It’s no secret that trains don’t float. People could be forgiven for opting for a vessel of some sort over a TGV to get across a river or ocean. While trains have been able to circumvent some of the world’s greatest geographical challenges, including its highest summits and the Australian desert, so far these achievements have been confined to land. But in the kingdom of Thailand, there’s one service that suggests the opposite: the Rod Fai Loi Nam, which translates as the ‘train that floats on water’. So what is it exactly?
The journey starts early in the morning at Hua Lamphong, the main railway station in Bangkok, the country’s sprawling capital. Even very early in the morning, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon – the city’s Thai name – the city is already bustling. Sun rays filter through the windows. Near the entrance, a group of policemen survey the scene. All around you, passengers flock to the various platforms. In the corner, monks in saffron outfits wait for their trains to warrive. Yours is already at the platform, and is set to leave in a few minutes for the Pa Sak Jolasid dam in the region of Lopburi, central Thailand.
The trip lasts around six hours, stopping off in stations at Samsen, Bang Sue, Bang Khen, Lak Si, Don Mueang, Rangsit, Ayutthaya, Saraburi and Kaeng Khoi Junction. So, if like many tourists, you want to visit the spectacular ruins of Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, you could use this extraordinary line. The train itself isn’t all that remarkable, with tickets in non-air-conditioned carriages costing around 330 bahts (or €9) and air-conditioned carriages 560 bahts (€15). The only real luxury available is that you can book a private carriage for big groups. What makes this train unique is its route. It is raised just high enough to be above the level of the water held back by the dam, one of the country’s biggest reservoirs. This gives passengers the sensation that the train is floating, as if the tonnes of metal were light enough to slide along the water’s surface like a sailing boat.
The train, which only runs from November to January, is aimed at tourists. It’s so popular among visitors, in fact, that at the start of November 2022, all the tickets were booked up until the end of the year, and soon afterwards for all of January too. As a result, Ekkarat Sri-arayanphong, the director of public relations for State Railway of Thailand (SRT), told local media that the line would create jobs and boost the local economy, all while supporting the tourism industry post-pandemic.
The whole service was designed with tourists in mind. As well as apparently floating on the water, it makes a special stop near the dam so passengers can take in the mind blowing landscapes and take as many photos and videos as they please. Whatever you think about our Insta-dominated culture, you’d struggle to resist taking a snap or two here.
After that, the Rod Fai Loi Nam heads off to Khok Salung where you can nip out and buy some souvenirs. It then returns to the dam, where passengers can get out to stretch their legs, grab lunch or even walk around the nearby sunflower fields. The train then travels back to Bangkok, taking in some properly stunning scenery on its way there.
Beyond the incredible visual and emotional experience that this train offers, it reminds us of something pretty important. That’s the fact that while the railways are resolutely a terrestrial technology, this is only limited by the imagination of those who design and build them. With the right drive, intelligence and creativity, nothing can get in the way of a railway line. And this rule applies just as well to the fact that railway lines can be designed to travel through mountains, and that we can make night trains the most comfortable and sustainable mode of transport of the twenty-first century.