We used Thai railways to get from Bangkok to our first island destination in Thailand: Koh Tao. It was an expensive but a very comfortable journey.
Getting the train tickets
We went for a more budget option and bought a 2nd class fan sleeper train to Chumphon (instead of an A/C sleeper). We also chose upper berths which were cheaper than the lower ones. Following the suggestion of a booking clerk who sold us the tickets at Hualamphong railway station, we bought a combined ticket. The ticket included a bus journey to the pier and an early morning ferry to Koh Tao.
We could have chosen between two ferry companies. The difference in prices between Lomprayah and Songserm tickets was just 50 baht so we got convinced to take much faster catamaran of Lomprayah company. This travel arrangement was very convenient but far from the cheapest.
Ultra budget option for the adventurous
If you really want to save money on this journey, take a Rapid, 3rd class daytime train to Chumphon (that’s 8 hours on a wooden bench) and then a night car ferry (where you get a sleeping berth). You’d need to make your own way to The Yang pier (located a few kilometers from Chumphon town and a different one than used by Songserm and Lomprayah companies). This option takes much more time and is far less comfortable but is incomparably cheaper.
At the Bangkok train station
The Hualamphong train station was a simple affair reminding me of Indian stations. Many passengers were sitting on the floor while waiting for their trains. There was a very convenient and safe luggage storage within the premises. We were happy to discover a very cheap canteen where we could exchange a coupon of a chosen value for various buffet- style dishes (just one vegetarian option was available). After asking a few staff members for directions, we even managed to find one water purifying machine in the residential area behind the main rail station.
On the Thai train
Thai trains are much more expensive than the Indian ones so I was curious about the difference in their quality. Our train didn’t look too impressive at the first sight. However, it had much more private layout than Indian ones with 2 level berths located along the train. One was sitting facing only his co-passenger from the berth above/below. There were also very handy, large storage racks lined along the berths. Just like in India, sellers offering cheap food walked along the train.
The real surprise came when the train staff opened and prepared the sleeping berths for all the passengers. There was clean linen and a large towel provided and the berths had curtains, providing complete privacy. It was a bit hot on the upper berth to start with but later at night it became much cooler.
The reason for providing a towel was that the train’s bathroom (a squatting type) had a WORKING SHOWER. I gratefully took the opportunity to wash off whole day’s sweat. I think I was the only one to do it but I didn’t want to miss out on this amazing facility. Another positive shock was that the train staff woke us up before reaching the destination. That is called customer service!
Bus and ferry
We arrived at Chumphon very early in the morning and had to wait at least one hour for a bus which would take us to the pier. We and just two other Western tourists hanged around at a quiet station. Shortly before our bus departure, the AC train arrived, spilling out around a dozen of tourists heading to the islands.
A very decent bus departed from the spot right in front of the train station and took us to the pier, just on time to board the catamaran. There wasn’t much shadow on the top deck but one could also stay indoors (A/C lower deck).
The bonus of taking Lomprayah is that it stops at the famous Koh Nang Yuan islands before reaching Koh Tao. It’s possible to get off there or simply use the opportunity to have a good look and take a few pictures.
All ferries arrive at Mae Haad pier which is within a walking distance from Sairee and Sai Nuan beaches.
Prices [in Thai baht as of April 2018]
400 THB second class fan sleeper train Bangkok- Chumphon
1000/950 THB combined ticket for 2nd class fan sleeper + bus to the pier+ Lomprayah/ Songserm ferry
190 THB third class seater train Bangkok- Chumphon
400 THB night ferry (sleeping berth) from Chumphon to Koh Tao