Bikes On Trains

Dan White photo

Whilst Thailand may be one of the best countries in Asia when it comes to motorcycling, sometimes the long highway journeys between the interesting bits can be a bit monotonous... No problem. Just put your motorcycle on the train as cargo. All the major routes allow this. Here is a low down of the ins and outs of doing this:

When you book your train ticket check if the train has the cargo capacity to carry motorbikes. Not all do. On the Northern, North Eastern and Southern lines there are a number of trains every day that do have this capacity.

Arrive at the station at least one hour before your train is due to depart. You will need to take the bike to the cargo counter. There is one in every station. The fee for transporting the bike is calculated by weight, so try to get a good idea of what the weight is before you go. If you don't know the weight, the railways staff will be able to make a pretty good guess.

Dan White photo

In terms of documents you will need to prove ownership. This means you will need the bike's registration documents (green book) and your passport or Thai ID card. Once the paperwork is done you will be given the papers to show when you retrieving the bike at your destination. Get them to staple the papers to your train ticket. At some stations (although not Hualamphong) staff are corrupt and may try and overcharge. I always keep my previous receipts to show I know what the prices are before the 'negotiation' starts. The negotiation can be a bit fraught since people tend to be unpleasant when trying to elicit illegal bribes and in the end you do want the motorcycle transported.

In terms of price, Chiang Mai, Nong Khai and Surat Thani are all roughly the same. A shorter distance does not seem to guarantee a lower fee. Phitsanulok for instance seems to cost pretty much the same as Chiang Mai. One is not paying by the mile but for the service.

Typically to get the motorcycle to most destinations will cost between 800 baht and 1,400 baht for most locally made bikes up to the weight of a Honda Phantom. Big imported bikes such as a BMW GS will cost more.

The bike will be secured with cords. You can either bring your own or they will sell you some at the kiosk for an exorbitant price.

Once the paperwork is done and the train is in, the cargo men will take your bike to the cargo carriage for loading. Follow them. Tips are expected here. 50 baht or a hundred baht to the men from the station that load the bike will be expected and they might get sulky if it is not forthcoming. Once the bike is loaded and secured identify who on the train is in charge of the cargo carriage and if you want to ensure your bike is looked after tip him too. I usually tip quite a lot because that extra bit of goodwill may mean the difference between a chipped tank and an un-chipped tank. Check how they have tied the bike. Sometimes they may ruin your front brake by tying it back too tightly.

Dan White photo

Thai trains are like ships in that the train staff retain their own private fiefdoms. Given that your bike is caught up in all this feudal jockeying, the spreading of 'goodwill' is worth a little extra satang and it means you can really keep n eye on things without upsetting those with absolute power.

The biggest problem you may encounter is when loading the bike at stations that are not destination stations, such as Surat Thani or Nakhon Sawan. There is often friction between the train people and the station people, especially on night trains, and the bike might get refused. This is a fraught experience. The procedure is that they put it on a later train. If you find this is the case go to see the main guard for your train, show him your paperwork and find out what has happened and when the bike will arrive. He can call the station and find out when it will be sent. Once at your destination go to the cargo area and get the phone number for the person who deals with cargo arriving. You can then give them your number (if you speak Thai) to notify you when the bike has arrived. When it does arrive, staff usually come up with yet more 'fees' to be paid. These are not legal since you have already paid everything owed... It's up to you.

Under normal circumstances, at the other end, you will find your bike unloaded by the time you are off the train. Assuming all is ship shape, have a cup of tea and head for the hills.

Dan White was a travel writer, photojournalist and friend. He died unexpectedly
20 September 2012 at the early age of 47. Much missed. Some of his work can still be seen at: www.danwhite.org/
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