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!

Related Posts

Laos, Thailand, Transportation Guides


  • I’ve been on a sleeper train and that wasn’t easy to sleep – I can imagine what trying to sleep on a seater train like this would be like!

    • @Rich: Thanks for your comment. Sleep/sitting isn’t for everyone & I thank God in most cases, that as an ex-NYer, I have that acquired skill. After @monkgonemad’s comment about my moaning, I had to reflect. Of the 7 months I’ve been on the road (India included), I’d have to say this isn’t my worst sleep/transportation experiences, but it’s still ranks as one of my top 3 !

  • Best trips were coming back from Vientiane with a double visa in pocket. The restaurant (aka Party Car) packed with elated farang. Trancy tunez wafting, the beer flowing like the Mekong left far behind. We all had four more months and that was an eternity…

  • What’s the whinge about toilets on Thai trains? You travel thru India and moan about toilets on Thai trains?!

    Next time – just book the 2nd cl sleeper. If that is full book the ac chair.

    Stop making Thailand out to be an adventure. It ceased to be one twenty years ago. It’s practically 1st world.

    You ought to be so lucky in India – sheeesh!

    • @monkgonemad: What post are you reading and referring to where I mention Thai train toilets or not having AC (I didn’t use the toilet and part of the big whine is I had too much AC). You’re right about one thing though; compared to India, Thailand is a breeze. I actually love Thailand. I still occasionally have moments of difficulty though. Your challenges as a traveler must be different from mine. =)

  • Laura in Cancun
    March 29, 2011 1:33 am

    Sorry you had such an unpleasant experience! The Mexican bus system is quite good… decent bathrooms, somewhat comfortable seats, etc. However, once I traveled 28 hours from Cancun to Acapulco, then back again! It was FREEZING, and the AC vents are right by your legs. Awful, awful, awful. Always bring socks, pants, jackets, scarves, etc.

    • @Laura: Glad to hear the Mexican bus system is good. But 28 hours?! Hell no… and AC between the legs (rolls eyes up)– you are a real trooper! I don’t think I could stand the freeze for that long. Although, what can you do, right?

  • Oh goodness, we did this journey too! We managed to get a carriage with beds but not anything posh like your other trip in first class. I posted some pictures of it here:
    I was so very glad I managed to avoid train bathrooms, especially since there were plenty of drunk passengers on our carriage so I’m sure the bathroom was even worse than normal! Did you stay in Nong Khai or cross straight to Laos?

  • LOL!! You are SO CORRECT about the train bathrooms! I took a train from Bangkok to Nong Khai a few years back. I went to the bathroom ONLY ONCE! After that I held it until I arrived to Nong Khai.

  • Oh dear. That sounds like it was unpleasant. I once took a train from Vermont to Delaware–14 hours overnight in a seat. I hated it. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t get comfortable, and by morning, the bathrooms were disgusting. I’d like to try train travel again, but if I do, it will be during the day or I’ll get a sleeper car overnight.

    • Ha ha.. Everyone’s comment has given me a fun read and chuckle. I’m glad I do not stand alone in some of my sentiments.

      @Gray: Woof! 14 hours?! You might as well have been traveling in a third world country, as I have no doubt, your Amtrak must’ve looked similar to mine by the end.

      @Rosco: LOL. Actually, I didn’t think those train bathrooms would affect guys as much. You proved me wrong.

      @Shimelle: Ooh, read your experience and yup, that’d put a damper on a sleeper experience, even if you got bed and leg room. Drunk passengers on a rocking train– yuck. You can see the result a mile off. BTW–the cool phenomena about the Thai overnight train is that it wasn’t first class– it was either 2nd or 3rd AC. The Thai really know how to give good service… with the exception of that Nong Khai train!

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