Our second visit to Thailand was off to a good start after landing at the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok – a fun place to explore just in itself. The kids were excited to see monks in orange robes again, a sight they haven’t seen since leaving Cambodia. The airport is shiny and a marvel of modern architecture, with fast moving travellators, special immigration queues for families with young children (how great is that!), food courts and even a hospital.
Why do we know there’s a hospital at the airport? Well that’s another story entirely.
Watch out for the monkeys
My cousin, Daniel, is travelling with us for a few weeks and on a tour of Selangor on our last day in Malaysia he was bitten by a silverleaf monkey. We’re rather impressed that he got bitten by a silverleaf monkey as they are reputed to be the friendliest species of monkey in Asia. Daniel seems to have found the only cranky old silverleaf in the whole tribe who took offense at being patted and inserted a fang in Daniel’s offered hand. Only a tiny puncture wound but it does put him at risk of rabies so a months course of needles are required. Want to know more about avoiding monkey bites?
Anyway … back at the airport …
The hospital at the airport is located on Level 1 at the far right end of the main terminal building. Hayley made friends with all the ladies working in reception at the hospital, walking straight over to one lady and hopping up into her lap. We’re not sure if she was just in a friendly mood or knew there were lollies on the counter that would be hers if she was nice. She even ended up with two free cups of water that were quickly skulled and later caused us a lot of fun on the train when she suddenly HAD to go to the toilet right then and there.
Considering the clinic is at an airport, it was surprisingly inexpensive – just 1400 baht (less than $50) for a consult, needles, travel claim documentation filled out and antibiotics). From the airport we caught a train and subway to Hua-lumpong station to buy tickets for the overnight train to Chiang Mai, visiting every toilet along the trip for Hayley and her two glasses of water. Hayley did an amazing job of holding on for a three year old, although there was quite a bit of dancing involved. We were lucky enough to get second class sleeper beds for the 6.10pm sleeper that night to Chiang Mai. After a two hour wait at KFC and the train station we were on the train ready to go. But not before a quick visit to the pharmacy at the station for travel sickness tablets after I threw up on our last overnight train. The helpful pharmacist gave me 8 tablets for less than 20 baht. After the less than sanitary trains in Vietnam I was a little scared of catching the overnight train to Chiang Mai. But thankfully the trains in Thailand are a lot better than those in Vietnam. A lot better. Clean carriages, clean linen and the toilets actually have toilet paper. The toilets also had air fresheners – which only lasted until one hour in the trip but still its the thought that counts right?
The second class sleeper beds start out as chairs but are converted to beds a few hours into the trip. You sleep in one long carriage with bunk beds along each wall and the lights stay on all night but the curtains are think and it honestly wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. How’s this photo for some of the cheesiest forced smiles you’ve ever seen? This was taken while two tired kids waited less than patiently for the lady to come around and convert their chairs to beds – something that seriously has to be watched. She has the process down to a fine art form.
The bottom bunk is definitely the way to go – almost the width of a king single it’s the perfect size for sharing with a child. The top bunk is 90 baht cheaper but its too narrow to share and you can feel the sway of the train a lot more from up there. There’s even enough room for your valuables to hang above your heads while you sleep rather than being pushed under the seats. No sooner were we on the train than Hayley had made friends with the ladies in the next booth and was having her photo taken with them while being fed chips. In between asking when her bed would be ready of course.
Food and beer is fairly expensive on the train (by Thai standards anyway) so its worth having dinner before you go and take plenty of snacks. We learnt the hard way that the train often runs late so make sure you have enough food for breakfast the next morning. Beer can be bought at the small shop in between platforms while you wait for the train to leave to ensure its nice and cold. The kids were both asleep by 8pm, me not long after. Despite being in out in the open in a carriage filled with people it was actually really quiet overnight. The train was supposed to arrive just after 7am the next morning, but we got in closer to 9.30am. The kids amused themselves by climbing the ladders, finishing some schoolwork and playing uno. Noah even sat at top of the ladder for the last twenty minutes as part of a dare with Colin and Daniel to earn 3 lollies if he could stay there without getting down until the train arrived. If you know Noah at all you’ll know he was determined to earn his lollies. He didn’t even move when I started taking photos, he just stuck his tongue out instead.
The scenery was lovely out the window of the train so I’m happy that the train was running late so we got to see it. Rice fields, small villages, dogs running along the tracks, mountain streams and picturesque train stations. It was actually foggy and looked cold – not a sight we’ve seen in a very long time.
More Information about the train
www.seat61.com has reasonably up to date information on the train fares and schedules (more up to date than the english version of the Thai railways site at least). Tickets on the overnight sleeper trains are best booked a few days in advance. We were just lucky there were a few second class sleepers available. First class was completely sold out. A second class bottom bunk cost 880 baht, while the top bunk was 790 baht. Bottom bunks are worth the extra money and children under 120cm can share with parents without having to purchase a ticket for them. Tickets can be bought at Hua-lumpong station. Apparently you can email Thai railways directly to book tickets if you email them a few weeks in advance but I tried this but never received an email. The train took 14 hours from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We’ll definitely take the train again, it was a great way to travel and the kids really enjoyed it. But next time we’ll pack enough food for breakfast. If you do want to order breakfast on the train (and they do offer western breakfasts) you will need to order it the night before. From Chiang Mai train station its a 10 minute drive into the centre of town.