Transport & Budget Hotel Special

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Transport Special

Even though we have been travelling for just under 400 hours or 16½ days solid we are still firmly committed to sticking to our goal of 'RTW by land where practical'

We haven't flown yet and don't intend to until we get to Singapore, where unless we swim or take a boat our options are limited. We have looked at going from Singapore to the Philippines by boat but this is the first trip we deem to be impractical. There are no scheduled boat services so unless we charter a boat (which we can't afford to do!) the only other option is to hitch a ride on a container ship. There are only a few shipping companies that will entertain tourists and none of the ones we could find regularly sail from Singapore to the Philippines so tying it in with our few days in Singapore is virtually impossible. Also the cost is ridiculous for the service and time it takes, very much like the Trans-Siberian, it would be more about the experience than the journey itself.

Statistics, statistics, statistics...

Mode Qty KM Miles Hours:Minutes Days
Train 20 19,852 12,335 307:20 12.8
Coach 15 2,527 1,564 59:50 2.5
Coach 1 597 371 09:30 0.4
Boat/Ferry 4 357 222 22:30 0.9
Total 40 23,323 14,492 399:10 16.6

We only record the journeys between big cities, we haven't recorded day trips etc.

Train Travel in Thailand

Until we got to Thailand the train proved to be a very cheap and efficient means of transport and not until we reached Vietnam were we late once. Pretty impressive, although it's easy to be on time in China where traditional train services seem to have half hour blocks of pathing time dropped randomly into the timetable!

However since being in Thailand things have changed and the train for some reason is regarded as second class to road travel. Coach travel seems to dominate some routes, for instance Bangkok to Pattaya is served by one 3rd class train a day departing Bangkok at the ridiculously early time of 6:55, compared to the coach which has an hourly direct service from the airport, a half hourly service from both Bangkok North and Eastern bus stations and an hourly service from the Southern bus station. With 4 million tourist a year visiting Pattaya and the vast majority flying via Bangkok this has to be one of the biggest untapped rail markets out there, it is screaming for a decent rail service!

Thailand has to be the first country we have ever travelled to on this trip or any previous holidays where the train has to give way to road transport. Surely it can't cost much to grade separate a few key junctions in Bangkok thus reducing road congestion, improving safety and drastically reducing journey times by rail. All the country then needs is a decent timetable, people who are even remotely interested in a right time railway and you might just might be able to compete with road transport on some routes. The air market has already killed the longer distance rail market who provide a high frequency, low cost and high quality product. We have read stories that High Speed Rail is coming to Thailand, there is no denying it, the investment is badly needed but when today's traditional railway is so badly run it will take more than a swanky network to change the nations perception of rail.

Train Classifications

Thailand has bewildering array of train classifications, all names that you would expect to have a reference to speed:

  • Ordinary
  • Express
  • Special Express
  • Rapid

What do they all mean? Sadly not a lot as it appears to just be a way to charge you more for your ticket and has little reference to the speed of the service.

The train environment is everything, if you want air-con you will pay a lot for it. Not a lot by Western standards but we paid 345B to go second class from Bangkok to Ayuthaya in comparison we came back 3rd class without air-con for just 20B! Yes 18 times cheaper. It wouldn't be too bad if the air-con was set at a sensible level but for some reason the Thai's seem to only know one setting 'ice cold' so you sit there with goose pimples which is nearly as bad as bearing the heat.

Passenger information, what's that?

Passenger information is incredibly poor and 'real time' information boards are few and far between and those that we did see were just plain wrong. For instance our train from Hua Hin to Surat Thani was over an hour late by the time it arrived but whilst we patiently waited the information board showed it was the third train due. However the first train in the list had already departed long ago, we know it had as we had seem it come and go with our own eyes, the second train was also late but it was now over 20 minutes past the estimated arrival time! Only after rebooting the clapped out PC did the screen update but needless to say it was still wrong.

Another example of shocking passenger information or more accurately a lack of it was on our 'Rapid' train from Bangkok to Ayuthaya. The train was supposed to depart at 8:30am but departed at 8:35am, with no apparent reason for the delay or any announcements. We then missed our path on the single line and had to wait, we then waited and waited some more, no announcements. We then came to a juddering halt while the driver and a few other people jumped off. They didn't appear to do anything, maybe they went for a fag break? They got back on 5 minutes later and we continued, surprisingly no announcements. We finally arrived at 10:30am nearly an hour late, pretty impressive on a 75 minute journey. Not forgetting this was the 'Rapid' service! The trains end destination was Chaing Mai so goodness knows what time it would have arrived, having done that route already we know there are a lot of single line sections ahead.

We have taken 4 train journeys in Thailand and been late 4 times.

  • Chaing Mai to Bangkok - 2 hours late
  • Bangkok to Ayuthaya - 1 hour late
  • Bangkok to Hua Hin - 50 minutes late
  • Hua Hin to Surat Thani - 1 hour late

We have one more train journey in Thailand from Surat Thani direct to Butterworth in Malaysia. As the train is in the middle of the night and it will be our departing memory from Thailand we are both hoping it won't be another disaster. Time will tell but we are not holding out much hope.

Driving in Thailand

Contrary to belief it's not too bad, but, and this is a big but you have learn to drive like the locals do

Ghosting! The Thai term for cars and bikes going the wrong way up the hard shoulder, English term plain stupid. This often happens on dual carriageways between u-turns. Which leads us nicely onto the most dangerous thing on the highway which is the blessed u-turn. There are only a few proper junctions or flyovers so if you want to go the opposite direction you have to do a u-turn into oncoming traffic. To make things worse there is often no deceleration lane or if there is, it is so short that traffic often has to wait in the fast lane for a gap in the oncoming traffic. Plain crazy!

Finally we soon realised that oncoming traffic flashing headlights does not mean the same as it does in Europe, it doesn't mean 'come through' it means 'I'm coming through' We learnt this extremely quickly!

Budget Hotel Special

We have stayed in over 30 hotels and generally we have been very impressed with what you can get for your money. Apart from being in China and Laos for New Year we are travelling in the off peak for the majority of our big adventure which does help to keep accommodation costs down, especially in Thailand where prices can rocket during the shoulder and peak seasons. As we have mentioned before in our blog although we are seasoned travellers, for peace of mind we still prefer to pre-book accommodation where possible. We have met others who book on the fly and have got some amazing deals however we question if it is always cheaper or worth the hassle! In very touristy destinations with an abundance of hotels walk up rates can be cheaper than pre-booking and if you have the time and inclination to haggle, it's amazing what you can get for your money. However we have read that some hotel staff in Thailand are on commission and are unlikely to budge on walk up rates, on these occasions we are sure we have got a very competitive if not better rate by booking online. If you can be bothered or have the time in advance we often scope out somewhere we are interested in and then email them in advance asking for the best rate. Most times the hotel will come back with something better if only 50B (approx. £1 a night) but after a few nights it adds up.

You win some, you lose some and we will never know overall if we have spent more or less by pre-booking, but in our opinion a few pence extra for peace of mind is money well spent!

Our opinion of what makes a good hotel has changed significantly since leaving the UK. We have yet (and don't intend to!) to stay in a dorm and have always had a private room. Only on 4 occasions have we had to share bathroom facilities. Unless we intend to stay somewhere for longer than 4 nights we often opt for a basic room as we will usually be out of the hotel sightseeing anyway. If we stay for longer than 4 days we tend to look for a slightly nicer room with a couple of extra mod cons such as a TV, but at the end of the day if it has a bed and shower it's all you need.

So what do you get for your money?

Everybody knows Ross loves statistics so as expected he has a 'spreadsheet' of the hotels we have stayed in!

In 112 nights we have spent on average £17.61 per night, skewed massively by the cost of accommodation in the first part of the trip where we averaged £38.24 through Europe and Russia. Since being in Asia we are averaging £15.09 per night again skewed by the early big Chinese cities we stayed in such as Beijing and Shanghai. The cheapest night accommodation was a mere £4.21!

As with most countries you can pay just about anything for a hotel in Thailand from the plain ridiculous to the ridiculously cheap.

As an example we paid significantly less for 8 night's accommodation in Koh Samui than a friend (not mentioning any names) paid for one night in an elaborate hotel in the North of the island. Admittedly we didn't have our own butler, our own swimming pool or even air-con in Lamai beach but both our hotels were perfectly adequate for our needs and in all our holidays to date we can't ever remember staying so close to the beach as we did in Lamai. Your opinion of what makes a good hotel depends on the type of holiday you are having. If this was our big annual get away we would probably choose something more swanky than the two places we stayed, but that in itself is strange as on holidays when we have less time available we are often out all day, partying at night and hardly ever in the room, so we end up paying more for something we don't even use. Whereas this trip we are spending more time in and around the hotel than we ever have done before. This adventure has changed our perception of what makes a nice hotel and although neither of us would want to spend a night in a rundown shack we would prefer to save our pennies and spend it on activities.

Thailand Budget Hotel Price Guide

As a rough guide we have found good quality budget fan rooms start around 600B and a good quality budget air-con rooms around 900B. You can get cheaper rooms but with electricity costing around 7B a unit you can easily spend 300B in electricity a day with a high powered air-con, fridge, shower etc, so if you pay less expect the room to not be quite as nice.

Long Term Room Rental

Many hotels and guesthouses in Thailand have daily, weekly and monthly rates. As we planned to spend a long time in Phuket we looked at several places with monthly rates before settling on our friend's hotel on a daily rate. In comparison the daily rate looked high at first but be warned most monthly rates do not include electricity, which must be paid on check out. Firstly as we noted above this can be around 300B a day which adds up over a month and secondly make sure if you do opt for a 'plus electricity' tariff the room has an easy to find separate meter! You don't want to end up paying an estimated bill.


You do get what you pay for and it differs by country but roughly based on where we have been staying the price/facilities are as follows:

Price per night Private Bathroom Fan Air Con Fridge TV Safe
Less than £5

£5 - £10

£10 - £15


£15 - £20

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