After reading Unbrave Girl’s list of why she loves taking trains in the US, I thought about my own train travel adventures. As much as I like taking trains, they’re not exactly convenient or reasonably priced in the US.
I didn’t take a train (that I actually remember) until I was in high school and wanted to see a concert at Madison Square Garden. It was easy enough to take NJ Transit to Penn Station, but it was a bit difficult to get to and from the station — there really wasn’t any public transportation to get to the station. I took that train a few times, and it unfortunately stopped running just before midnight.
Other than the PATH between Jersey City and Manhattan, I didn’t take another train trip until my first year in China. At the end of my first Spring Festival holiday, I took an overnight train from Shanghai to Shenzhen. It wasn’t unpleasant; there was enough space in the room with the other passengers, but it was rather boring for 24 hours. After the first couple hours, I didn’t want to go anywhere near the bathroom.
I would recommend an overnight train in China as long as you’re with someone else to help keep track of your luggage. It’s also important to stock up on food and drinks to avoid price gouging.
The only other train trip I took in China was with my parents between Beijing and Tianjin. We took the high-speed train on the way back, which only shaved about 15 minutes off the already short trip, but it was a more comfortable train. The more modern trains in China are definitely worth riding — it’s nice to see what the US doesn’t have (although I’ve heard plans for a high-speed rail network for the last 20 years).
My second train adventure in Asia was in Thailand. The first trip I took was a short one to Ayutthaya — only about 45 minutes from Bangkok. I quickly learned that Thailand’s trains are always late, and there are no announcements. The other trip in Thailand was an overnight train to Chiang Mai — I had a top bunk that was not large enough for me (and I’m 5’10”), and had constant overhead light. Same as the overnight train in China, this one had a rather disgusting toilet after a few hours — and I could watch the tracks through the hole in the floor.
The overnight train back to Bangkok was more of an adventure. After waiting for more than 45 minutes for the late train, I decided to inquire as to its whereabouts. I’m not 100% certain, but I swear I heard the woman at the ticket booth say, “It fell off the track.” It took me a while to figure out the next move. I ended up exchanging my ticket for a regular train that did not have beds but departed in another two hours. It gave me time to sit outside the 7-11 across the street and eat grilled chicken from the street vendor.
My final train trip was on Amtrak during the summer of 2011. I decided to take a three-day weekend in Montreal. The ticket cost about as much as it would to drive, but I wouldn’t have to pay for parking. The drive would take about five or six hours, but the train took at least 11 hours.
It is a scenic train ride through upstate New York, but it isn’t as pleasant knowing that the train is traveling at about 20 mph. Worst of all was that we were stopped for a half hour by US customs on our way out of the US. We were stopped for almost two hours on way back into the US.
For the convenience of arriving five or six hours earlier, I would happily drive to Montreal next time and pay for parking.
There’s a chance I’ll take another Amtrak trip to Washington and/or Boston this spring. I just hope it doesn’t take longer than driving.