The new flagship trains of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) were launched in 2016, running throughout the Northern, Northeastern and Southern Lines in Thailand. The order of 115 new coaches from CRRC Changchun forming 9 train sets is SRT’s largest single order for new additional passenger coaches. The new coaches are also a platform for SRT to create a new image of service, add more facilities to trains and focus on Thai-style service and dressing.
The new CRRC coaches run on 4 main routes daily, namely, the Bangkok – Hat Yai “Thaksinarath“, the Bangkok – Chiang Mai “Uttrawithi“, the Bangkok – Nong Khai “Isan Mankha” and the Bangkok – Ubon Ratchathani “Isan Wattana“, with new service names which were personally given by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
After more than a year since the launch due to my own schedule conflicting with ticket availability as tickets do sell out 2 months in advance – almost immediately after opening for sale, I finally got to try the Thaksinarath running from Bangkok to Hat Yai. With this trip, I learnt that the service standards on the new First Class coaches were actually more premium than advertised.
The Special Express 31 Thaksinarath departs from Bangkok Hua Lamphong Railway Station at 2.45pm. Having a First Class ticket entitles you to a simple lounge visit if you would like to rest before your train departure.
I departed from Bangkok with the Thaksinarath on a very special day in Thailand on 13 October 2017, the one-year anniversary of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The platform had an artwork dedicated to him, Rama IX, the ninth monarch of Thailand from the Chakri dynasty.
The Thaksinarath is ready for her passengers at Platform 4, more than an hour before the time of departure.
My ticket on the Thaksinarath to Hat Yai, with a supplement for single occupancy.
Heading the Thaksinarath and other trains operating with the new CRRC coaches is the Hitachi locomotive in the new livery. This new livery was given to match the new image of the CRRC coaches, and she certainly looks smart and modern despite it being 24 years old.
Compartment 19/20 is my moving hotel for the night en route from Bangkok to Hat Yai.
Welcome aboard the Thaksinarath.
The First Class compartment is sufficiently spacious with ample luggage storage and a generous amount of legroom for the day setting.
Each berth comes with a power socket and reading light. In the day setting, only the one on the lower berth is used.
In the day setting, the screen on the lower berth is used for entertainment and food orders. The screen also tells you if the washrooms or shower are available for use in real time.
A USB port is also available with the controls for the screen to charge your phone.
The channel guide for the entertainment screen is provided in the compartment. Also, you can get the WiFi password “TESTTEST” at the bottom of the channel guide.
An additional screen is also available on the upper berth.
An attendant is available throughout the train journey. To call him or her, press to bell button beside the compartment door.
A light above your door lights up which will let the attendant know which compartment he or she should serve once he or she receives the notification within the attendant’s room.
With the door shut, you will also have the option to keep it locked. A peephole is available to check on your visitor, if any, and also the best evacuation route in case of an emergency.
Shortly before departure, the attendant comes around to provide all passengers with complimentary drinking water for the journey.
Sanitized glasses are also given out directly to you instead of displaying them first in the compartment, ensuring that you actually physically see a clean, sanitized glass before accepting it.
Now, for a walk around the coach to see the shared amenities available.
The most important feature in the new First Class coach would be the presence of a hot shower. Nothing to get you more comfortable than this whether you are en route or about to go to bed.
Soap is provided in the shower cubicle.
A modern Panasonic water heater is provided for a hot shower. While the shower head is positioned slightly low, it’s probably for good reason and you won’t want to spray the water all over your clothes hung on the hook above.
If you wish to use your own toiletries, a soap dish is also available.
A new addition for trains in Thailand would be a gents’ washroom cubicle consisting of only a urinal and a sink.
And of course, two mixed gender washroom cubicles are also available.
It is worthwhile to note that the toilets on the new CRRC coaches have waste tanks on board as compared to the “natural flushing” on the existing DMUs and coaches.
On journeys out of Bangkok, you can also watch the journey go by when you are waiting for your turn at the washrooms or shower.
A sneak peek into the attendant’s room.
Each First Class compartment also feature connecting rooms should you be travelling with a group of 3 or 4. A lock bar is available at each side of the connecting door, ensuring that only with both bars lifted, can the connecting door be opened.
The spacious 4-person compartment with the connecting door opened.
Shortly after departure, the train conductor and attendant comes around to welcome you on board and to check your ticket.
My checked ticket with the hole punch on top.
The attendant then provides me with the headset to be used on the entertainment system, and a personal commentary in English on the various functions available in the compartment and coach, including how to adjust the aircon flow.
He then salutes me to thank me for choosing SRT for my journey and that he is at my service today throughout my journey.
Truly first-class Thai-style hospitality.
A short stop at Sam Sen to pick up some more passengers, including a family in First Class. My attendant also helps them with their bags while ushering them to their compartment.
As compared with the doors on the older coaches, the ones on the CRRC coaches closes automatically in sync with the whole train, without the need for each attendant to press the button on each door.
The steps also can be folded up at the gangway level to provide a wider aisle space and also future-proofs the train for high-level platforms at Bang Sue Central.
Don’t stick your hand there.
The temperature is set at a cool 22 degrees.
Looking at Bang Sue Central, the future modern home for all trains.
After departure from Bang Sue, the attendant comes round again to provide towels for each passenger for the shower.
Passing by Bang Sue Locomotive Depot.
Branching off to the Southern Line after Bang Sue Junction.
Bang Son Purple Line and Red Line station.
Crossing the Rama VI Bridge.
Time to try out the food ordering system.
Scroll through the menu to see what you like.
Once you’re done, tap “Submit” and you’ll receive the message “Your order is being processed, please wait.”.
Once your order is picked up by the crew in the restaurant car, you will see the message “The order is finished.”.
The waitress comes by with your food shortly after that, and you can pay her in cash.
My late lunch of Green Curry Fried Rice and Pinky Milk.
For microwaved food, the Green Curry Fried Rice with Egg actually tastes pretty good, though honestly I still prefer the freshly cooked ones on board the old trains. 59 baht per pack.
The Pinky Milk tastes a lot like strawberry milk. 45 baht per cup.
The branch line to Suphan Buri splitting off from the mainline.
The branch line to Kanchanaburi and Nam Tok splitting off from the mainline.
With a slightly longer stop of 5 minutes at Ratchaburi, the Kway Teow sellers are out in full force as usual, except that they can’t come on board this new train anymore. Nevertheless, the passengers crowd the door to buy a box off them. You can’t miss having at least one box when you pass by Ratchaburi, seriously.
The stallholders whipping up another batch for the next train.
And the familiar taste of Ratchaburi Kway Teow back on board the train. 10 baht per box.
Speeding along south away from Bangkok.
If you are like me, you can also track the train’s position on the map and view the upcoming timetable updated in real time as the train travels along, depending on the speed and length of stop at station.
For dinner, I decided to walk to the restaurant car to order directly and have a look instead of using the ordering system in my compartment.
For Muslim travellers, these four items are Halal-certified. For mains, the restaurant car offers a Red Curry Chicken with Rice and Basil Chicken with Rice. 2 options of Wanton Soups are also available, with a clear base or a Tom Yum base.
These are not featured on the touch-screen ordering system though.
On recommendation by the waitress, I decided to order an Iced Mocha. All coffee drinks are made by the coffee machine behind the counter.
If you want some OTOP products, tidbits or somehow prefer instant noodles instead of the wide range of mains on board (what’s wrong with you?), you can also pick them up here.
The diners in the restaurant car. Most would come from Second Class as there is no touch-screen ordering system there. There will be a round or two where the waitress would walk the length of the train to take orders though.
A walk through Second Class where most berths have been converted for the night.
Since I was still a little full from the late lunch, I went for a Pork Salapao (Pau) and Pork Khanom Jeeb (Siew Mai) instead. This is truly “Dim Sum pun ada” without any shoutouts, unlike a certain other company with advertisements all around but almost no actual product.
The Khanom Jeeb was good – tender and flavorful, but the Salapao was somehow a little crusty on the bottom. Some parts even came off with the paper base.
Departing the famous Hua Hin Railway Station.
And time to call it a night.
The attendant dashed out of his compartment almost immediately after I pressed the call button. I know because I pressed it while peeping out of the door.
Like other Thai night trains, he fixed my bed for the night with such efficiency that even machines, if any, wouldn’t be able to catch up or be as accurate when grabbing new stuff to be placed on the bed.
The bed sheet was even pulled by itself as the mattress folded out to its final form without any additional adjustments after it has set.
A final touch with the placing of the pillow, my attendant saluted me again, wishing me “good night” and “enjoy your sleep”.
My attendant’s masterpiece.
The packed blanket is also provided individually to ensure hygiene, as per the existing night train arrangements.
As I was travelling with a single occupancy, the upper berth was not folded or laid out, but here’s how the compartment would look like if it was twin-sharing.
There are fold out steps on the side, with a very CRRC look like the ones in China.
Be careful not to kick the call button when climbing up though, or the attendant may come running out again.
Amazing Luxury on rails.
As with all night trains in Thailand, I always rest well in the night, and this trip was definitely not an exception. I woke up just slightly before the attendant’s wake-up call announcement about half an hour prior to arrival in Hat Yai.
Am I seeing this right? This will be an early arrival into Hat Yai of 16 minutes.
Entering Hat Yai Junction Railway Station.
The Thaksinarath’s actual stop in Hat Yai Junction was at 6.18am, but the system registered it the second it crossed to the 6.19am mark. With a scheduled arrival of 6.35am, the Thaksinarath arrived 17 minutes early into Hat Yai Junction.
Goodbye moving hotel for the night, you were truly First Class.
Disembarking from the train.
A final goodbye salute from my attendant later, and the First Class experience on the Thaksinarath is concluded.
The Thaksinarath is the longest route among all four services served by the new CRRC coaches, and offers the best all-rounded experience as you get to experience both the day and night in a single journey.
While it is not touted as such, this is in my opinion the best train service in Thailand, perhaps even comparable to the Eastern and Oriental Express with the excellent English my attendant spoke, service attitude throughout the experience from station staff when buying my ticket 2 months ago, security guard at the First Class lounge in Bangkok, on-board facilities available, and of course you can be yourself without a strict dress code unlike on board the E&O.
It may be very slightly more expensive than the existing First Class Daewoo coaches, but the additional 100 baht (≈S$4.10) difference, it is certainly worth it. For a price of THB 2,594 (≈S$106.56) for single occupancy and THB 3,388 (≈S$139.18) for two in a compartment, it is certainly the best way to travel around Thailand.
From here, I continued onwards to Malaysia via the Hat Yai – Padang Besar Shuttle Train.
- SRT counters
- Online from 12Go Asia (joint ticketing with connecting trains available)
Tickets are open for sale 60 days before departure.
How do I book tickets online?