What to expect on a train in Thailand

by Poi on February 16, 2012

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Transport for backpackers in Thailand is very easy, especially buses. They’re cheap and can be booked from pretty much anywhere at short notice. So it’s no surprise really that it took me a year between arriving in Thailand and taking my first train journey. I’ve still only ever only taken two now…

The first was back in November with my visiting non-traveller friends to Nong Khai, the border crossing for Laos. I decided that an overnight sleeper train would be a perfect introduction to South East Asia, we arrived 4 hours behind schedule, not exactly what they had in mind for their long planned summer holiday. My second was a month later when Kirsty and I decided to head overland to Malaysia, luckily this one went much smoother, even with the difficulty of a border crossing involved.

Train in Thailand

Waking in the morning on a Thai Train.

So what can you expect from a sleeper train in Thailand?

Firstly, unlike some of the other trains we’ve been on in Asia you actually get a decent seat for the journey.  The bottom bed is usually folded up into two very large seats like armchairs, giving you plenty of room to relax without being forced to lay down right away or squeeze in amongst a dozen other people.

When you want to go to sleep, you don’t have to break your back turning them into a bed.  Each carriage has its own attendant who will go around on request setting up both the upper and lower beds.

When exactly is bedtime though?

This seems to differ depending on the country, when we were in China it seemed a reasonable time was the moment the train set off, 6pm? Time for bed! Luckily it’s not quite that early in Thailand, but you will notice the attendant hanging around about 11pm trying to hint that really you should be quiet and head to bed!

Food and Drink? 

If like me you’re not the best sleeper and these sort of occasions require a little ‘help’ do not despair. Waitresses? I guess that’s what they are, walk the carriages constantly offering water, beer, snacks and even full meals at pretty reasonable prices. I have nightmares about paying for a sandwich in an English train station but the prices aren’t too bad, inflated but not to crazy levels like back at home.

Toilets

With all that beer you’re going to need a lovely bathroom. Well, they may be a far cry from lovely but at least they exist right? Both trains I’ve been on have had two toilets at the end of each carriage, one squat and one western style, although I wouldn’t suggest spending any reading time in there.

Sleeper Train in Thailand

Two of the biggest guys I know on the bottom and still plenty of room before the beds were made up.

All bedding is provided and although the beds aren’t quite as nice as those in our luxury room on our first Chinese train they are nothing to complain about. My tip would be to get the bottom bunk for a few extra pennies as the two seats that create the bed are huge and give you almost twice the space as the upper bunk.

Don’t worry about waking up on time either as your destination is jotted down during ticket inspection and you’ll be woken up when your stop is near. Best not to chance it though hey?

Have you taken any trains in Thailand and had a different experience? Did we just get lucky?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon P February 16, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Waitresses?! Beer?! Sounds good to me. I’m traveling through Vietnam, where last night I had to catch a 14-odd hour sleeper bus because the train was full up. It was not very enjoyable to say the least.

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Poi February 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm

We took lots of sleeper buses in Vietnam and once we had worked out which seats to get they weren’t that bad. Still nothing on a train though I guess….

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Satu February 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm

I love trains in Thailand, I think they’re great value. I’ve taken the sleeper twice. I’ve also taken the “seat” option once from Bangkok to Chiang Mai when all the sleepers were fully booked. The seated class was surprisingly good: the seats recline so you can sleep, it’s air-conditioned, they give you a blanket and you get a free meal + coffee in the morning!

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Poi February 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm

That sounds pretty good, I always imagined the seating section to be pretty cramped and horrible but obviously not – thanks!

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Ed Rex February 16, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I think the British train service should visit Thailand. I despair everytime I catcha train in Britain which results in bad service, over-inflated prices, and serious no good value for me.

Also, a great post for me as I’ll be going to Thailand next month and thinking of criss-crossing Thailand by train.

Cheerio!

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Poi February 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I used to do a 3 hour trip on a train in England quite regular and I hated every second of it.

It helps when you’re going somewhere exciting in Thailand instead of just Birmingham though haha

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Brock - Backpack With Brock February 17, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Sounds like you had a great train trip!

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Poi February 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm

We did indeed, especially the beer filled one.

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Camels & Chocolate February 21, 2012 at 10:41 am

Maybe I’m just ignorant, but this is way nicer than I expected out of Thailand! (For a record, I’ve never been there. Nor have I ever ridden a train anywhere in Southeast Asia outside of India.)

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Poi February 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm

haha we didn’t expect them to be quite so nice either, they’re not the fastest but the beds and service are good so it doesn’t matter too much.

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Jackie February 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm

We just came up to Nongkhai on the sleeper about a month ago.

Exactly as described, we were only 1 hour late..lol!

Highly recommend you book the sleeper cabin if you can.. only £25.00 each equivalent..but to some this might be a bit pricey.

Not much to us to be honest, we are somewhat older than you guys and need the comfort.. but definately enjoyed the trip.

It does feel though like you are taking the local chuff chuff to a town near you.. the distance is about the same as London to Inverness and it feels like you are on the slow train

Recommend you do the journey at least once in Thailand.

Off to Chiang Mai next week but taking a car…as we have more stuff now..

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Poi February 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Only one hour late? That was good timing. I think the trains are very good value, even the more expensive tickets still aren’t really that much.

haha I know what you mean about the chuff chuff, the trains don’t exactly go racing out of the first station.

Good luck on the roads!

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Jackie March 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Well we arrived safely in Chiang Mai.. did about 7 hours on first leg and stopped in Phitsanulok and stayed in a hotel on the main road into town.. so it was easy to leave town.

This was the easy part.

The second part was half the journey time but more taxing on the nerves, but the scenery was lovely a lot of the way, seemed to lots of National Park , and it was lovely to see signs with “beware elephants crossing”.
Not that we saw one, but the possibility was there.

Only nearly got wiped out a couple of times.. those old tourist buses.. bless them.. on the wrong side of the road on a blind corner… heart really did stop for this one..

Great to do once because we had stuff.. but next time, it’s a run to the airport. We will take speed over cost any day.. as our life depends on it…!

Sorry you are leaving guys, very best wishes for the future

Jackie and Mike – new residents of Chiang Mai

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Nomadic Samuel February 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand, yet I’ve never taken the train. I can’t wait to do it next time 🙂

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Poi February 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I’ve spent so many hours on buses that the trains make a nice change, I’m sure it will be the same for you.

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paul | walkflypinoy March 3, 2012 at 7:55 pm

nah. you weren’t lucky. thai trains are great. i was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and clean they were. and i was expecting it being a far cry from chinese trains. it was alright. train staff were very friendly, too. more importantly, i got a very good night sleep!

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Poi March 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm

That is the most important thing.

I’m glad to hear that all train journeys in Thailand seem to be this good then, lots oh happy passengers 🙂

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Skott and Shawna - Get Up & Globe March 17, 2012 at 9:50 am

Train travel is awesome! We have recently completed the BKK-Chiang Mai route (and returned!), and enjoyed it both times! The only problem is that I do not believe they are ever one time. We were 3 hours late going up, and almost 5 hours late coming down… if u don’t have a connection to catch, take the train!!

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Poi March 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Thats good advice, timing is a bit dodgy on the trains but I think most travellers have learnt to give themselves a few hours extra on any journey just in case for these things.

Glad you guys enjoyed your journeys!

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Claire April 20, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I took two trains in Thailand, one quick one from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, which was fine and the sleeper train from Ayutthaya to Chaing Mai… it took 24 hours! The first one broke down and waited for 3 hours, then we got a bus to the next station, the next train kept stopping for long, unexplained periods and we finally arrived in Chiang Mai just 12 hours after the scheduled time!

Seems like it was just bad luck! Saying that it was really comfortable and I had a really good time, met some great people so still enjoyed it!

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Audrey D. April 25, 2012 at 5:30 pm

We took the train too!:) Bangkok-Ayutthaya-Chiang Mai. We could explore Ayutthaya during the day and the sleeper train was departing around 7pm, so it was a great deal! The train arrived on time, or almost, maybe half an hour late, not bad.

The bed were already made though so that was a bit disappointing, we had to go to sleep at 7pm! And we didn’t book early so we had 2 top bed… The Bangkok-Chiang Mai route is popular, obviously. But overall, great experience, would do it again!

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Poi Deeble-Rogers April 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Only half an hour late isn’t bad at all. Shame the beds were already made, I’ve never seen them made that early before on a Thai train. In China that would be the case though, they seem to pretend it’s bedtime whatever time they get on a train haha

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Jan Goldsmith (@vacationality) October 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Looks like Russian train though we don’t have curtains 🙂

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Tim | Adventure Strong February 9, 2013 at 2:24 pm

That looks a lot more fun than flying. When I get to Thailand this year, I’m definitely going to do some travel by train.

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One Modern Couple October 11, 2014 at 8:29 am

We haven’t been on a train over seas yet but in a week we will be taking the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. We will let you know how that gos 🙂

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Poi October 11, 2014 at 9:34 am

We look forward to hearing how you get on. We enjoyed most our train journeys in SE Asia.

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