WHILE LOW-COST airlines make travel both easy and cheap, there’s something truly rewarding about winding back and looking at the countrywide go past from a train carriage so luxurious that you’d forgiven for thinking you were back in the days before commercial air travel.
Most Thais will know about the State Railway of Thailand (SRT)’s projects to construct a dual track railway and high-speed train system but far fewer are aware that it offers private and luxury carriages for rent as a premium alternative option whether for a board meeting and business conference or a family vacation.
Four different types of exclusive and luxury SRT Prestige carriages are available for private rental.
In operation since 2016, the carriages called SRT Prestige are refurbished from old compartments given by JR West of Japan. The exteriors are painted in blue and gold and the interiors have undergone a sophisticated facelift with wood predominating and warm lighting giving off a classic grandeur. Comfortable five-and-three foot beds, bunk beds, sofas, a meeting room, a kitchen, a mini bar, TVs and an audio system change the perception of a railroad journey.
“The SRT Prestige carriages are a good choice for people who have no time constraints but like modern comforts and privacy. The carriages can be attached to commuter trains on your choice of routes nationwide for both one-way and return trips,” says Supat Worrawatnutai, the deputy director of SRT’s Freight Service Department.
The first-class sleeper is fitted with a five-foot bed, a TV screen and en-suite bathroom.
“The most popular route is latching on to the full-day train trip to Kanchanaburi that stops at such points of interests as Phra Pathom Chedi, River Kwai Bridge, Death Railway Bridge and Sai Yok Noi Waterfall.
“Each month, there are about 10 groups from both the government and private sectors renting these luxurious compartments. Tour operators are interested in operating private train trips for their customers. Our next booking is a police group boarding from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.”
The medium-size bedroom has a three-foot bed, a TV screen and a wardrobe.
SRT Prestige has four different types of carriages from which guests can choose. The first-class sleeper offers one room with a five-foot bed, TV screen and en-suite bathroom, another with a single bed and two rooms with bunk beds. The front and rear areas are furnished with comfy six-seat sofas – perfect for chatting and reclining.
The meeting room compartment is designed as mobile conference room with 20 to 50 seats, a 10-metre-long meeting table, microphones, TV screen, a compact karaoke room, and a dining room with a six-seat sofa.
The SRT Prestige meeting room carriage is equipped with all the facilities for a mobile conference room.
Keeping guests watered and fed is not forgotten either with a hot kitchen carriage offering tables with either two or four seats, a counter bar with stools, a kitchen to cook your meals and audio systems – ideal for hosting a banquet on the way to your destination. It can accommodate about 22 people and the catering must be arranged by customers.
The last type is the cold kitchen carriage that is suitable for hosting a cocktail reception for more than 30 people as it offers a 530-cm-long mini bar with stools, sofas as well as two and four-seat dining tables.
The hot kitchen compartment is like a moving dining room, with passengers able to make their own catering arrangements.
“Customers can rent the cold and hot kitchen carriages individually. But if they want to rent the meeting room compartment or the sleeper, they have to rent either the cold or hot kitchen carriage to generate electric power,” adds Supat.
The rental fees for the first-class sleeper range from Bt37,000 to Bt57,000 for a one-way trip, and Bt74,000 to Bt114,000 for a roundtrip. The prices for the hot or cold kitchen carriage range from Bt17,000 to Bt27,000 for one-way and Bt34,000 to Bt54,000 for roundtrip.
“If you want to arrange the routes on your own and don’t have the carriages attached to commuter trains that will stop at multiple stations, a minimum rental of 10 SRT Prestige carriages is required,” he says.
A barista from Arabitia Coffee prepares drip coffees for passengers.
In order to help SRT to promote these luxury carriages, Favori Media International and Fond Publishing International – the publishers of The Thailanders and Numero magazines – recently hosted the SRT Prestige trip from Bangkok to the seaside town of Hua Hin for some 100 guests and media to sample the unusual railway approach.
Seven SRT Prestige compartments of four different types were attached to the rapid train running from Hua Lamphong Railway Station to the Southern border town Su-ngai Kolok in Narathiwat.
Two bedrooms with bunks make up the rest of the accommodation in the first-class sleeper.
“I like travelling by train. It’s more relaxing than sitting in a car. You can sit back and enjoy scenery that’s unlike anything we see from the highway,” says Amornsiri Boonyasit, group editor-in-chief of the publishers.
“I only just found out that SRT has these exclusive and luxury carriages for private rental. Travelling in the privacy of your very own train carriage, you and your group will have the freedom to work or play as much as you like, without any interruptions. This can be a travel option for people who favour a slow journey mixed with nostalgia and pampering.”
With the cold kitchen carriage, renters can arrange their own drinks and snacks.
The aromatic fragrances of Jo Malone diffusers greet us as we board. The hot kitchen compartment served grilled duck over rice while the baristas from Arabitia Coffee by CP Retaillink in the cold kitchen carriage prepare coffees and drinks as well as sweet treats.
Guests can also relax with a hand and neck spa massage or sample the make up from Korean herbal cosmetic brand Sulwhasoo. Another compartment allows us to try out the Huawai P20 Pro smartphone ourselves or have our pictures taken by a professional lensman.
Activities on board include a hand-and-neck massage treatment.
“I want to visualise how we can customise diverse activities to make the journey even more fun. As the ever-changing scenery flashes past the windows, you can be pampered with a neck and hand massage or enjoy a cup of aromatic coffee and sweet delights while taking selfie, courtesy of Sulwhasoo, CP Retaillink and Huawai,” says Amornsiri. “The SRT Prestige is a good service but the volume of use is still low. To me, the rental fee is affordable compared to those offered in foreign countries for similar services. I want to promote the culture of classic train travel.”
Sulwhasoo offers makeup for passengers.
“This journey brings back childhood memory,” says Pensupa Gajaseni, one of the guests. “Twenty years ago, my grandfather Thanom Kittikachorn (the late prime minister) rented a simple carriage to attach to a train travelling to Pa Sak Jolasid Dam in Lop Buri for a family outing. It was a fun and memorable experience but I have never boarded a local train since.”
The Eastern & Oriental Express is the train that comes to Pensupa’s when thinking about luxury railway journeys in Southeast Asia. She, too, had never heard of the SRT Prestige.
“I think there’s an enormous potential for SRT to develop these comfort carriages for full-service day-trips to popular destinations such as Hua Hin without stopping at many stations,” she says.
Chetniphit Rueangnitiwit tells The Nation Weekend that he has never even considered travelling by train in the country. Saving time and an affordable price are his first priorities.
“Car and plane are my choices,” says the 22-year-old student. “This is the first time I have travelled on a train and I’m only here because I’m accompanying my mother. I’ve always thought of trains as old, slow and subject to delays. But even though the SRT Prestige carriage is much more luxurious than I would have thought, rail travel is not for me.”
As it marks 122 years since the first railroad route from Bangkok to Ayutthaya was inaugurated by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1896, SRT is implementing new projects designed to bring a bright future to the railway system and attract people like Chetniphit who refuses to travel by train. The first phase of the dual-track railway is expected to be finished by 2023 while the Sino-Thai high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nong Khai has been under construction since last December.
Passengers on the exclusive SRT Prestige train ride disembark at the seaside town of Hua Hin.
The SRT Prestige took about four hours from Bangkok to Hua Hin where guests later proceeded to Holiday Inn Vana Nava via luxury coaches supported by True Leasing.
For information on the SRT Prestige, call 1690 or (02) 621 8701 or visit www.Railway.co.th.