The Overnight Train from Bangkok to Chiangmai: My rail attendant
When it comes to ways to conveniently get around Thailand for cheap, the Thai certainly knows how to do it right! River boat, to scooter, motorbike taxi, Skytrain, metro…. I’ve enjoyed them all. But my favorite transport by far, is the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Reasons you’ll love the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Train travel may seem as standard across the globe to some, but after experiencing India’s sleeper trains and Laos’s overnight seater train, the sleeper trains in Thailand reminds you of service you might almost get on an airlines’ premier class seating.
1. The cost is inexpensive
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai the cost of a seat and sleeper berth of an overnight train ride stacks up to approximately $30 one-way. Seriously, not breaking the piggy bank here for a long distance ride with service and comfortable sleeping.
I recommend booking the 2nd class A.C. sleeper and the bottom bunk so I paid around $25. But there are several options and times available. If you want 1st class and your own private compartment, that would be around $40. There’s also cheaper options such as overnight seaters in non-a.c. cars and that can run from $8-14. So there’s options for everyone.
2. You can buy meals on the Thai Trains
When dinner time rolls around, the steward or train attendant comes around and sets up a table. You have the choice of eating at your seat or in the dining car. You can buy a dinner meal from a menu of set meals (you’re given around two or three options) or you can whip open snacks you brought with you. The train food is inexpensive, delicious and a better than what you’d get fed on a plane.
3. Your bed is prepared for you.
After your dinner has had time to settle and you agree with the other person in your compartment about bed time, the attendant arrives again to make your bed. Out comes a curtain and a pillow. Freshly laundered white sheets get removed from a sealed package, along with a clean blanket.
Now what may make travel geeks like me excited is watching the attendant make the bed. They are quick, slick and each practices a method that makes them able to set up and break down a bed in about, a minute or under. It’s like watching a Thai magic trick.
4. Comfortable accommodations
When you first arrive, your train compartment houses an ordinary seater- two seat births facing each other. I booked the 2nd class A.C. sleeper bunk, so my compartment sat only two people- myself and another person. That meant I had my seat all to myself. Unless it’s Loy Krathong or Yee Ping festival time or you’re in high tourist season, I’ve never experienced an overcrowded train. Usually there are only two people to each berth and unless your compartment partners are horribly rude, you’re good to go.
Although I’m a heavy sleeper, I normally get cold when there’s air conditioning and the Thai generally love their air conditioning on high. But the trains I’ve been on are pleasant. Beds are spacious, firm and private. You get your own nightlight and pouch to hold water, a shelf to rest a bag or book.
The car is readied for sleeping & Voila! My bed.
Wash basin where you brush your teeth and fluff yourself.
5. A bed and transportation in one price.
The travel time from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train is fourteen hours. Not a killer, but it might make some gasp.
But taking an overnight train in Thailand costs less than a hotel or a plane flight and the quality you’ll receive will be about the same. You won’t lose sightseeing time and if you’ve never rode an overnight train in Thailand before, I’d consider it– the experience alone is a sightseeing experience in itself! The Thai are known for their hospitality and pampering. This is good luxury for a train. Just look at some of the other trains I’ve been on (India, Laos, Vietnam)
Tips for traveling on a Thai train
The 1st and 2nd class sleepers, the service can feel pretty flawless. However, …
- Toilets can smell on all trains.
The good news is that they have generally have both, a western toilet and squat toilet. Honestly, sometimes it’s cleaner just to use the squat toilet, although on moving trains, you have to have powerful squatter legs. So here’s my trick with using Thai western toilets. Thailand is known for having “bum gun” toilets, equipped with a power hose to shoot your bum after you use the bathroom. I use the hose to hose down the seat and the floor before I use the toilet. Always remember your hand sanitizer and toilet paper. They are not provided.
- No running water in the toilet/bathroom sink
Tip: You’ll need to take hand sanitizer to wash your hands or wait until you get outside to the community sink. I’d even go as far to say, buy a package of baby wipes from 7 Eleven (yes, Thai 7 Elevens are rockstar!).
- Don’t drink the train water
If the water in the faucet works, you still shouldn’t use it for brushing your teeth. Tip: Take a bottle of water with you to brush your teeth and baby wipes for your shower.
- You won’t see the landscape as you pass by.
Well, actually, you can see some landscape if either, you leave before the sun sets or wake up when the sun rises. Then again, if you were traveling on a plane, you’d not see anything at all.
- If you’re a snacker, buy light snacks and bottled water before you board
If you like to munch like I do, bring your snacks before arriving at the train station. Hua Lamphong snack options kinda suck. But in either case, they don’t sell bottled water on the train, and before you don’t need water like a camel, you’ll need water to brush your teeth.
- Bring a light jacket.
Although I’ve not yet experienced uncomfortable train frost from the air conditioning, I don’t know your body heat. For some, the fourteen hour ride may be cold.
- Get travel insurance.
I use World Nomads, which is perfect for backpackers. While Thai train travel has a good reputation, there have been years in which the train derailed. We’re hoping it’s been fixed and fortunately the casualties were minimal, but you never know.
Booking train travel in Thailand
Booking train tickets in Thailand is easy. My recommendation is to always go to the train station in person so you know what you’re getting. This is the way many Thai do it as well as the Thailand Railways does not have an online booking website. For travelers who want to book Thai train travel in advance, you can either have your guesthouse or hotel book it for you (generally, they’ll make reservations and send someone to pickup the tickets or you can use a the 12G.Asia service I occasionally use for booking bus and train tickets at the last minute (they’re actually good for trip planning, pricing routes and learning timetables!
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Booking information for Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Start Location: Hua Lampong Train Station (the last stop on MRT Subway line).
Fare: 2nd class A.C. sleeper around $25 , 1st class A.C. sleeper around $40
Times for the direct train (Bangkok to Chiang Mai)
Bangkok 6:10pm, 7:35pm, 10:00pm
Chiang Mai: 8:15am, 9:55 am, 1:05pm
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