I’m currently travelling up from the Southern Thai town of Hat Yai to Bangkok on one of SRT’s new Chinese built sleeper trains. Introduced last year, tbese rakes work some services to Hat Yai and also Chiang Mai. I was keen to try them so I was delighted to secure a reservation on Train 32, the 18:45 departure. Sadly, 1st Class was already booked (these are meant to be very good) so I travelled 2nd. And the verdict? They’re good, but they have a couple of design niggles that someone, somewhere, should have picked up on
First, the good news. They’re light, bright, clean and the build quality seems very good. They’re covered by CCTV at each saloon doorway and they’re equipped with a modern passenger information system which has screens in each car telling you useful stuff about your journey such as times, next calling point, and a route map. It also tells you the temperatures inside and out as well as the speed you’re doing. The system is complemented by regular announcements in both Thai and English. There’s plenty of luggage space under the seats plus there are overhead luggage racks for smaller bags by each bay. The seats are comfortable and the cloth moquette is an attractive deep red. Underneath each window is a small flip-up table with holes to stand drinks. Each car has two toilets, a western one and a squat one. The toilets are more cramped than than in the old cars and older people will struggle with the heavy, inward opening doors. That said, they’re kept spotless as there’s a travelling cleaner on board.
So what’s the problem? These only come to light when it come to getting ready for bed. I had a top bunk, which seemed fine at first. It felt a bit narrower than the old ones as well as a little shorter. I’m 6ft and I just fitted. Taller Westerners may struggle a bit. Also, there’s two metal brackets on the wall by your head which are the catches for when the bed’s closed. These would be very easy to damage yourself on – and quite badly too. Here’s an illustration of what I mean…
There’s a handy light and power socket in the wall, it’s just a shame it doesn’t also have a USB socket. But for me, the other biggest niggle is the positioning of the coach lighting. Because most of the ceiling is taken up by a huge a/c vent, lights have been placed either side – right next to the curtains that shield the upper bunk! This means the curtains are pretty useless as a light shield so the upper bunks are flooded with light all night long. The curtains only use is for privacy. If you’re someone who has trouble sleeping unless it’s dark I think you’ll struggle in a top bunk unless you bring one of those eye-covers that the airlines give away. The upper bunks are also fitted with a reading light and power socket, but believe me – you won’t need the reading light! You’ll also find a string ‘pocket’ to put stuff in. These are pretty useless as the string is so tight (its not elastic either) that you’ll only get stuff like your phone in there.
Now, that bottom bunk…
On the old trains the floor between the seats was raised. The reason was it contained a full-lenghth pull out table that stewards would clip into place at mealtimes. It was fiddly and had to be put away every time the beds were made, so I can understand why they’d want to get rid of it. Now, there’s a far smaller table that folds down from the metal cup holder under the windows. The drawback with this is it reduces the space for the bed mattress. Previously, the bottom bunks were prized, not just for the fact you didn’t have to climb into them. It was also the fact they were so wide they were almost a double bed. A couple could sleep in one together with ease (I know, I’ve done it) – but you won’t be able to do it on the new trains due to the new table arrangement.
This is why the new coaches aren’t a clear winner over the old. Yes, they’ve got some nice, useful features, but it’s very much swings and roundabouts. Some trade-off have been made and there’s a couple of (to my mind) design defects – the most serious of which are the problems with the upper bunk.
This leaves me preferring the old coaches over the new – although I still want to try the 1st Class.
I’d be interested to hear what anyone else’s experiences are. Meanwhile, here’s a look at some of the issues I mentioned.