That most venerable matriarch of south-east Asian rail travel, Bangkok’s much-loved Hua Lamphong station, is about to be shunted into the sidings. Next month the grande dame will in effect be handed her redundancy notice by the opening of upstart Bang Sue, a spanking new airport-lookalike rail hub, 8km to the north.
The anodyne Bang Sue Grand Station, with 26 platforms over four floors, will be the largest in the region and a key player in future rail plans — but it represents a sad day for lovers of great railway cathedrals. For the past 105 years Hua Lamphong, the airy neo-Renaissance creation of Italian architect Mario Tamagno, has suffused the Thai rail travel experience with something approaching the sacred.
Its marble floor and huge, vaulting arched roof, with stained-glass windows at either end, have bestowed a sense of peace on the expectant congregation inside, with its liberal benediction of saffron-robed monks. Pale, sepulchral light rinses the concourse as far as a ticket barrier.
The station was commissioned by King Chulalongkorn, a Europe enthusiast who first brought rail transport to Thailand in the late 19th century, and it was partially modelled on Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof. For many a traveller from overseas, discovering the east for the first time, its balustraded threshold has been a magic portal: board a sleeper in the heart of Bangkok’s pungent maelstrom, and wake up among the rainforested tribal mountains of the north, or the golden beaches and tropical islands of the south.