January, 2010

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SRT – Thailand´s State Railway – 2nd class sleeper non-aircon

Friday, January 29th, 2010

(c) 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 

 

Our most recent addition and final chapter to Siampedia’s SRT assessment and report just took place. We ventured from the outskirts of Bangkok to Nong Khai, the Laotian border crossing for a short trip to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Chosen class of service was the still missing 2nd class sleeper, the last possible option, our documentation was still lacking.

Reputation of this class was not inspiring, but after a not so budget friendly new years celebration, we thought that we could handle the heat of the night in a non-AC train.

The tickets were only 487 Baht per person, which is fairly cheap. When the train rolled out of the station, we had only minutes to store our backpacks and the famous red cooler bag. The later was filled with ice and Coke Zero cans for our trip. I would buy my drinks from the on-board service, but their selection is too lousy and does not include my staple juice!

The seats are significantly narrower than in the 2nd class AC trains, but in regular position, they provide some degree of comfort and beat the 3rd class seats (half price!) hands down. The rail cars appear old and way past their prime, but bedsheets and pillow covers, as well as the towel-like blanket were sparkling white and freshly cleaned. The quite boring ride into the night did not provide much scenic views, so we didn’t mind when the attendant started at dusk to fold out the bunks for us to lay down.

We had lower berths booked, for the view and airflow, these windows can be opened, unlike in the AC variety of rail car! After all, it was deep winter in Thailand and the temperatures dropped sharply after the train left the Chaophaya basin near Saraburi and climbed up on the Khorat plateau. Pick a cozy night, because no train in Thailand has heating!

We were happy that we didn’t book Aircon, it was unavailable on this train anyhow. The outside temperature must have been in the lower 20’s (centigrade) and we woke up after a long sleep when the train pulled into Udon Thani, the last big station before our final stop at Nong Khai station.

The general cleanliness within the rail car left room for improvements on a major scale, but the idiotic setup of the interior with their protruding ladders into the aisle is something we haven’t encountered in other trains elsewhere, people needed to bang around with suitcases or backpacks much, due to the limited space available.

Noise levels are high, the wagon’s end doors remain open to allow air flow throughout the train. You quickly regret to have the window open, when the train rolls at it’s slow speed through the prairies in the Isaan provinces. Their slash and burn agricultural tactics produces much stink, haze and ugly ash particles, which are propelled anywhere by thermal side-effects of the large fires. CO² emissions put aside, my mind wanders to the snakes, lizards, butterflies and everything else, that is dying a fiery death on the scorched soil!

Business as usual out here, nobody has the guts to put fighting that on their political agendas. I stopped breathing ash flakes by closing the insect screen slider, but the stink prevailed at times.

Anyhow, I was still tired from the slightly extended New Year’s party in Pattaya 48 hours ago and fell asleep quick…..not dreaming about large fires nationwide that scar the land and pollute a lot. 😀


The luggage racks hold bags safe, suitcases fall occasionally, when the train moves! Thai rail work precision is 3rd world standard and the shakes aren’t for motion sensitive passengers.

Used stock of engines and rail cars with Isaan destinations is not to be found on the priority-list of the SRT – a lot of damage and wear is visible in daylight on the locomotives and the wagons. Maintenance levels can be guessed easily!

The return trip was the most horrible train experience, I had collected on all my Thai rail trips. Lower berths were completely booked out, the upper berth is a joke in with for regular sized people! Only Asians may find comfort in the upper bunks. No wind, no ventilation – if you close your curtain for privacy.

The roof mounted fans circulate only into open bunks and the interior ventilation systems are completely clogged with dirt and dust. The hinge, on which the bunk is mounted, is inches from your body and so full of accumulated dirt, that I spent the entire night sitting in an open door of the wagon (nice breeze!) or wandered around in the train, hoping for that ordeal to end soon. See our video attached for details

 

Worse yet, during my night awake, Melona slept and I kept the bugs near her bunk at bay! Lots of cockroaches nest in the hinge-cover and appear from the vents and cracks. The walls haven’t seen a wipe with soap water for a long time. SRT needs an extermination by professionals badly – the bugs crawl everywhere in this class. I checked the situation in other rail cars and found similar reason for complaints! Never again I will book a ticket here or travel with 2nd class non-aircon as long as this is, what I can get for my money! Sleeping in a bug-infested rail car may endanger your well-being, and that means a lot to me!

SRT- Thailand’s State Railway – 2nd class sleeper aircon

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

 


The 2nd class A/C sleeper trains have newer rail cars, which were added obviously at a much later time to the SRT fleet as the outdated 3rd class cars and non-A/C varieties. Air conditioning here isn’t exaggerated, but feels like a comfortable 25 to 27 degrees Celsius. These rail cars aren’t attached and hence bookable for all trains, but the faster priority lines with 1st class cars available usually have these 2nd class sleepers as well.

The isles are wide and unobstructed by ladders or metal bars, the wagon is sealed by automated doors and in a reasonably clean shape. This, if you are lucky and not travel the Northeastern routes. Southern trains to Butterworth in general have the wider and better equipped rail cars, those with Sungai Kolok or Trang destination feature the same style interior as pictured in the 2nd class non-aircon section here. Fitted with air-conditions, they provide transport with comfort even in the hottest months of February to April, but with a lesser comfort than the rail cars pictured here.

Seats (for 1 person each) are comfortable and wide enough, during dinnertime, a folding table (stored in the floorspace) will be installed by SRT staff. A good sized pillow adds comfort and will be covered with a sparkling white cover for the switch to night mode. Upper bunks are folded away in the attic, out of sight.

Visible dirt is confined to floor spaces, the seating and sleeping areas are near immaculate on most rail cars of this style.

Curtains provide shade and overhead storage bins hold your luggage. Suitcases and bigger items can be placed under the seats.

A plug (220 Volt) is given in each railcar, their availability is limited as there are plenty of cellphones and PDAs or laptops and GPS receivers to be recharged. Bring a multi-plug adapter and secure your own power source, if you plan to watch movies or work.

Upper bunks have an attached folding ladder, all sleeping compartments have reasonable bedding and a light blocking curtain. The railcar stays illuminated at night and a guard makes sure that no loud vendors bother your trip.

Our declared choice of comfy rail travel!

Keep in mind, that lower bunks are ideal for a small kid with parent, they are wider and easy to access. The length is approximately 6 ‘ 2″(185 cm), with a width exceeding 3 ‘ (100 cm). Upper bunks are a little narrower,  but stable and support even full sized adults for a night’s rest.