Pattaya to Bangkok by Slow TrainConfucius say (or was it Entwistle?): 'Slow train better than slow bus'.
I took some friends to Pattaya and Jomtien earlier this year. We took the bus from Bangkok's Eastern Terminal (Ekkamai), having first got on the wrong bus - right destination, right seats, wrong time (the bus numbering can be confusing).
The trip was fine until we reached the industrial zone around Chonburi, then we had to endure miles of construction, dust and traffic jams - almost as bad as the Cambodian road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh which we had travelled a week earlier.
I have been travelling the roads between Bangkok and Pattaya/Sattahip for more than 20 years, from the time of the old single carriageway coast road but though the roads seem to have been under constant widening, duplicating and even triplicating, they never seem to get much better for long. There are two express-ways to Chonburi now, but constant industrial and housing/golf development in this area with attendant increase in traffic, seems to have absorbed all the increased road space. Moral - roads beget traffic
By the time we reached Pattaya, we were ready for a beer and not at all keen to consider the same route back to Bangkok later in the week. The train had been an option for the trip down, but there is only one (very early) train per day and none at weekends. The timing for the return trip (around 2pm) was ok so we decided to return by train.
Pattaya Floating Market Station
Several stations are shown on Google Earth around Pattaya: Huai Khwang near Jomtien the most southerly, then Pattaya Tai and Pattaya Town, with Bang Lamung to the north. The one we took is now called Pattaya Floating Market, though I believe it is the one shown on the map as Pattaya Tai (South Pattaya).
The station stands about 30 ft above the road, and from there you get a free view of the "Floating Market". We had plenty of time, so wandered down to take a closer look at the tour buses running their air-conditioners, a very young elephant being introduced to the joys of being a tourist attraction, and a solitary boat on an artificial pond selling produce of an indeterminate nature.
As we were due to visit Damnoen Saduak the following week, touristy for sure but a real floating market and free entry, I suggested that rather than fork out the 200 Baht entrance fee it might be more pleasurable to return to the station.
The station is right on the edge of town and unattended, so you pay on the train - 42 Baht, if I remember correctly ($1.30?). Looking south towards Sattahip all you can see is fields and mountains, apart from the road that runs parallel on the town side. In fact, most of the route turned out to be pleasantly rural.
The train itself is quite basic (see photo below), with natural air conditioning (windows) and fans. Itinerant F&B sellers (Thailand's Independent Traders, I believe) carry baskets of food and ice-boxes of drinks up and down the carriages for the whole trip. The day of our journey, there were very few passengers until we reached Chachoengsao.
On the Train
Sadly beer is no longer sold on Thai trains since the tragic attack on a school girl a few years ago (by a security guard not a passenger), but otherwise it really is Asia by Train. You can walk up and down the carriages, get off and take photos of the stations, chat (with difficulty) to the locals, sample the fruit or cooked food sold by the vendors who stroll up and down the carriages and along the station platforms.
Through the Hills
Most of the trip is through (almost) pristine countryside, with mountains, the odd hillside temple, rural hamlets, coconut groves, canals, and miles and miles of rice fields - there are a few modern factory developments near Chonburi but not many. There is nothing of the construction mania that makes the corresponding bus trip so unpleasant apart from one quarry and a fe w small industrial estates.
I suppose that if the proposed North-South high speed rail link goes ahead (the Chinese one to Rayong, I am thinking of) this could change, as I believe the line is designed for freight more than for tourists, which is also somewhat true of the current line. Though there is only one passenger train per day in each direction (excluding weekends and public holidays), we saw several container trains going through, presumably to the container port of Chonburi.
Bang Phakong River
A big obstacle to the new railway, as it was to the old, is the Bang Phakong River which, where the old track crosses the water, is around 160 meters wide.
Chachoengsao Station sits on a big junction, where the Cambodia-bound track joins the Rayong section. Lots of people joined the train at this station, presumably bound for Bangkok. I believe it is pretty busy up to here on the outbound trip - another reason we chose the bus.
Chachoengsao seems to be the the maintenance centre for the railway and there were quite a few maintenance vehicles parked in the sidings, visible in the photo above.
I am not sure who lived in the carriages in the sidings, but they all had satellite TV and a shared cooking wagon. The rolling stock living accommodation looked pretty decrepit though.
From Chachoengsao to the outskirts of Bangkok, it is mostly rice fields - beautiful when it's young rice, and quiet stations, some apparently derelict.
Semi derelict Station
The trip from South Pattaya to Lat Krabang, near the new airport, took around three hours, 30 minutes longer than the bus, but so much more pleasant, relaxing even, and we avoided the 1 hour trek home (at rush hour) from Ekkamai Bus Station.
Two Australian friends who will be here on a golf trip later in the year asked me if I could them a flight from Utapao airport, south of Pattaya where they are playing golf, to Hua Hin on the other side of the Gulf of Thailand, where they will will be playing more golf.
No flights now go to Hua Hin airport, and a **jetfoil boat service from Pattaya ceased operation a few years ago; I advised my friends: "slow train better than slow bus".
**Since I wrote the above words, a new ferry service has opened between Pattaya and Hua Hin and, as of current date, 24 June 2018, is still running.