Day 11: Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Train Station
Sun, January 25th
It’s 6:00 and the sun is shaking off its slumber and patiently waiting to push its way through Bangkok’s morning haze. Once again we have the opportunity to sleep in but my unconscious brain refuses to comply. The multitude of cities and timezones we’ve passed through continue to leave my REM patterns in disarray. Although we’ve only been in Bangkok for an evening and morning, our race through SE Asia has us on an afternoon journey to the Island of Koh Pha Ngan, in the Gulf of Thailand.
We check out early, a rare occurrence these past weeks, and walk down Sukhumvit Soi 22 searching for a cafe to get some breakfast and poach wifi for a few hours while we plan out the afternoon string of trains, busses, and ferries that will get us to Koh Pha Ngan. A one story neon parrot advertising “western style breakfast and free wifi” pulls us into the well air-conditioned Parrot Cafe; the two minute walk through Bangkok’s morning humidity and past what seems like thirty massage parlors (all already open) is already taking its toll and makes the decision an easy one.
Pear, Roger and I all order eggs, sausage, and coffee while Match gets, what’s becoming his standard, green curry with a side of steamed rice; our Thai waitress finds this early morning choice hilarious and giggles all the way back to the kitchen. Full, content, and buzzing off a couple cups of coffee we determine that a twelve hour sleeper train down the coast to Surat Thani, leaving at 6:30, followed by an hour bus to the docks and a three hour morning ferry to the Koh Pha Ngan is our best bet. It’s impossible to buy train tickets online, so we decide to head to Hua Lamphong train station two hours early, get tickets, and find another cafe to invade.
Hua Lamphong is the informal but customary name for Bangkok’s main railway station. Outside of Bangkok it is often referred to as Krungthep Station (Krungthep being the english transliteration of the Thai word for Bangkok). Built in 1916 and designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno, the structure is impressive inside and out. Around sixty thousand passengers pass through the high ceilinged Neo-Renaissance platforms every day, and the station is overflowing with backpackers, tourists, monks, locals, and Thai soldiers when we arrive at 4:00.
The first roadblock of the day comes at ticket booth 14 when we are informed that every train to Surat Thani is booked solid until the following night; annoyingly contrary to the many online postings advising that same day ticket purchases are standard. After ten minutes of finger pointing at train brochures and quite a bit of language barrier hurdling, we determine an ass-backwards itinerary that may magically get us to Koh Pha Ngan only a few hours off schedule. A six hour, overnight, non-sleeper train will get us to the city of Chumphon, followed by an hour long dawn bus ride to a five hour ferry routed through the island of Koh Tao to Koh Pha Ngan. Lucky for us there are four seats left in one of the air conditioned cars.
Unfortunately the train doesn’t leave until 10:55 so we now have seven hours to kill around the train station. The ever-familiar hunt for a wifi-equipped cafe only takes a moment or two outside of the busy station and soon we’re lounging in the afternoon heat around a few cold beers surrounded by tables full of other waiting travelers. The last few days have been a breakneck-speed blur so everyone takes the opportunity to call and text the few family and friends that are awake early Sunday morning back home.
This passes a few hours but we’re beginning to grow restless and the night has brought the mosquitos out to feast en masse. The nameless cafe we’ve setup camp in seems to be the happening spot around the station and the lumbering troll-like cafe owner is starting to get impatient at lingering travelers taking up valuable tables while slowly nursing beers, their departure times inching closer sip by sip. In order to appease him we make room at our table for a fellow solitary traveler.
Paul turns out to be a high school teacher from Toronto who is on the first half of a year-long trip around the world with his wife (also a HS teacher), and their son and daughter, ten and eight years old respectively. Canada not only pays their teachers immensely better than the States, but provides a system where for five years teachers are able to put away a small portion of their pre-tax paychecks, culminating in a payed sabbatical to travel the world. I am blown away but how amazing this is, especially since my mom has been a teacher for the better part of the past two decades. Mom it’s time to move to Toronto for a few years and plan our trip around the world!
Their journey started by flying from Toronto to San Francisco, taking them up and down the west coast before a three week cruise to New Zealand. It was then off to Australia, Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, before arriving in Thailand before continuing through Asia prior a few months in Europe. Unreal. I can’t help but thinking how amazing his kids are be after an experience like this. Paul also happens to run a travel blog and gives us a bunch of tips ranging from ways to upgrade hotel rooms to advice for swinging free breakfasts. Unfortunately most of these involve not being a bunch of kids in their mid twenties, but I will store them away for later use. We talk about SWAP Socks for a while and “swap” stories from our trips, and suddenly it’s time to head back into the station. We say our goodbyes and leave Paul with a pack of Sticks & Stones for him to share with his son. Travel delays in cafes are starting to be some of the best experiences of the trip!
Shuffling through what is now a near empty train station, ours being the final departure of the night, we escape the humidity and bloodthirsty mosquitos and settle into our seats, thankful for the AC whispering from the vents above. Blankets are handed out, I rip mine out of its plastic, and sleep comes down like a hammer; I’m out before the train moves an inch.