June 27, 2016

LAOS DIARIES PART 1: Train Travel from Bangkok to Vientiane and Back

Train travel from Bangkok to Vientiane is comfortable, cheap and pretty straightforward. We love train travels and would take it over other forms of transport if it’s a viable option and time allows. For our train travel planning, we always refer to the man in www.seat61.com.

We bought our train tickets at Bangkok Railway Station also known as Hua Lamphong Train Station the morning of our travel. We had no problem getting our preferred lower and upper berths at a 2nd class overnight sleeper carriage leaving that night at 8 PM but pre-book if you can. Ticket cost was only $23 per person and you get your own lie-flat bed, freshly laundered blanket and pillows, and a curtain for privacy. There’s also a restaurant car and waiters move around to take your food order and bring it to your compartment.

We were at the station an hour before the scheduled departure and found our car in train 69 with no difficulty. The place is clearly sign posted in Thai and English and stewards abound and are eager to assist. The station has several stores selling food and drinks, a waiting area with plastic seats cooled by fans and a bookstore and restrooms.

We boarded at Platform 5 and settled in our seats and a few minutes after 8, we began moving along. Before 10 PM, our seats were converted into beds and I climbed into my upper bunk while Kim occupied the lower bunk. If you plan on sleeping early, it may be possible to request the on board attendant to set-up the sleeper beds immediately after getting on.

There were toilets and sinks at the end of each car. We always have our own toilet paper stash and hand soap but they were also provided. There’s a space for your luggage under the bed or at the luggage rack. For our peace of mind, our bags were secured with locks and chained into the metal post.

We woke up with the sun and breakfasted on sandwich, coffee and fruit juice on board, preordered the night before. After 12 hours, at 8 in the morning we slowed down to a stop at Nong Khai train station, still in Thailand.

After getting our Thailand exit stamps, we waited a few minutes at Nong Khai station to transfer to a shuttle to cross the Friendship Bridge and bring us to Thanaleng on the Laos side of the Bridge some 13 km from Vientiane, the city center and capital of Laos. Shuttle ride was 40 baht per person.

Philippine passport holders can enter Laos visa free for a 30 day stay but an entry and exit fee of 40 baht is required. After getting our passports stamped in, we took a 45-minute mini van ride for 600 baht to deliver us to our hotel.

Going back to Bangkok is basically the same process just done on reverse. This time, we took the first class sleeper train.

We were held up at the long immigration line and showed up at the ticket window in Nong Khai station already minutes late before the scheduled departure of 710 PM but it was just our luck that our desired first class sleeper cabins are still available.

We purchased our train tickets for 1,250 baht per person, paid for in Baht and in cash. Expected time of arrival in Thailand’s capital is at 6 am the next day.

For a negligible total difference cost of about $30 for 2, our cabin came with more privacy with a solid door that we could lock and our own in room sink. There’s a dedicated light switch that we can turn on and off at will and aircon controls to adjust the cabin temperature. The toilet at the end of our car has a shower and cleaner compared to the one at the 2nd class.

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