I could say that this all started from a cancelled meeting, I don't really remember. What I do recall is being in a room in the J W Marriott with a free day thinking "what shall I do today, I know, I'll go and look at some trains". The MRT Subway had been opened a year or two earlier so getting down to Hualamphong station couldn't be easier. Skytrain to Asok, down the steps to Sukhumwit on the MRT and then the subway to Hualamphong. Heck of a trek from the MRT at Hualamphong to the mainline station but then you could say the same for the hike from the Victoria Line to the Midland platforms at St Pancras. And thus started my Thai love affair. There was something about the mix of the modern and the traditional, nay archaic, along with the fact this was all narrow gauge and Asian.
I was fortunate in that over the next three or four years I had regular business trips to SE Asia and Australia and a weekend stopover in Bangkok could be slotted in quite easily. As a result I went to hunt down the derelict steam engines outside Makkasan works, sniffed around the yards at Bang Sue and - of course - took the train down to Maeklong and ride through THAT market. I even managed to get up to Chiang Mai - had to go by air unfortunately - and look round the station there. Chiang Mai is basically a single track terminus and has all the features of an Ashburton - small engine shed, goods shed and goods sidings. OK there's an oil depot rather than a coal yard, but you get the gist. It was then I started thinking seriously about building a layout based on Thailand.
A layout, but based on what? I thought of Chiang Mai but discounted it as I would only have one more day there and would be unlikely to get back to do any further research. Makkasan was a possibility and on my next visit to Bangkok I spent a morning photographing and measuring the station building and sketching out the trackplan. Makkasan has some really nice features, the station building is quite attractive and it is also the junction for the freight only line to Mae Nam. The junction is before the station and the branch line slews off in the general direction of the station car park before crossing a road and disappearing through a gap in the trees. Downsides are the huge loco and carriageworks, the fact that part of the site is under the Expressway and now, that the pillars holding up the Airport Express line are an eyesore parallel to the line. The main problem though is that the line here is Roman Road straight and that for operation some curves would have to be provided and I didn't have the space.
Elsewhere in Bangkok, Hualamphong was obviously way too big and the terminus of the line to Maeklong , Wongwangyai, was merely a single track and a single platform. However there was another Bangkok terminus, Thonburi, which I had not yet visited. These days of course you can do a bit of a virtual visit, but this was before Google Streetview had got as far as Asia. Unlike the other Bangkok stations, Thonburi is not on the metro which is why I hadn't yet got out there. But then I discovered the river boats. I could get to Thonburi by Skytrain and then riverboat, so I did. Bingo. I had expected Thonburi to be another minimalist set up like Wongwangyai, but no. This was a proper station complete with carriage sidings and loco facilities. What is more about half of it had been chopped off. Where you would have expected the line to go to the terminal platforms was now a huge building site. The passenger station was now an exceedingly modest affair - a main platform, a secondary platform and a small shack for offices and ticket sales. Not only that but the trains were modest too. A typical Thai passenger train is eight, ten, even sixteen coaches long. Out of Thonburi they were only five or six at most. I still had just the pint pot of space for a layout, but now I was only trying to squeeze a quart in and not a gallon.
I'm not an experienced layout designer but it did occur to me that shrinking a track plan to fit a space cannot be done without thinking about the aspects of operation. At Thonburi the key movements, apart from trains arriving and departing, is the locomotives going to and from the shed and refuelling point and the carriage shunter moving carriages to and from the platform. By this time Thonburi had no freight depot - that was under the building site too - so I'd think about freight later. It did seem that freight wagons were brought to Thonburi for repair and maintenance though.
I made some sketches, but I found that using the satellite feature of Google maps gave me a better basis to work with. I took a screenshot of the satellite view of Thonburi at the best resolution possible
I could then import that into a drawing package and make a drawing overlay of the actual trackplan
Even though a large chunk of Thonburi had been lopped off to build a hospital extension, what remained was still a lot more than the available space. Not unusual of course but this is where the creative thinking starts.
It was around now that I finally gave up on the idea of building this in HOm. My British outline modelling had been in 3mm scale and building this layout in 3mm scale on 9mm gauge track had its attractions. One being that in 3mm scale train lengths of four carriages were easy, five or even six would be the maximum whereas in HOm anything over four wouldn't fit. Likewise on the freight side, in 3mm scale I could create enough length to pass an eight bogie flat container train with engine and brake van, in HOm the maximum was six once the extra lengths of turnouts had been taken into account.
Later on, when explaining to Thai work colleagues what I was doing - and discovering I was more familiar with their railway network than they were - saying I was building it to 1/100th scale didn't sound as daft
Having made the decision to work in 3mm scale, aim for five coach passenger trains and eight bogie trucks plus brake van for freight, I started work on the track plan. I had a four metre long wall in my home office which would be available on my retirement - which was then only a couple of years away - so that is what I would design for. I'm not really an operator so I didn't build for operating at home, in fact I'd rather use the space for scenics. One attraction of Thonburi was the shunting carried out within station limits. I'm not a Templot fan and I hadn't discovered AnyRail so I drew out the plan using Inkscape. I created templates for the turn outs and also for locos and carriages so I could easily check siding lengths
Apart from length. the other compressions were to reduce the number of tracks in the carriage sidings and reduce the engine shed to three roads from five and cut down how many locos could fit one each track.
I then started building baseboards, and once the boards were built I printed out the track plan full size - easily done with a vector drawing package - and laid it out as a final sanity check before tracklaying
Things have moved on since then. I have retired, that wall has been cleared of work related clutter and the four boards of the main layout are along it. Track is laid, wired up - for DCC - and about half ballasted. I really should overcome the reluctance to ballast the rest - it is so tedious ...... - but I have been working on creating a fully sceniced section I can use for photos.
One post script. Last year I paid my last visit to Bangkok and went over to Thonburi. Watching a loco coming off shed in order to take a train to Kanchanaburi I suddenly realised there is no direct path from the headshunt at the loco shed to the passenger station. Locomotives have to do a little shimmy in front of the signal box. I haven't included that, I didn't know it was there, but on reflection I think that could get really irritating on a model railway.