Thailand has a lot of different options when it comes to transportation. Backpackers either turn to buses, trains or planes to get themselves around the country for all pretty reasonable prices. When my sister and I were in Southeast Asia last year, most of our travel was done by planes between countries because since we were short on time, they were the quickest and best option for us, but we did decide to switch it up a bit when traveling from Bangkok to Chaing Mai.
We thought we couldn’t leave Southeast Asia and not have a true backpacker experience by taking a sleeper train. We’d save money on a hotel for the night, and get a completely foreign experience that we’ve never had before. The journey was supposed to be about 15 hours overnight, not the quickest option but when you’re traveling when you’d usually be sleeping—why not?
We bought our tickets the day before at the Railway Station in Bangkok—tickets start at around $13 USD, one-way for second-class. First-class tickets give you a private cabin with air conditioning, a sink and a mirror, and second-class tickets are essentially two seats that face one another that are then converted into a top and bottom bunk bed with curtains for privacy. If you are traveling alone—book the bottom bunk seat, otherwise when they start turning seats into beds (which happens quite early), you’ll be stuck on the awkward and small top bunk with no window, where you can’t even sit up on.
One thing to watch out for when buying tickets is the scams. Make sure to buy your tickets directly through your hotel (if possible) or the railway station. When we asked the taxi driver to bring us to the station, he actually dropped us off at his friends tourist agency who claimed that all trains were sold out for a week and the only way you could get a ticket was if you booked an accommodation and train package through them. We knew this was a lie, so we headed to the railway station and there were plenty of tickets available (which will more than likely always be the case).
The train itself was fairly clean, and the bathrooms weren’t terrible in comparison to some you’ll find in Southeast Asia. There was one bathroom that had a regular, western toilet, and one that had a squat toilet. The toilets surprisingly just empty right out on the track, which seems a bit odd, but at least keeps them from smelling completely terrible.
You’ll begin your journey in your seats like regular, and then people will come around and convert your seats to beds with sheets. If your bags are smaller (like a backpack) you should be able to fit them under the seats, but I slept with my purse and carry-on, just so I was less worried about them when I slept. There is no alcohol allowed on board, and the food is significantly overpriced and disgusting—and I’m not a picky eater, so when I say it’s bad, it’s bad. Bring snacks and food with you!
The train was quiet for the most part, the things that kept me from sleeping was the fact that my top bunk bed was so narrow that I felt like I may fall out of it, and when the train made stops places, it really jolted you. I was actually pretty impressed that I still managed to get some sleep.
Overall, the experience wasn’t as terrible as I think I mentally prepared myself for. Before we knew it, 15 hours were gone, and we were in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. If you’re traveling in Thailand, I’d definitely recommend (if you can) to take the train at some point on your travels, since it’s an entirely different experience then you’ll get on planes!
You can buy train tickets or check schedules in advance here.