The next time I book a Vientiane to Bangkok train (overnight express) it will be directly from the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) Thanaleng Station office in Laos.
Especially because it seems the only way to book a non-air con second class sleeper (only one non-air coach per train) that I prefer during the monsoon.
It means renting a motorbike and navigating the wet (or roasting) half hour drive out there. But it seems worth it if it means cutting out middlemen in the still very inefficient Lao travel industry.
However, I have no one to blame but myself.
Because I booked through a hotel and travel agencies, not STR directly, there were heaps of minor cock-ups. They buy from tour operators who are often still state owned and operated.
The Vientiane to Bangkok overnight train (number 70) cost 1,217 baht (US$39) for a lower bunk in an air-conditioned 2nd class sleeper that you board at Nong Khai after Thai immigration. The journey from Thanaleng started in an old non-air con third-class carriage that left on time at 17:40 and crossed the Mekong River.
This brief 10-minute bit is very retro, diesel fumes included.
Another plus huge, the Immigration formalities on both sides of the border (especially in Nong Khai) are much more chilled and faster by train than travelling overland across the Friendship Bridge.
It is still great value and fun, but it’s hard not to miss the old non-air conditioned coaches, especially during the rainy, cooler part of the year. It let riders buy good food through the window at station stops.
Amazingly the coaches were same as the ones I rode decades ago. They all had the same hole-in-the-floor toilet right over the tracks. The only upgrade: a new strip of purple paint along the exterior.
This fork thinks the SRT needs to enter the 21st century with modern environmentally friendly trains.
How about you? Forking sound off and let us know in the comment section below.