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.
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.
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.
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!
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.