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Thailand Trains

To Hat Yai and Butterworth

By Charles Smith

May 10, 2008 

Thailand’s sleeper trains are a good deal. Nice beds, good food, decent prices, and if doing an overnight trip you save the price of a room for one night.

Handy hint: If you think you will not be able to sleep while clicking along in a train buy some Dramamine, (chemical name: Dymenhydrinate) it’s sold over the counter ­ no prescription needed. It is intended for motion sickness but has a strong side affect of creating drowsiness so it might help you sleep.

If going from Bangkok to Butterworth, (Penang) Malaysia, I have found that quite often the train is booked full several days in advance. Especially if close to a holiday. This has been true the entire past 9 years I have been riding and I always wonder why they don’t put on one or 2 more cars.

There is only one train a day to Butterworth, at 2:45 PM. But there are 5 to Hat Yai so if there are no seats on the Butterworth train I always ask if there is anything to Hat Yai as just about every 5th door up and down the streets of Hat Yai sells van tickets and they go every half-hour from 5 AM to 5 PM and they are faster and a bit cheaper than the train. And as there are 5 trains a day to Hat Yai there is always a good chance of cancellations so don’t give up on the first try. In Thailand passengers can cancel or change their ticket right up till one hour before leaving time with no penalty. In Malaysia it is 3 hours before leaving time.

About 9 PM, Monday 31 March 2008, I went to Hualampong train station in Bangkok and was told that all seats to Butterworth and Hat Yai were sold out for the entire week. At 8 AM next morning I went back and there were seats to Hat Yai. She asked, “Do you want to go today?” I said, “No, tomorrow.” She asked, “Upper or lower berth?” I said, “Lower,” and had my ticket. At Hat Yai I jumped out and bought another ticket to Butterworth and jumped right back into a different car on the same train! I have also done that on another trip in the past.

The Butterworth train leaves Bangkok with at least 10 cars plus a dinning car but at Hat Yai all but 2 cars are taken off. Then at the border the Thai locomotive is taken off and a Malaysian engine pulls those 2 cars on to Butterworth and almost always at least 90% of the seats empty. I would hope the Thai computer system would show that the Butterworth cars are empty after Hat Yai so they could sell me a through ticket with a flag on it indicating I will need to change cars at Hat Yai as that would eliminate the frantic rush to find the ticket office and get back to the train before it leaves. It would also help them sell more tickets to Butterworth rather than telling everyone the Butterworth train is booked full when in fact it always runs from Hat Yai to Butterworth at a profit loss with only about 10% of the seats occupied. The train is usually at Hat Yai for 20 minutes but as they are usually late they sometimes try to get away sooner. When they reach Butterworth they are usually even farther behind schedual, at least 2 ­ 2.5 hours late!

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