Long bus rides, and journeys have long been a theme, in my travelling life; why fly and get there in an hour, when you can get on a tuk tuk, two buses, a train and a boat instead? Plus, it is way better for the environment, and makes for a great story.
After meeting my sister in Bangkok, we revised our travel plans a few times, but decided to get out of the big city, and to head for some beach time on Koh Tao; an island on the East Coast. A number of travellers had raved about it, and the photos looked incredible, and after being a little disappointed with the rainy weather in deserted Krabi, earlier on in my trip, I was hanging out for some sunbathing sessions.
Thing was, it was a mere 13 hours away, by various modes of transport.
We had a look into train and bus options, using the great overland travel site: Seat61 and then went to book our tickets at Hua Lamphong Train station in Bangkok; one day prior to travelling. (Note: we travelled during low season, so if travelling in high season, you may need to book in advance). We decided to get a sleeper train, leaving at 7.30pm and arriving on Koh Tao at 8.30am the following morning.
Cost of travelling from Bangkok to Koh Tao
We paid 1375 Thai Baht, which is approximately £27 or US$41, which sounds expensive, but this was a sleeper train (2nd class), and the cost included the train, tuk tuk from Chumphon train station to the ferry terminal, and the ferry to Koh Tao. It may be possible to get it cheaper, from external travel agencies, but we thought we would play it safe, and book from an agency in the train station (the one we used was upstairs, above the Donut stand).
Experiencing Trains in Thailand
After a day of exploring other parts of the city; including the tallest viewpoint in Thailand, we loaded up our rucksacks and headed for the train station, stopping at the 7-11 to purchase food for the train (food on trains, boats and buses are often twice the price).
Hua Lamphong station, looked and felt a lot different at night. After dark, around train and bus terminals, always seems to attract a certain, strange clientèle. So we made our way to the platform quickly. Handed over our tickets, and boarded.
The train was basic. A few brown leather chairs, facing each other, with ladders up the side and small storage baskets attached to the wall. This was my first train journey in Asia, so I had no idea what to expect.
After the train departed, we organised our belongings (ensuring we padlocked our rucksacks to the metal storage baskets), ate our snacks, and washed used the bathroom facilities (which are tiny by the way).
There wasn’t much in the way of scenery, as it was dark, so by about 8.30pm, we asked the train guard to convert our seats into beds, which he duly did. It was fascinating to watch, how simple and fast it was. Within a few minutes, we had two bunk beds, fresh sheets, and blankets. I used my sleeping bag liner during the trip, as although the sheets came out of a plastic wrapper, I wanted to be doubly sure I was safe from bed bugs or any other nasties.
I didn’t sleep too well on the train journey. The cabin was dimly lit, but I am a light sleeper, and constantly woke up thinking I had overslept and missed our stop. This was something I was worried about, as there were no announcements made, we were just told that our train was scheduled to arrive into Chumphon by 4.23am, but that the train is usually delayed by one hour, so expect any time between 4.23am, and 5.23am.
So we set our alarms for 4.15am, which didn’t help, as we couldn’t see outside, and therefore had no idea where we were or how close our stop was.
We arrived at approximately 5am, and the guard came around just before the train stopped and said “Chumphon for Koh Tao Ferry”.
Getting off the train, in total darkness, we had no idea what we needed to do next. We knew our ferry was at 7am, and so we approached the ticket office, which had ferry information posted. We were told that we would be waiting here at the station for an hour, before getting on a tuk tuk to the ferry terminal.
Exhausted, I dumped my rucksack, and headed to the small cafe stand; clearly set up to served the tourists passing through on their way to the islands. I grabbed some sort of bacon and egg sandwich, and a strong tea.
We met a few Dutch Travellers, so passed the time talking about our plans, and trips so far, until the tuk tuk came to collect us at 6am.
The journey to the ferry took about 30 minutes, and we got to see a pretty sweet sunrise too.
By the time I got to the ferry, I wanted to collapse in a heap. I handed my rucksack over, which they labelled Koh Tao, and we were off. Not wanting to fall asleep under the strong sun outside, we headed down to the bottom decked seated area to sleep, only to be told that the seats in this area were ‘VIP’ and that we had to pay a further 50 baht to sit there. So we headed back up to the seated area on the upper deck (also inside), which had a strong smell of fuel, and several fans, which were set to freezing. I tied my hoody around my face and slept (I know the scenery would have been nice to look at, but we had various island boat trips planned, and I figured sleep was a better option at that time)
We arrived at 8.30am, and the island was as beautiful as they had promised, blue sea, white sand and SUN. We trekked around for 20 minutes, before finding accommodation. A beach side bungalow for 500 Baht per night (£10 or US$15) – bargain!
A quick shower, and change and we were off to explore.
Koh Tao, you are beautiful