Sleeper Train Butterworth To Hua Hin, 2012

I thought I liked train travel. Not that I’ve done a lot. But I have good memories of ploughing through nocturnal Italy, watching villagers feasting and dancing in a bright-lit square somewhere en-route from Naples to Rome. Or was it Brindisi to Naples? No matter.

I remember the southern French accent of the train driver announcing arrival in Marseilles: “Marsaya”.

Then there was the epic journey from Cochin to Delhi. Sitting up all the way, jammed into a hot third-class carriage with good-humoured Indians, looking out on the parched plains of central India and wondering how or why people lived there. I don’t suppose I’d take a journey like that too well now, but it was great back then.

When we floated the idea of going into Thailand by train instead of flying in as most people do, it gained immediate traction, especially coupled with 3 days in Penang to kick off with. Seemed sorta romantic.

Neither my partner nor I have ever been able to sleep in transit, but we imagined a sleeper train would be different. Unlike in a bus or plane, we’d be on bunks, fully prone. The hypnotic rhythm of the wheels on the tracks would surely lull us, and before we knew it morning would break and we’d emerge fresh and rested at Hua Hin, where we were due to arrive at 6.29am.

6.29. Not 6.30. The precision of that arrival time suggested an accuracy about the train schedule that filled us with confidence. We planned to have breakfast as soon as the nearby restaurants opened, then walk around checking out Hua Hin. Mid-morning, we’d catch a mini-bus to Prachuap Khiri Khan, and by the time we’d checked into our hotel and showered, it would be lunchtime!

Cut to my first view of Hua Hin: a spot of lawn at the side of the platform I stumbled on to sleepless and ill after alighting from our Butterworth sleeper train 9 hours late. Yes, 9 hours. Near blinded by a thumping headache, salivating dangerously and about to chuck – again – I decided the lawn was a better place than the platform for whatever horrid contents my convulsing stomach was about to deliver. I made it just in time.

Oblivious to an audience that my partner later assured me was not inconsiderable, I planted my feet wide apart and herked a stream of yellow-green bile on to that diligently manicured Hua Hin lawn. I noted with some relief that the lawn absorbed its putrid offering. Right decision. After all, Hua Hin’s station is reputedly the most beautiful in Thailand, people coming from all around just to photograph it. Not the sort of place to greet with a herby projectile vomit.

A nice Thai guy my partner had befriended on the train took pity on me and kindly gave us a lift to the Clocktower, from whence mini-vans depart to Prachuap Khiri Khan. My partner changed some money as I sat uselessly cradling my pulsing head, and a short while later we were on our way, none the wiser about Hua Hin.

The mini-van driver drove like a maniac with a death wish, but I willed him on ever faster, praying I would not vomit again and massaging the back of my neck in a vain attempt to ease the headache. Somehow, I hung on until the 1.5 hour journey ended in PKK.

And by the way, modern trains – if that’s how you’d categorise the Thailand sleeper we were on – do not have that rhythmic beat I’d associated with my European and Indian train experiences. Maybe they don’t space track gaps as they used do? Whatever, there’s no regularity to the track percussion. It’s messy and random and noisy and NOT conducive to sleep. The passengers snoring loudly all around would not agree. But that’s my truth and I’m sticking to it.

5 thoughts on “Sleeper Train Butterworth To Hua Hin, 2012”

  1. Maybe the carbon monoxide in the tobacco fumes sent you off to sleep? I can imagine there was plenty of fume to go around – do any of the Vietnamese guys not smoke?

    Mercifully, smoking was not allowed on the Thai or Malaysian trains.

    So that good olde train track rhythm was really there? Definitely a regular beat, predictable as a metronome? Gratifying, if so. That’s what you want out of a train. Now I really feel cheated.


  2. Ha! This brings back memories of taking the Butterworth-to-Bangkok train in January 74. We were in sleeper chairs; two things I recall are the guy from Mt Barker a few rows behind us laughing out loud, reading Catch 22, and the steward saying to me, “Blanket, sir?”

  3. Hahaha! Funny stuff! Unlike Catch 22 (for me). Never could get into that. In fact, I found it impossible to finish. Kept drifting off to sleep…which is more than I ever managed on a train. Maybe next time I should dust off old Joey Heller and travel with him.

    And tell me, Karen, did the train of 74 have that regular rhythm of wheels passing over track gaps? Maybe the old clickety clack, clickety clack I thought I remembered was always a myth…or went back to the steam train days. But wait, I never travelled by steam train. Or did I? Maybe India or China, 1984…

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