in a dusky blur, discovered that between carriages, the open air space was the smoking area, every now and then a passenger, or group of, would join us.
We quizzed a couple of girls. In their early 20’s from Manchester, they’d taken 3 months off work to travel, just approaching their second month. After exploring Cambodia and Vietnam and they too had spent the previous night on Khao San Road. But the highlight of their trip so far, they gushed, wildly animated as they talked, was Laos. It’s now high up on my list of places to visit. With a hug and a kiss, they moved on, and so did we. Everyone in Thailand is friendly.
In the next carriage we met a young couple, deeply in love, who had been travelling for a year, they’d met 2 months into their travels and had 2 months left before returning to Canada.
Doubling back on ourselves we explored the other end of the train. In the other end of our own carriage we stumbled on German guy, probably in his 50’s, stood there in the aisle, completely naked, as if it was a perfectly normal thing to do on a train. We bumped into him many a time on that journey, in various states of undress, apparently he wasn’t keen on clothing.
Back in our own carriage Jon came and joined us. We partied in the open aired space, attracting evermore an eclectic group around us, until the vodka was gone, until the cigarettes were gone, until the guard came round and ushered us all back to our bunks. They locked the doors at the end of the carriages. The guards would be sleeping in the open air space for the rest of the journey.
The girls returned to their bunks. Jon and I returned to ours. There was one beer left.. we made it last as long as we could.
Pulling across the green curtain we sat in the cramped space of the bottom bunk. We talked for most of the rest of the night and morning, my mini adventures in London pale in comparison to his tall tales of travelling through Asia on a motorbike. Jon been travelling for 18 months, with had another 6 to go. After this he would fly onto South America. To Mexico and Belize. Then onto Europe.
I was in awe. At only 22, so young, but he’d already done so much. I wondered how he’d fit back into life at home again once his adventures were over? In tattered board-shorts with an over-grown mohawk, covered in scars, I couldn’t imagine him in a suit.
Around 7am I woke. I’d read so many travel blogs about the magic of the sleeper train, and here it was out the window. We’d left the night before in darkness from the metropolis of Bangkok. A city of lights and traffic and bars and ladyboys. I gawped out the window now, there was something special about waking up in the Jungle, watching the sunrise over the canopy. Endless green streaked past the window, broken only occasionally by a humble shack in the hills.
I couldn’t help but grin. I’d awoken to my next adventure.
The girls and I hauled our backpacks on again. We said goodbye to Jon, to the couple, to all the people we’d met on the train.. German naked man waved goodbye wildly at us. Then we stepped off into a blistering heat.
The full moon party awaits..