Train tickets can be significantly cheaper if compared to flight tickets but that is besides the point. The main objective is to get the thrill of travelling on overnight sleepers coach to Bangkok. It is paramount to know in advance that the rail track connecting Bangkok to Malaysia only stops at Butterworth. You will need to find your way directly to Butterworth train station. You may opt to go a day earlier to Penang Island to stay for a night and then get a ferry across to Butterworth train station to get on board this train.
The train schedule from Butterworth to Bangkok is at 2.00pm on a daily basis. However, there are occasions where this Bangkok bound train can be cancelled without giving any prior warning. This travelogue will address this issue as we go along in bringing this train ride experience to those who are adventurous in this chapter "Next Train To Bangkok". So sit back and enjoy as we bring you picturesque moments of life and people as we go along this overland journey.
In this Express Train service from Butterworth to Bangkok be sure to book your ticket(s) well in advance at least 1 week before your intended journey if you're a first-timer. During festive or school holidays the earlier you book the better you are guaranteed a ticket in order to avoid disappointment. The word "Express" doesn't mean that the train is fast but it's rather slow and steady.
As mentioned earlier, you can either board the train at Butterworth or Penang Island. If you intend to board the train from the island, you will need to head to the Ferry Terminal in order to go across to the train station located at the mainland Butterworth. Note there's a Malaysia KTM Railway ticket office at the ferry terminal.
Getting Across to Butterworth
With your train ticket ready in hand, just walk toward the Ferry Terminal. Taking a brisk walk after you have bypassed the KTM ticket office you should see the terminal at sight following the pedestrian walkway.
All passengers have to walk up the ramp linking to the terminal to board a ferry across. It's an easy walk if you have light luggage. This ferry crossing is used daily by commuters living or working at the mainland. On your way walking up the ramp you can get a scenic view of Penang Bridge from afar provided the weather is good.
Ferry schedules can be quite erratic without fixed timing. But usually the waiting duration for the next ferry is between 15-30 minutes. Take a seat and relax while you surf the net using the free WiFi services provided by the Penang state government.
Cars and motorcycles will be the first to enter the ferry. Once passenger boarding is given the green light, the gate will be opened to allow you to walk straight into the ferry. All ferries are double decks.
|Double deck ferry plying between Butterworth and Penang|
|A ferry from Butterworth heading toward Penang Island|
It's quite relaxing while enjoying the scenery with the windy breeze blowing around you especially if one have never tried the ferry crossing before. However, this relaxing ferry crossing can be short lived as the entire one-way trip is only 20 minutes.
Butterworth Train Station and Bus Terminal
|Ferry getting ready to berth|
Follow the direction signage to reach the train station that is about 10 minutes walk after you alighted from the ferry. Be sure to have ample time and not rushing. The train station is undergoing some major renovation to accommodate a double track for future expansion. You will not miss the two antique trains sitting on display at the station compound.
Little did we know that the Bangkok bound train can be cancelled at last minute notice. Surprising isn't it? If this were to happen, all purchased tickets will be fully refunded by Malaysia KTM Railway at either the Butterworth of Penang Island ticket office. Therefore, if you have a meeting or hotel reservations in Bangkok it will be a disruption to your plans. Let's be mindful that this Butterworth-Bangkok train service is operated by Thai Railway. No reason whatsoever will be given for any cancellation of this Bangkok bound train.
Back-Up Plan Just In Case Train Cancellation
In order to avert this unwanted disruption to your travel plans, call up the KTM Office in the morning after 10.00am. The KTM staff would be able to advice if that day's train service will be operating as per normal or otherwise been cancelled.
In the event that the train service is really cancelled, get your train tickets refunded at the station. Some people may not mind to get another train ticket the next day. However, if you don't want the train cancellation to cause any distruption to your travel itinerary, you will need to get to Hadyai Thailand from Butterworth in order to catch another train to Bangkok. Sounds challenging but it's still possible as we found out.
There are 5 train services plying the route Hadyai-Bangkok. All the 5 trains from Hadyai runs daily from 2pm onward with the last train at 7pm (Thailand Time GMT-7). Upon knowing the cancellation of Butterworth-Bangkok train service in the morning, to reach Hadyai is to board either a mini bus or express bus service. But firstly get your train ticket refunded. Head toward the Bus Terminal that is located about a mere 5 minutes walk. You can actually see the bus terminal from the train station itself.
There are 2 types of buses that ferries passengers from Butterworth bus terminal to Hadyai's main bus terminal. The mini bus and express bus that are priced between RM32 - RM35 per person. The journey takes about 3 hours. The first mini bus will depart Butterworth bus terminal at 1pm whereas the Express bus will depart at 2pm. Upon reaching Hadyai in this unfortunate but rather exciting situation, you then have to take a Tuk-Tuk or taxi to get to the nearby Hadyai train station hopefully able to catch the next train to Bangkok from there. Hopefully this entire train delay fiasco does not happen.
The Rail Journey Begins
The train starts churning at 2.00pm sharp leaving Butterworth station. It is advisable that travelers be on time as this train does not linger around and wait for any late passengers simply because it has to keep up with its schedule to reach Hadyai. This train can have all the excuses to be late but not for its passengers. Therefore, be early and wait.
|Thai Railway Attendant|
There are 2 coaches (no.9 and no.10) bound for Hadyai and then will continue all the way to Bangkok in an overnight journey. Enjoy the train ride and just imagine you're on board a Midnight Orient Express to the land of smiles.
Make yourself comfortable in your designated seat as you will spend the next 21 hours journey to reach Bangkok from here onward. All seats are numbered at the sides and when you purchase the ticket you have a choice to choose the lower berth bed or upper berth bed.
|Shower facility inside the toilet cubicle|
Malaysian/Thai customs checkpoint is at Padang Besar. The train will stop here at the border town around 6.00pm (Malaysia hour) where all passengers are required to alight with only a passport for immigration clearance. There's no need to bring your luggage along but it's a good idea to keep your bags locked while leaving them behind the train. After you're done with the Malaysia and Thai immigration, you can head back to the train and rest at the platform while waiting for other passengers to return to the train.
From Padang Besar it is another 45 minutes for the train to reach Hadyai main railway's station called Hat Yai Junction. From just 2 sleepers coach when we first started our journey in Butterworth, here in Hat Yai our coach will be joined with additional coaches bound for Bangkok. It's interesting to see how all the coaches are joining together to make one long train here in Hat Yai. The Thais don't call it Hat Yai Junction for no reason. This is an important train hub in Southern Thailand.
The legroom between in between the seating can be converted into dining area by attaching a convertible table at the window ledge. Noticed that the table is bigger than your regular flight dining space in front of the flight seats. The F&B crew is very courteous and smiling ready to take down your orders for the night and morning breakfast. That's the reason why we're going to the land of smiles. Only cash payment is acceptable for in-coach dining service.
|Dinner Menu Selection|
|Dining at your seats|
You can also try to experience dining at the coach's restaurant but you will need to walk pass other coaches to get to this dine-in coach compartment while the train is moving rapidly leaving Hadyai behind. The operating hours is from 5.30am to 11.00pm.
A lot of people will be curious to find out how a sitting chair can be converted into a sleeping bunk. This is the beauty of a sleeper coach train. The seat numbering on the chair will indicate whether you are assigned a lower berth or upper berth.
What is the difference between the two? Well, the lower berth is basically wider with more space room to turn your body around while lying down. The upper berth is slightly tighter in space and you will need to climb up using the side ladder. The ticket price for lower berth is slightly higher than upper berth but this price variance is minimal and not significant.
The train attendant will start converting your seats into sleeping bunks after dinner time is over. This will provide you with the much needed rest after a hefty meal. You may slip into a more comfortable dressing by changing inside the bunk with the curtain enclosed. This again if you are a freak who cannot sleep without changing into your usual sleeping attire e.g. pyjamas or night gowns.
|Enclosed Curtains for Privacy|
The upper berth provides a reading lamp where you can get some lights to read books or magazines in the dark if you can't sleep just yet. Throughout the night, this train will be passing by many towns and Provinces in Songkhla, Pattalung, Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat.
|Editing this article story "Next Train to Bangkok" using battery power.|
The train does not provide any electricity for you to charge your laptops or smartphones. It is advisable that you fully charge all your devices before boarding the train.
ตอนเช้า Good Morning
Good Morning! Train arrived Hua Hin at around 6.30am. Got down to take breath some morning fresh air for about 20 minutes before the train resumed its journey again.
Waking up the first thing you would like to do is to brush your teeth and wash your face. Hungry? No problem. Breakfast will be served from 7.00am (Thai hour) onward. The F&B crew is great as he will come one round to see which guests who have pre-ordered their breakfast are ready to be served. For those who tends to wake up later breakfast would still be served between later not later than 9.30am.
If you don't intend to wake up that early and do not wish to be disturbed by breakfast serving, you can always head to the Dine-In Restaurant at anytime later during the morning.
You tend to meet other people from different nationalities during this long journey. Here are two Japanese sweethearts on their holidays visiting Malaysia en route to Bangkok before returning to their home country. Had a brief chat with a few Australians, an Irish and another Malaysian along the way. A good way to exchange information and learn about other countries unlike airliner where a short 2 hours flight time won't let you to interact with others much.
Arrival At Hualamphong Station
|Bangsue Station: People waiting for trains|
At around 10.00am (Thailand time) you should be reaching Bansue Station that is just one stop before Hualamphong Station which is the main train station in Thailand. If there's no traffic disruption to the railway track, the train should arrive on time by 10.30am.
|Arrival at Hualamphong Train Station|
|The locomotive that did all the work from Hadyai-Bangkok|
The turnaround time to prepare this same train to go back to Butterworth is amazingly quick. Look at the placard on the train was already changed to No. 3 Bangkok to Butterworth within 10 minutes of train arrival. Fresh clean bed lines, blankets and pillowcases are been replaced almost instantaneously upon the train arrival.
|Main exit to taxis and MRT|