I began my adventure on train in Thailand after I had read on the website of a well-known train travel blogger, the man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com) that traveling to Chiang Mai from Bangkok by sleeper train was the most economical and comfortable option.
Although I didn’t experiment with flying, the train took me both ways and I found it to be a very agreeable way to travel. As Chiang Mai is a very popular tourist destination and acts as a gateway to the national parks of Northern Thailand, the route is a well-worn one, and very popular with backpackers.
Despite a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai taking less than two hours and costing not much more than 1500thb, it is still no more convenient than the train for those with a more relaxed schedule. The second class express train costs only 800thb, which at the time of writing is not much more than the price of a guesthouse in Bangkok. This option took around thirteen hours, which sounds quite daunting until you consider that most of the time is spent either sleeping or relaxing in a comfortable bunk, letting you arrive in the morning well-rested after a refreshing sleep on the rails. It was a wonderful journey by train in Thailand.
Buying a Ticket
The train leaves from Hua Lamphong, which is Bangkok’s main overland train station and has its own MRT station. I was advised by a local that trains number 9 and 10 were the new faster trains, and the most comfortable. There are three classes to choose from, with second class being the most popular. The cheapest option, however, is the slow train, which takes 15 hours and offers only seats, but might be a good choice for fearless low budget travelers.
Having only decided to visit Chiang Mai the preceding day, I had not booked an advance ticket and arrived at Hua Lamphong station two hours before the train was due to leave at 18:00. After a painless transaction with an English-speaking member of staff, I was left with some time to visit the nearby temple Wat Hua Lamphong to find a moment’s peace amidst the bustle of Bangkok. This is confusingly located adjacent to the next closest MRT station Sam Yan but is a pleasant place to prepare yourself for the journey.
Boarding the Train
On reaching the platform, attendants are in place to direct you to your carriage, which can take some time to reach as the train is very long. I was left shivering by the fierce air conditioning inside the train, a sharp contrast from the Thai heat! Thai nationalist music was blaring from the speakers on constant repeat, and I settled into my seat to eat the sushi I had purchased earlier. Although there was a restaurant car available, I didn’t get the chance to see it.
Each carriage shares two small toilets and sinks, and on boarding, the trains are arranged as seats, which are then converted to bunks as requested by the attendants. The top bunk offers more relative privacy, but the bottom has a window which offers a great view of the passing mountains as you roll towards Chiang Mai. Both are equipped with plug sockets.
Although the lights are left on all night, I still found it possible to get a reasonable nights sleep. Perhaps the lack of distractions made this possible, as no Wifi was offered apart from in the restaurant carriage. This meant I also got a chance to test the coverage of the True 4G SIM I was using, the coverage of which only dipped momentarily through the journey. If you are heading to Thailand and wish to pick up a local SIM, I can recommend this option – but check out all of the available options (here) http://simtourist.com/international-sim-card-comparison/best-sim-card-for-thailand
This allowed for a remarkably peaceful journey and a peaceful awakening in the morning by the sing-song chatter of Thai train attendants. To the east on the right-hand side of the train, the sun was rising over the mountains, and the staff were traversing the length of the train hastily converting bunks to benches.
Any stragglers and late sleepers were ushered awake and advised to leave their bunk so it might revert to a seat before arrival.
After my journey on train in Thailand I arrived at Chiagn Mai. Here I found throngs of backpackers and Chinese tourists filled the forecourt, around which tuk-tuk drivers and taxi drivers were swarming like flies offering rides into the city center, which should be no more than 150thb, and cheaper if you take a shared pick-up taxi. Tuk tuks are likely to be more expensive than taxis, and the taxis here do not have a meter.
Stepping aside from the crowds and circling drivers, I crossed the road to the Bossotel bar for a replenishing intercontinental buffet breakfast at 120 thb. I can recommend this place as a good spot to gather your thoughts and consider your next move.
About the Author
Bicycle flâneur, landscape architect, and writer at SIM Tourist. Kieran hails from the English Midlands and specializes in travel and environmental issues. Thank you to Kieran for his journey on the train in Thailand.