Only a couple of days before I started this trip I remembered to check out the seat61.com to see if there is anything I should be aware of. Well, good thing I did – the train service to Chiang Mai was cut short somewhere due to a major rail track upgrade construction work. According to Seat61, the work was originally due to complete by the end of October, but now it was re-scheduled to end of November, due to resume service on 1 December.
At that time, I was just thinking, oh well, it says there is a bus service from this end-of-the-line stop called Uttaradit, whever it might be, so I guess I’ll just take a train and see what happens. Reading more of it, though, I realised I should have planned for the overnight train, rather than booking a hostel in BKK and a cheap hotel in Chiang Mai back to back. I tried through Agoda.com (good website with lots of cheap hotels in this region, by the way) to change my booking so I could arrive a day later and check out a day later as well. But they responded as no availability on the last day. I guess it is the weekend of the 12th month full-moon festivity and maybe there will be tour buses? I was reading up on Loy Krathong (the lantern festival) and have been under the impression that the 17th is the biggest day of it, being the full moon, but maybe I could be completely wrong. I hope I didn’t come here just to miss the big festival!
I’ve taken trains in this country before. So the central train terminal was a familiar place. I like this place – it is an architecture of an European Grand Terminal style, with one end hanging a large clock, and in this city, the other wall of course is dedicated to the King. Through that narrow path under King you find yourself on the platform (the photo earlier).
I booked a 2nd class air-conditioned seat on Service 105 that departs at 7:50pm. There was no sleeper available, maybe because the services terminate in the middle of the night (rather than how it would end up in Chiang Mai in the morning). Despite my hope of a loco-pulled trains, it was a chain of diesel-powered cars with their engines under the floor.
Before the doors opened for passengers, they were loading the car with bunches of white stuff in plastic bag…
As it turned out, it was the towel-ket (cotton blanket). It would be too cold to sleep without it. Don’t they have some kind of temp adjuster in their AC system??? I was stuck in a space next to a door where I could not stretch my legs at all, and going backwards as the seats could not swing. It was a couple of hours before the 4am arrival that I got another seat that was facing the right direction but more importantly gave me some leg space. Unfortunately, thought this seat was sitting more directly on top of the engine and received a lot more vibration. You just couldn’t win…
Around 4:30am, I think (I am not wearing a watch this trip… because I realised I forgot it – probably at home – when I got off the taxi at airport.) I arrived at Uttaradit station. It was just under 500km from Bangkok, I think. But the light was never dropped to dim, so I had an uneven sleep. As soon as I got off, predictably a few taxi drivers came to ask for my business. I asked how much to bus terminal – it was 100 baht.
I went to use the bathroom (3 baht, and forgot to brush my teeth), and I came out to face an offer of 80 from the same guy. I sat down at the front of the station for a fresh air for a while, and it was down to 60. Another guy, who he was obviously friends with, was pushed forward and he was happy to take 50. I threw my bag in the back of the backseat of his unmetered Toyota Corolla sedan and jump into the front seat. It was indeed a little too far to walk (I had no idea where the bus station would be), and 50 was a good deal.
As with many bus terminals in this region, there are many bus companies and they all look the same. I’m sure not all run the same route and they offer different services. But when I asked a girl sitting outside one of the booths for a service to Chiang Mai, she immediately pointed at this orange booth. 265 baht over the counter, I got a ticket and check-in luggage tag. Luggage tag?
5am, there were people waiting for bus to go in different directions. There are terminal workers, and taxi drivers. I was watching the taxi drivers as one large coach, that I gather to be from Bangkok, pulled up. The drivers made a welcoming line on the landing door side of the bus as the vehicle slides in. I thought they would scream over the others to try to get a business, but they are actually more organised than that. It seems they are in a queue, with first one gets to speak to the next customer disembarking the bus. A finger pointing up, they call out ‘taxi, taxi’ and try to negotiate. Most of them drop shoulders and come to the back of the queue again, but some walk with customer to their vehicle parked just around the building.
That’s the bus I was on from Uttaradit to Chiang Mai. It is a ‘VIP service’ one, with full-reclining seats, drinks and snacks provided regularly. Even I got a bag of chips, soy milk and water. Good deal, I’d say! Next time, I’d use this NCA-run service from BKK, for sure!
The door to my room at Iyara hotel in Chiang Mai. Located just outside of the old city to the north (2-3km walk form the moat) Pretty cheap for a hotel. ‘See view’ on the door. Funny. Not to be confused with ‘sea’ view – there is no ocean here… It is an old hotel, as I read in Agora booking site review, but coming with that expectation, it is not so bad. It is VERY spacious. Bathroom cleaning could be improved, but those who have lived or travelled a lot in SouthEast Asia should find it a ‘no surprise’ level.