Tips for Surviving the Overnight Sleeper Train to Laos

Last Updated on August 17, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa

IMG 59741Taking the overnight train to Laos

Sometimes life throws you a condition that isn’t satisfactory or even palatable. Let’s say you’re crossing overland from Thailand to Laos (via Nong Khai), you got the last seat on an overnight train and it’s a seater! Should you be worried?…

Well, you show up as scheduled to find your train isn’t a luxury Thai sleeper train but is god-awful noisy, seats munchkin-sized passengers, it’s an 11 hour ride and the AC is sending you into hypothermia. This is the worst ride of your life! What do you do?

… Whatever you can.

I thought I could learn to live with temporarily uncomfortable situations– I thought wrong.

We all go through moments of personal horrors stories. Not every travel condition is ideal…

When I boarded my car, my jaw nearly fell. I flashed back to the moment when the station guy at the ticket counter told me I was getting the last seat on the train.

Did I buy third class seats?!

No AC but a fan blowing warm air and narrow, miniature bench seats. For a full car, I didn’t know how my bags would fit.

The “princess” in me panicked.

Third class. Iffy.

The people in the car didn’t look shady, but who knew what a full car might bring.

I quickly reshuffled my bag contents, whipping my valuables in my day pack so I could throw my big pack up on the metal rack.

Click. Locked. The pack wasn’t going anywhere.

The ticket attendant came by, checked my ticket. He told me I made a mistake…I read my ticket wrong. I was in 2nd class.

Exhale. Bring on the AC!

In 2nd class, I was seated next to a woman, who looked like she was on a vacation. Big hair, gaudy gold chain, long painted nails, shades and a knock-off designer bag. She was chewing, cracking her gum and eyeing me out of the corner of her eye, clutching her purse, deciphering whether I was looked criminal too.

She looked like the Southeast Asian version of the Sopranos.

My valuables were safe.

Twenty minutes later…

With seats fit for tiny Asian people, a freezer for a bed, a drunken man fighting with his wife non-stop,  in the seat behind me and a clamoring engine threatening to blow out my ears, I realized– this was My Hall of Fame’s Worst Train Experience of my life!

There was no choice but to make the best of it.

Tips to Surviving an Overnight Sleeper train (on a Seater Train) to Laos:

1. Find your right position

Everyone has a position that works for them and gets them by when seats are cramped and offer no leg room. You have to find the position which works for you . You may be shifting the whole night to find it …you may even need to create it.

2. Bring a jacket

Usually when it say “A.C.”, that means “Bring a Jacket”.

… And maybe a scarf and some arm and leg warmers!

I’m glad I did. (Thankfully, Korea’s winter for forcing me to pack it these things)

The AC car can get kinda chilly. Although the train hostess passed out some blankets; it was a thin skin. I found myself digging in my backpack for more layers. Times like this, your travel towel is an added resource!

3. Bring your own snacks

You may get the munchies and trains don’t offer much selection.

4. Avoid drinking too much water in advance

Don’t do it. It may be a long ride, but drinking water means having to go to the toilet. Trust me– a train toilet is the last place you want to visit.

If you need to quench your thirst or know you’ll need to, have something salty beforehand. Salt helps you to retain water. When you get thirsty, take well-timed baby sips and roll it around in your mouth for a while before swallowing.

5. Bring earplugs or noise canceling headphones

Never been an “earplugs” kind of person but when that train noise drowned out my mp3 music, I wished for earplugs. Wrapping my head in my travel towel didn’t help.

6. Praise fatigue

When this sets in, it zones everything out. Terrible engine noises, difficult positions, the tweak in your neck. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the pain go away. Just makes you too tired to try. A good idea is to stay out late the previous night so when you set into your chair, all you want  to do is sleep.

Or take sleeping tablets.


Kiss the ground when you finally arrive!

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