Nong Khai is a town in Isaan, the northeastern region of Thailand. It sits on one side of the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, and as such it’s a popular transit point for crossing the border into Laos. There are many ways to get there from the island of Koh Pha Ngan. Your journey can be quick and costly, or slow and cheap. Quick and cheap is not an option. Your two fundamental choices are between predominantly air-based travel, or predominantly land-based travel. We went for the slow and cheap option, so chose the latter.
We had to return our mopeds by 10am, so our journey began by loading ourselves, our two children, our two 65L and 75L rucksacks, as well as the kids’ daypacks, onto two mopeds. We slowly drove to Thong Sala in the rain and nothing – neither bag nor child – fell off the bikes. We stopped off at The Hub to return the mopeds; we handed back the keys to the bikes, they handed back my passport. We had two hours to kill before our boat left, so we walked over to Nira’s Bakery and overindulged in French Toast and coffee.
The Lomprayah Catamaran left Koh Pha Ngan at 12pm and two hours later we arrived at the pier in Surat Thani. We got on a transfer bus for a 2.5hr journey to the Surat Thani Train Station. Arriving at 4:30pm, we had some time to kill before our train at 6:37pm so we found a restaurant and sat ourselves down with some food and alcoholic beverages.
At 6pm we wandered across the road to the train platform where a helpful woman showed us to our train carriages which were sitting there waiting.
We settled into our seats for the 12 hour journey up to Bangkok. This train was newer than the last, with the lower bunk being much wider and providing plenty of room for Ben and I to bunk together comfortably. After we managed to chill the kids out from the unending excitement of being on a vehicle with beds, we all got some sleep as the train rocked and trundled along the tracks through the night.
Waking at 5am, I had the luxury of getting ready for the day in my own time and without interruption. Maybe I should make a habit of getting up so early. I sat at the window next to my sleeping child as the sun rose over the outskirts of Bangkok and watched as the city awoke.
We pulled into Hua Lumphong Station at 6:30am, feeling tired and a little bit grimy. We considered using the showers, but after seeing the state of the toilets we decided to give them a miss and rough it out. We dumped our rucksacks at the rat-infested left luggage department and set off to kill the 13hrs in Bangkok before our train left at 8pm that evening. Having done some research into child-friendly activities in Bangkok, we decided to visit the Children’s Discovery Centre and the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
After a full day in Bangkok we were all feeling a bit weary so we headed back to Hua Lumphong. Ben and Chloe both fell asleep on the floor of a swaying MRT underground train. I’d have joined them if I could.
We found a cafe in the train station and settled into the 2.5hour wait until our train left at 8pm. We pissed about on our phones, Chloe drew in her sketchbook, Ben slept. We stood for the National Anthem at 6pm. We retrieved our rucksacks from the left-luggage department – luckily rat-bite free.
I bought some snacks for the trip from the mini-mart, then went across the road from the station to get some take-away dinner. There are plenty of roadside restaurants serving cheap and tasty food there, so that’s an option if there isn’t much in the station food court when you’re there.
By now our train was on its platform, so we headed down the line to find our carriage and settle in for dinner before it got on its way. This train was yet again different from the others we’ve been on, being very new – something I definitely appreciated when it came to the bathroom situation. No longer just a squat toilet over an noisy open hole to the tracks, this train sported fancy sit-down airplane-style toilets. What luxury!
On this journey Ben decided that he wanted to bunk with Alex, so I was relegated to the upper bunk for once. If you have the choice, never choose the upper bunk. I know it’s a little bit cheaper than the lower bunk, but honestly it’s not worth saving a couple of quid for it. It is narrow. It is windowless. It is so bright that if you don’t have an eyemask then you’d better enjoy sleeping in a well-let room. You will rock back and forth a lot. Don’t plan on reading if you suffer from motion sickness. It is just, in all ways, totally inferior to the lower bunk. for the sake of a few pounds, treat yourself.
At 5:30am the train started waking up, and so we had no choice but to do so too. I climbed down into Chloe’s bunk below me, and we sat together watching the sun rise over Isaan. Rice paddy fields glinting in the light of the rising sun. We pulled into Nong Khai station. After riding mopeds, a ferry, a bus, two sleeper trains, and a tuk-tuk; 46 hours after we left Koh Pha Ngan we had arrived.