Banner for John P - Travel Writing and Photography

Home Malaysia Singapore to Chiang Mai ⇒ The International Express to Bangkok

Singapore to Chiang Mai by Train

6The International Express to Bangkok

The romantically named International Express leaves Butterworth in the early afternoon and crosses the border into Thailand a few hours later and becomes a different train. In Malaysia the International Express is quiet and reserved, but over the border it lets down its hair. Hawkers stream aboard and there is a continuous parade of people selling everything from box meals to beer, from dates to newspapers. The train takes on quite a party atmosphere as everyone loosens up and becomes friendly and eager to talk. I’ve taken this train many times in the past, and recently after a 15 year gap I was pleased to find the same great atmosphere. Unfortunately the carriages also haven’t changed in that time and are looking distinctly run down.

Summer Palace near Hua Hin, Thailand
King Rama IV’s Summer Palace

The restaurant car, the disturbingly named Bogie Restaurant, does a seat service and you can order from an extensive menu of Thai dishes at very reasonable prices. The waiters put up a table for you when you are ready to eat.

Few things in life can beat sitting on a swaying, clacking train as the sun sets over the palms and paddies and the smells of the evening come in through a half opened window while eating a spicy, Thai meal washed down with icy, cold beer.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok.

Once dinner is over, the guards convert the seating into bunks and make them up with fresh smelling sheets. The bottom bunks are slightly more expensive than the upper berths as they are a bit bigger and you can look out of the window at the passing night. The bunks are curtained off and each have their own reading lights. There are no private compartments and basic showers and washing facilities are shared in each carriage.

A Bangkok street Market
A Bangkok Street Market

The arrival in Bangkok around noon the next day is a long drawn-out affair. The heat in the non-airconditioned carriages can get quite intense and everyone is starting to feel imaptient and rather unwell. For the last hour, the train crawls and jerks through mile after mile of shacks and crumbling apartments with people streaming over the tracks in the train’s wake like disturbed ants. It can give Bangkok a quite frightening face, especially to a new arrival but the main station, Hualamphong, is reassuring to arrive at.

Hualamphong is a large, hot bustling place with plenty of shops, restaurants and information booths, a real contrast to Singapore. You can tell that the Thais take train travel seriously.

Banner for John P - Travel Writing and Photography