The Special Express 26 Isan Mankha is a popular train running from Nong Khai, close to the Thai-Lao border, to Bangkok Hua Lamphong Railway Station. While there are 4 pairs of trains running on this route daily, the Special Express 26 Isan Mankha is the only sleeper train available on this route, so tickets do sell out at times.
As I booked my travel date at the end of a Thai long weekend, tickets for all Air-conditioned Second Class Day & Night Coach (ANSCN) lower berths were already sold out one month before departure. As such, I opted to travel on the Air-conditioned First Class Day & Night Coach (ANFCN) upper berth (shared occupancy) for 359 Baht more.
The timetable of Nong Khai Railway Station. Click on the image to enlarge.
The exterior of Nong Khai Railway Station.
I bought some Sai Krok Isan (fermented sausage) as a pre-dinner snack from the station, since I had about an hour to while away. These cost 1 Baht a piece, and I bought 20 pieces.
There were 3 evening departures to Bangkok from Nong Khai, with announcements made and the screen flashed for each upcoming train departure.
First up was the Express 78 at 6.15pm, formed by u-turning the rake of the incoming Express 75.
All 4 trains serving Nong Khai in a single shot.
After the Express 78 has departed, the Rapid 134 pulls into Platform 1 to pick up her passengers. This will depart at 6.30pm.
Meanwhile, I head off to board my Special Express 26 Isan Mankha.
Car 2 will be my ANFCN “hotel” for the night.
My train was headed by Hitachi 4514 in the old livery, which is the same locomotive that brought me to Nong Khai the day before on the northbound Isan Mankha.
Two of my favourite classes of travel on SRT despite being worlds apart – the BTC and the ANFCN.
However, for overnight journeys, I guess this would be more comfortable.
The door steps are ready for both low and high platforms in preparation for the move to Bang Sue Central.
Heading to my compartment.
Berth 23 was my home for the night. The upper berth passenger would take the seat nearer to the door in the daytime configuration.
The upper berth was already folded down with the mattress in place before departure.
A sink is available in each compartment, with a connecting door to the adjacent compartment should there be a group of 4 travelling together.
Despite being the last compartment just beside the toilet, there was almost no hint of any flushing sounds.
After a long day walking around Vientiane, I opted to take a shower first. I requested a towel from the attendant, who didn’t seem too pleased about retrieving it for me. A far cry from the excellent service provided on the Thaksinarath.
The toilet and shower area is at the end of the coach.
Hot water showers are provided, however, I opted for cold water instead to refresh myself.
Soap is provided in the shower cubicle.
A hook is available in the shower cubicle as well.
Three toilet cubicles are available, with one urinal cubicle for males only.
The other two are western-style toilets.
I got my ticket through the SRT E-Ticket System with an additional 30 Baht surcharge, but allowed me to print my ticket at home.
If you buy your ticket through this method, ensure that you have a printed copy of the E-Ticket when you board the train. Flashing the .pdf on your phone is not allowed for travel.
The current location of the train is shown on the TV screen.
A bottle of mineral water is provided for each passenger.
Not much views from the train after sunset.
The train departed on time at 7.10pm. The screen also shows the estimated arrival time as well as the actual arrival time as the train goes on the journey.
Tracking my journey on the screen.
Entertainment is also provided on board, though it’s mostly train-related. No complains from me though.
Getting my ticket checked by the conductor.
I requested for a headset from the attendant shortly after, however, none were available on this train. Another negative point.
“Along the way, I feel the scent of nature. With van or bus, I cannot feel the nature around.”
“My son loves trains, so real experience of riding a train is good for him. It is a good chance for a train-loving boy to ride a train and to have a good family time together. This is an experience that no money can buy, you have to try it to know how it feel.”
As evident by the Daiso Plarail brought on board too.
“He told me how glad he was that there were some people who still cared for the steam locomotives and conserved them.”
“Being a steam loco technician, everyone also has that love and care. They all want the steam to last and stay with the Railway.”
“If one day the steam locomotives were all gone and I was still alive, surely I would really regret. The regret that the next generation would not see, feel, hear that whistle, hear the sound when smoke came out of the box. No more that nostalgic sense from the past.”
“At present, there are five steam locomotives in service which are two Mogul C56s, two Pacifics and one Mikado.”
“Needless to say that the that the State Railway of Thailand takes pride in conserving, refurbishing, maintaining and carrying on the legacy of steam that have served and contributed greatly to the Thai society for over a century.”
How great is it that the people and railway of a country takes pride in what they have and what they do.
After departure from Udon Thani, the attendant came around to make the beds.
The readied lower berth for my neighbour (who hasn’t appeared yet).
My readied upper berth.
An entertainment screen and a recess for storing luggage is available within reach from the upper berth.
A similar control box to the bottom berth is also found.
And here comes my dinner order.
This is Set C of the NP Rity menu at 180 Baht (~S$7.55) (excluding the Fanta drink), consisting of:
Sweet and Sour Chicken, Pork Panang Curry,
clear soup with chicken,
white Jasmine rice,
and Banana Muffin.
Shortly after dinner, I went off to sleep.
The train arrived in Bangkok at 6.01am, just 1 minute late after a journey of 623.58km.
Leaving my hotel for the night. The attendant came around to clear the compartment around Bang Sue Junction.
Disembarking from the Special Express 26 Isan Mankha.
The locomotive decouples from the rake and moves forward a little.
Bedding from the ANFCN gets unloaded here. They will be washed at the laundry company near Platform 3.
The Special Express 26 Isan Mankha at Bangkok Hua Lamphong Railway Station.
The station is already a hive of activity at 6 in the morning as many trains are arriving at similar times.
Cleaners washing down a rake in the station, possibly for a train with quick turnover times.
Despite being 1 minute late, the station registered the train’s arrival to be on time. This could be due to the train’s system registering the arrival on the screen only the moment the train has come to a complete stop, which could be just as the clock struck 6.01am.
Overall, I have to say that I didn’t particularly 100% enjoy this journey with the lower service standards of the coach attendant than the Thaksinarath and the catering back to NP Rity. Don’t get me wrong, NP Rity is fine with their dishes freshly cooked or at least heated up normally in a pot over a stove without a microwave on normal ABCs or BCs, but for the same dishes that are thrown into a microwave before being brought to me on a single disposable container plate just didn’t feel like I got my money’s worth.
While I give SRT 9.9999999/10 for the 1 minute delay on arrival in Bangkok at 6.01am, a part of me was wishing for a delay of at least an hour so I could sleep in longer – but that’s just me, and I would probably annoy 500 passengers with that wish.
Improvements can definitely be made on the Isan Mankha, but despite this, it would still be my top choice for travel between Bangkok and Nong Khai any time in future.