Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Station for beginners

Hua Lumphong Station is, for the time being, the beginning or end of most great Thai rail journeys. It serves over 60,000 passengers daily. It is a terminus for every line in State Railway of Thailand network, taking you north to Chiangmai, Northeast to Laos, East to Cambodia, West toward Myanmar, and South to Malaysia, including with the famed Eastern and Oriental Express luxury train that connects all the way down to Singapore.

But there are a few hidden stories behind Hua Lumphong that you ought to know…

Hua Lumphong was a statement of modernity

The Thai railway network was inaugurated at the site of Hua Lumphong in 1897, but at the time it was just a assembly and maintenance centre for the rolling stock. The grand building that now stands was completed 19 years later after 6 years of construction. The architecture is Italian — attributed to Turin-born Mario Tamango and Annibale Rigotti, a collaboration also responsible for the majestic Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in the Dusit Palace complex that you will pass (but unfortunately not see) a little down the line after you jump onboard. The building is of a neo-renaissance style — with a typically lofty and triumphant hall, and great natural light thanks to ample use of glass that was, at the times, considered state-of-the-art and architecturally adventurous.

In short, it is a considered architectural statement. But what makes it special is the statement it was making, and who was making it…

Hua Lumphong
Hua Lumphong Station is the terminus of most train journeys in Thailand. It was a powerful statement of intent by Thailand’s great moderniser – King Chulalongkorn

A portrait of the moustachioed founder of Thailand’s railway system greets you as you pass through to the train platforms.

The story goes that as an infant in 1855, King Chulalongkorn was presented with a model train set from an envoy of Britain’s Queen Victoria. She was trying to convince Chulalongkorn’s father — King Mongkut — to link her colonies in British India and Malaya by rail. Although Mongkut declined to do as Victoria wished, a seed was planted in the mind of the young Chulalongkorn, who turned into a true railfan.

Upon assuming the throne 13 years later, he began surveying Thailand’s first rail link. It wasn’t to be to Britain’s bordering colonies, but instead north through Siam’s agricultural heartland to its second city, Chiangmai. Using this modern technology, Chulalongkorn cut the journey time to the restive north and south from weeks to days, thereby dramatically increasing his ability to project the monarchy’s power and bring their economies into the global trade links he and his predecessors had established. He was one of Thailand’s great modernisers and nation-builders, and is today considered to be among the greatest King’s in Thailand’s long history.

If you can imagine how this building, and the act of train travel itself, would have appeared to the average Thai person back in 1916, the you can begin to appreciate what a great moderniser Chulalongkorn was. Which is why his portrait still hangs here today.

The departures hall of a train station with two trains sitting in it
Hua Lumphong Station departures hall

The ’86 train crash

At 8.55am on 8 November 1986, a newly repaired locamotive was heading here from Bang Sue station, towing 6 carriages, travelling at around 50km per hour. But there was nobody on it!

The train careened into the barriers at the railhead and was flung upwards onto the elevated platform, skidding onto its side across the terminal floor. It ground to a halt a few metres short of the station entrance. A book stall, information booth, soft drink stand, and foreign exchange counter were all smashed.

Train crash
A crash at Hua Lumphong station on 8 November 1986.

Fortunately, the station master had been notified of the coming disaster as the train began its 8km dash from the North, and was able to evacuate the area in the few minutes he had to respond. However, the airborne train knocked over two giant timetable boards which caused 4 fatalities.

Hua Lumphong will soon be no more

Hua Lumphong was built at the edge of a city that has long since swallowed it. The line that runs up the spine of Bangkok is now more of a hinderance.

The platform of Bang Sue Junction
Bang Sue Juntion – the new hub for transport in Bangkok.

Bang Sue Junction — about 8 kilometres to the North— is being developed into the central transport hub for Bangkok, connecting the state railways with the road and metro networks. Hua Lumphong station will be repurposed, and it will stop being the weird and wonderful place it is today.

Some travel tips

Public Transport Connections

The station is connected to Bangkok’s underground train — The MRT — which then connects to the the overground BTS Skytrain lines, and the Airport link to Suvarnabumi Airport. You can take SRT trains up to Don Mueang Airport too.

Tickets

Tickets can be bought at a tourist service counter in the Northwestern corner of the entrance hall. Its staff are a bit brusk, but very helpful, and tickets are the same price as the ticketing counters. If you need to book in advance – and you generally do for most longer-distance trains – then we recommend 12Go.Asia. They’re the only people in Thailand who have actually considered the traveller’s experience of getting a train ticket in Asia, and have done a good job of finding a solution for you.

Heading South or West? Be warned!

Some train journeys to the West and South depart instead from Thonburi Station, which is across the river to the West from here. If you are heading that way, be sure to check your tickets for the departure station. It can be tricky to get there, so if you need to get to Thonburi, leave plenty of time to either take a taxi, or inquire about how to get there by train.

Coffee?

If you’re there early and are after a coffee, a decent one can be obtained for about 80THB from a shop hidden on the second floor on the left as you come in, on the balcony overlooking the main hallway. There’s also a better chance of finding a seat, and its a nice vantage to take it all in.

Hungry?

One of the cheapest eats of decent Thai food can be found on the ground floor of the main entrance hall of Hua Lumphong. Its on the right of the hall as you’re facing the portrait of the King. You have to buy coupons first, which are converted into food at the food stands.

Need a haircut?

On certain days (it was a Tuesday for me) you can get your hair cut for free on the platform to the far left hand side as you pass under the portrait of Chulalonkorn. Its put on by a local vocational training school and its hairdressing students. Some spoke decent English, and were relieved to learn that I only wanted a #1 buzz cut. I’ve had two cuts without serious incident, although I wouldn’t recommend it before a long train journey, as those little hair clippings will somehow find their way into every sweaty nook of your body and drive you slowly insane – or perhaps thats just me.

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