The Other Way To Pattaya
First a little about me. I am a retired software engineer, born and raised in Elkhart, Indiana. My earliest memory of a train was when my mother took me to the local rail depot to watch a huge steam locomotive stop at the station. At that time, back in
the 40's, Elkhart was a section border where all the trains from Chicago to New York would stop to change crews. From then on I was a fan of rail travel. Yes I read Michael Palin and David Thoreau books.
Over the past 6 1/2 years I have taken the train from Bangkok to Pattaya 6 times. I have enjoyed the trip each time. The train leaves Hualampong at 06:55 each morning and arrives in Pattaya at 10:34. It is sometimes late due to waits because parts of the line are single track. This means the train must stay off the line for a freight train coming the other way. Of the trips I took one was spot on time and the worst was about 40 minutes late. Although the train originates at Hualampong, I don't get on there. Instead I get on at Makkasan. This station is a kilometer north of the Sukhumvit soi 11 area where I stay in Bangkok, and a short taxi ride away. The train leaves Makkasan at 07:16, making the trip shorter by 21 min. Makkasan is where they are building the new terminus for the light rail link connecting Bangkok to the new airport. As the train heads east out of Makkasan it runs along next to the new pylons being built for the elevated rail link.
The train makes the trip to Pattaya 3 hrs. 18 min. The price of the ticket is 31baht, but I usually upgrade from third class to second class for another 40 baht. There is no first class, only second and third, and no air conditioning. This time of year you don't really need it, as some of the windows are open. The train I took in October 2006 had no second class car, so the whole train was third class. Perhaps there were not enough Thais that wanted to buy the more expensive second class ticket. The interior of the train is clean and neat with padded bench seats. When there was a second class car, it had bus type seats that didn't recline very far.
The train actually zips right along when it is moving, but the catch is that it is a milk train. (What the Brits call a "stopping train") It stops 18 times on the way to Pattaya. Each stop is 3 to 5 minutes so you can see where the time is being spent. The time I took it in March of 2003, they were well along on a track doubling project on the Bangkok to Chonburi portion. This has eliminated some of the waits on this part of the line. This project was finished by the time I took it in 2006 and has made the roadbed much smoother. They are using the same right of way for the new airport rail link so you see all those pylons being built until you get abreast of Suvarnabhumi. From Chonburi to Pattaya is still a single track line.
The big advantage of taking the train is that you get to see close up some of the country life that you never get to see from the highway, and you can film it out an open window with no glass to block the picture. I have seen water buffalo, cattle, prawn farms, pineapple and coconut groves all close up. This trip in 2006, I saw an old lady driving six water buffalo through what appeared to be a swamp along side the tracks.
There is no dining car, but the usual food vendors selling bottled water, cokes, and questionable food walk through the train. I usually carry along some snacks from 7 eleven to munch on the trip. I suppose the real reason I take this train is that I am a died in the wool rail buff, and because I can.
The train turns around at Ban Plutaluang and returns to Bangkok. There is only the one train a day. The return trip from Pattaya is at 14:21, but I always go back on the air conditioned bus, or by car. The train back arrives at Makkasan at 18:07 and at the main Bangkok station at 18:25. It's a leisurely way to travel, and on a train you can get up and walk around to stretch the legs a bit. As far as language is concerned, the only word I seem to need is the word "Pattaya". The ticket seller seems to understand me, but one time I tried to buy a ticket before 07:00 and he wouldn't sell me one until 14 minutes before the train was due. The tickets come out of a computer printer now complete with advertising. In the past they were just old fashioned tickets. Make sure the train crew knows where you are going, again the magic word "Pattaya" as they cut off some of the cars in Chonburi. You will want to be on a car that goes all the way.
Chugging through Bangkok all you see is the ass end of the city. It's all slums, refuse, and squatters. Out in the country though, it's a succession of small picturesque rail stations. At each there are several railroad officials in uniform waving flags, blowing whistles, and generally making a fuss over their one train a day. What a job eh? I'll bet they had to know someone to get a job like that.
When you arrive in Pattaya there is a quaint little station that looks like one from a model train set. It is east of Pattaya's Sukhumvit Road and about on a level with Central Pattaya Road (Pattaya Klang) There are usually one or two baht buses waiting to load passengers, and take them to their hotels. Sometimes I will call ahead to my hotel and ask them to send a car for me, or have a friend pick me up.
In all my trips on this train, I never saw another Farang until this time. It was a rather ancient looking female backpacker who had heard that there was a beach in Pattaya and while hanging about Hualampong saw on a timetable a train to Pattaya. She decided to go for a swim. I of course redirected her to Jomtien.
Warning! According to the time table I got from The State Railway of Thailand website, The one train a day does not run on the weekend, just Monday thru Friday.
In general the nice smiling Thais at the hotel front desks and even the travel desks will tell you that there is no train to Pattaya. Even some cab drivers will laugh at you when you tell them that you are taking the train to Pattaya.
I would not recommend this trip for everyone, but for those with the romance of the rail in their soul, it's a pleasant trip.
Isn't it peculiar that you have never seen another farang on it? From downtown Bangkok to Pattaya is usually a journey of around two hours, although with the road works at the moment this time can easily become three hours – or more. Taking the train isn't a bad idea – especially the way some of the bus drivers are behind the wheel.