On Sunday I went on the annual steam train trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. This is the one that celebrates the anniversary of the State Railway of Thailand. This year they are celebrating 117 years on Wednesday 26th March. Normally they do the steam train trip on the 26th March but for some reason this year they decided to move it to the nearest Sunday. I presume to make it easier for people to attend. There are three other opportunities during the year to ride steam trains in Thailand. These are 12th August (Queen’s Birthday), 23rd October (Chulalongkorn Day) and 5th December (King’s Birthday).
For this trip to Ayutthaya, two Pacific Steam locomotives were used. No. 824 was used for the outward journey and No. 850 for the return journey. There were originally 30 of these steam locomotives that were manufactured by the Japan Association of Railway Industry. But only these two remain in service. Locomotive No. 824 officially first ran in 1949 and No. 850 in 1951. These locomotives were recently repaired and modified and were given a new boiler, an electric generator and a new coat of paint. They were then brought back into service on 5th October 2012 and are used for special occasions.
The train ride started from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok at 8 a.m. However, I think a lot of people were there as early as 7 a.m. so that they could take pictures of themselves either standing by the locomotive or even up inside the engine. To ride the train you need to buy a ticket. However, you don’t need to buy these tickets to go and take pictures. In theory you just need to buy a platform ticket for a few Baht, though I met some people who hadn’t even done that. I think on a day like this you can get away with it. You can either take pictures here or anywhere along the route out of Bangkok.
At about 7:45 a.m. some officials from the State Railway of Thailand took part in a small ceremony to put flower garlands on the front of the steam trains as a kind of offering for good luck. They also sometimes make an offering at the station shrine. The national anthem was played on the speakers at 8 a.m. and then shortly afterwards, the bell was rang, whistles blown and the steam train slowly started to move out of the station. As we left the station, we could see many photographers on both sides taking pictures of the steam train pulling the eight carriages.
To be honest, the best view of the steam train is track side. When you are in the carriage you don’t really get to see the locomotives that much. The track to Ayutthaya was straight for much of the time, but we did catch a glimpse of the front of the train whenever it went around a corner.
Riding in the front carriage is marginally more exciting as you can smell the smoke and hear more clearly the whistle being blown as it passed communities in Bangkok. Even though we couldn’t always see the engine ourselves, it was good seeing the reaction of people that were watching us as we passed. Many took pictures or just waved.
This is a view of the standard coaches that we rode on the trip to Ayutthaya. It was a hot day outside, but with the help of open windows and fans we were comfortable enough inside. I have ridden in the air-conditioned carriage in the past, but I think that kind of defeats the purpose of riding a steam train. You cannot see, smell or hear anything.
This is the ticket collector that came down the carriages. This trip cost 222 Baht return for the ride only or 555 Baht for the ride and a tour of Ayutthaya by coach. I presume you could buy just a one way ticket. I’m not sure about that. But I met several people who bought the return ticket and planned to take the next train back.
The ride to Ayutthaya from Bangkok was scheduled to take two hours. That is, leaving Hua Lamphong at 8 a.m. and arriving in Ayutthaya at 10 a.m. However, we made an unscheduled stop in Bang Pa-In which delayed us by about 20 minutes. But everyone got a chance to get out to take pictures of the steam engines.
As it was the anniversary of the State Railway of Thailand, we had a warm welcome at Ayutthaya train station. There were vendors dressed in clothes from the reign of King Rama V who offered us free traditional food. All very good and tasty. There was also a small performance for us to watch and an exhibition on the history of the railway in Thailand.
Your next opportunity to ride the steam train in Thailand is on 12th August 2014. This trip has already been confirmed to be going to Nakhon Pathom to the West of Bangkok. Tickets will go on sale about a month in advance at any train station in Bangkok. They go quickly so you will need to be fast. I will blog here and also tweet on @RichardBarrow when I hear about it.