Night train from Bangkok

Bangkok to Laos – overnight train ride or one hour flight?

What is it about tedious train rides? I suppose I can only speak for myself when I say that they form seriously fond travel memories. This time we decided to take the kids on board to see if they share our sense of ‘old school’ adventure.

Before the seats turn into beds

We made sure we turned up well before departure time at 20h. This gave us time to stock up on some interesting necessities like hibiscus flavoured drinks,  seaweed crisps and tangerine coated nuts (not a favourite!). We’d already had supper, but hey, snacks and kids go together like gin and tonic. Mummy and daddy had opposing approaches to on board drinking. I feared the train toilets so much that I only had a few sips of my daughter’s soda. My husband opted for the more masculine approach where he hoped that enough Chang (thai beer) would ensure a good night’s sleep. More on that later.

FACTS: Travelling by train in Thailand is not a particularly cheap way to get around. We spent just over £100 for the four of us (kids in their own bunks) one way. Compared to other Asian countries like India, this is definitely not cheap. We opted for standard class, which means that you get a designated seat which turns into quite a comfortable, two meter long bed once the staff do their ‘bedding’ rounds at 22h. They supply you with a clean sheet and blanket, as well as a pillow with a paper like casing. So far so good.

This is what it looks like when people have drawn their curtains in order to get a good night's sleep.

Motherhood in all its shapes and forms

We killed a few hours playing cards, munching our snacks and eventually calling it a night. The atmosphere on board was really good. Lots of friendly Thai students were heading home for Christmas, and a handful of Western travellers kept drinking Chang and exchanging their stories from the road. At one point I was worried it would turn into a party train, but once the bedding staff had come through, everybody settled nicely into their own bunk and things went quiet.

The kids were really excited about sleeping on a train, and especially about being allowed to close the curtain themselves. In a way, it’s like when you played house as a little kid, using a blanket as a door, and feeling all snug inside your own little den.

It took them exactly five minutes to fall asleep. I believe the rocking motion helped, whereas I lied awake regretting that we had booked a separate bunk for them. I would have preferred to have them in our beds, so we could keep an eye on them. When we’re on the road, I must admit that I can get a bit panicky about them disappearing, and I was obsessing about the noise of the train which would have made it impossible to hear them if they called for me. Eventually, I climbed up to my daughter’s bunk, where we both fell asleep. It’s a funny old thing being a mother…

So. How did my husband’s plan pan out? After four Changs he gradually started to realise that his plan would have to include several trips to the dreaded train toilet… where he spent a considerable amount of time during the night. Enough said.

Ladyboy

Next morning we had ordered a rather over prized (and horrible to the point of being inedible) breakfast in order to wake us up in the best of moods. However, none of us could have predicted just how funny breakfast on board a Thai train can be!

It started the previous night, when the train hostess came by with refreshments. ‘She’s a he!‘ whispered my husband once she had passed. I objected. No way! She was slim, well dressed, groomed and there was nothing masculine about her apart from, perhaps, a rather strong jaw line. I regret now not having taken a photograph of her. Because the morning after, it was too late… When our hostess appeared with breakfast at 7 am sharp, there was no longer any doubt about her gender. The stubble on her chin said it all. This of course, put us in the best of moods. It was on board entertainment of best sorts.

And the kids – did they have a good night’s sleep? Well, the bedding staff came around not once, not twice, but three times before the kids eventually woke up and got out of bed (bunk). They didn’t notice that we were stopped for about one and a half hours in the middle of the night, and probably in the middle of no where. They didn’t notice their dad getting up to go to the loo three times, and they certainly didn’t notice anything when the ladyboy (or kathoey as they say in Thailand) shouted ‘TEA! COFFEE!’ as (s)he walked down the train. Her voice was not quite as smooth as I remembered it from the previous night. But then again, neither was mine:)

When they eventually did wake up, we were twenty minutes away from Nong Khai in northern Thailand. Next stop: crossing the Friendship bridge over to Laos!

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Over in Laos, we spent two days in the capital Vientiane, before we headed to Luang Prabang. Read our TOP 5 things to do in Luang Prabang here.

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weird and wonderful world of family travel

People tend to be curious about our journeys with the kids, currently aged 6 and 9. They have come along on our journeys since they were born, and can still remember lots from places like Cuba, Vietnam, Morocco, Thailand, Laos as well as places closer to home. Normal questions are ‘How do you do it?’ ‘Do you book hotels in advance?’ ‘What do the kids eat?’ and so on…

What will today bring? Morning glory in Luang Prabang

In this post we’ll lift the curtain and shine some light on what goes on behind the scenes of family travel. Here are the basic questions answered:

What do the kids eat?

This question always makes me giggle. My kids are NOT the most adventurous of eaters – at home. They’ll cringe at the sight of peas, carrots, lentils and tomatoes. However, stick them on a street café in a back alley in Luang Prabang, and they’re willing to try anything. ANYTHING. Duck fetus, sure! Fried bat, yes please! Scorpion, why not? Snake, yummy! The list is long. I have no explanation to this, other than maybe I’m just too A4 in the kitchen? The bottom line is, when you’re on the road with your kids, they’ll cope with just about anything as long as their parents encourage them and provide them with a secure backdrop when the surroundings become a bit too alien. Also, I think it’s important to chill out when it comes to food. Living on pasta, rice, eggs on toast and fresh fruit for a month is ok!

Give it to me! Mattis eating duck fetus (left) and scorpion (middle). Siena is happy with her street food and chop sticks.

Do you book hotels in advance?

We rarely book hotels in advance. This would limit our flexibility to stay longer in a place if we really like it. Having said this, we always make sure to have a reservation for our first night after the long haul flight from Europe. We also tend to arrange to be picked up by hotel staff at the airport. This takes the stress out of a potentially highly stressful situation, and is always worth the extra few dollars. Apart from this, we tend to guide ourselves by Lonely Planet or other suitable travel literature along the way. Sometimes we may phone in advance to secure a booking with a particularly desired hotel or hostel, especially if there’s a bank holiday or other festivities happening.

The hotel in the picture below is a great, little place in the centre of Bangkok. It’s a garden and a tadpole pool, a piano and a very arty, laid back atmosphere. A vintage kind of place with some seriously delicious smoothies! It’s called Phranacorn Nornlen, and we are totally recommending it!

We booked this hotel in advance, because we had read that it was child friendly.

How do you do it?

We do it the same way as we would have done it without the kids, only trying to limit the amount of hours spent on transport per day. This is not to say that we don’t do overnight journeys, or time consuming bus rides. As every traveller knows, sometimes it has to be done. Then it’s a matter of preparing the kids for a day of being stuck inside a vehicle, and of course, focusing on what we’ll be able to enjoy once we reach a destination. It may be a beach, a cave, a city or simply a hotel. Either way, the vagabond parent’s secret weapon is always to create anticipation and excitement! Oh, and of course, we always stack up on lots of local goodies. Seaweed flavoured Pringles killed at least one hour on our way from Bangkok to the island of Ko Chang.

Once the kiddos know that there's a bonus like this at the end of that tediously long bus ride, they're more likely to keep going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks EasyJet, for choosing this post as your blogger of the month!