The International Steam Pages

Sukhothai Steam, Thailand 2009

We visited Thailand on our way back to base after a month in Burma which is described in detail in Rob and Yuehong in the Golden Land 2009.

Jack Neville was with a tour group that visited a steam powered rice mill near Sukhothai in 2008, this was one I had read about on the web but had been unable to track down details, a typical piece of frustration in this field. After our Burma 2009 Odyssey, we were travelling back to China overland through Thailand and Laos and it made a natural breakpoint. On the train north from Ayutthaya, one of our favourite towns in the country, we saw many rice mill brick chimneys near the line but only near Nakhon Sawan, did we see any of the black soot traces to suggest that engines were present and had been used in the recent past. This is totally 'Lonely Planet Country' and after a comfortable ride with an inevitable near one hour late arrival we found ourselves at Phitsanulok Station. Outside the shed are what purport to be the cab and tender off steam loco 370, outside the station is a more complete item, North British built 181, the plate says #22260, for this loco it ought to be #22263, but this is a universal problem in this country. (Click here for a more or less complete list of preserved Thai steam locomotives.)

I had a pretty good fix on the mill's location thanks to Jack and Google Earth, and it was easy to spot from the bus on the right side at the cross roads at Ban Suan as we approached Sukhothai. We checked in to a LP Guest House near the river bridge, it was as clean and good value as promised and the air-conditioning was very welcome. Later, the nearby night market gave us a really good traditional south-east Asian dining out experience. 

Followed next morning with rice and duck:

Compared to Burma, Thailand is half the price and double the comfort; what a shame it has very little real steam and far too many tourists, although here in Sukhothai I have to say they seem to be a very real and much needed boost to the local economy without too many of the normal unpleasant side effects.

Next morning the guest house told us the wrong place to find the local bus to Ban Suan, not unexpectedly as we must have been their first guests ever to ask. For the record, it's in the yard behind the building opposite the large Siam Commercial Bank on the road out east from the main crossroads in town. So we had a bit more walking to do than expected after our late breakfast on the street - so easy as everyone seems to speak a bit of English and there's no need to point.

We were delighted to find the mill working, the owner's daughter spoke some English but seemed to think we wanted to buy the engine - maybe not unnaturally as there is a huge new mill being erected behind which will definitely not be steam powered. However, despite what she told me, her father spoke sufficient Mandarin Chinese to understand better what was wanted and we had a very pleasant hour or two recording the mill. It's a splendid engine, note the feedwater pump and heater. 

Just as this engine will pass into history soon owing to an 'upgrade', the site also contains two other smaller (derelict) engines covered in dust and another boiler. I didn't delve too deep into the dust, there was nothing I could see to suggest they were in any way non-standard items...

We retired to a local shop to rehydrate when I noticed there was a second mill on the opposite side of the cross roads with a clean chimney. Leaving Yuehong for a few minutes, I ambled across and found another real delight, albeit disused for some time. It's a small engine but it has a 'slipper' system for the crosshead. If I lived in Thailand, I would have taken it home with me...

By now it was definitely time to crack a couple of bottles of beer and have a brain storming session on future trips, money permitting. Our big hope is that we can find a way to access south-east Asia more economically by land crossings from China into Laos and Vietnam than that into Burma, but every analysis I have done suggests that is no more than a pipe dream.. Anyway, coming out to the mill I had spotted a preserved steam roller at the Highways Department and so that required us to break our journey back to town.

Being stuck 2 metres at least in the air would have made identification difficult save for the front embellishment which declares it is a Henschel. It appears to be a compound and to my untrained eye, I would call it 'modern' as such beasts go. Certainly it is well loved and maintained and within a couple of minutes, some of the office staff had appeared to have their picture taken with us, so I guess it has not been griced that often!

During our recent visits to Thailand we have seen several such creatures, if anyone would like to help me create a proper list, please get in touch. I suspect many provincial highway departments have one, for a start, Suphanburi and Udon Thani... 

Since we were staying a few kilometres from a World Heritage Site, it seemed sensible to spend most of the next day there. In retrospect, we should have gone after lunch because after our usual late start (early risings are reserved for non-conventional tourism) a couple of hours cycling and walking in the Sukhothai Historical Park were quite enough for both of us as it gets very hot in the middle of the day. But even with the sun far too high it was well worth the effort.

Of the two days, I much preferred the first of course which was the most interesting in this trip to Thailand, but I have been coming here for over 30 years and have had more than enough temples ancient and modern; beaches do nothing for me! As a country it was much more interesting in the old days (= 1970s) and there were some wonderful steam locomotives actually at work:

From Sukhothai we took a bus to Khon Kaen, stayed overnight and next day went by bus to Nong Khai and on into Laos.

Rob and Yuehong  Dickinson