Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand by Train
While traveling through Southeast Asia with G Adventures, our small group had the opportunity to experience Thai trains- and boy was it an experience! When you think of places you would want to travel through by train you generally think of places like Switzerland, Canada, maybe even Peru, but Thailand was never somewhere I imagined myself spending the night on a train. But life never goes as you expect it, so it happened, and it was SO much better than I expected.
After exploring Bangkok for a few days, we boarded our train at Bangkok’s Central Station, also known as Hua Lampong Railway Station. The station itself is an impressive Italian neo-renaissance style building with a very large half-dome as a finishing touch. In other words, you could have no cell signal and no directions, and you still couldn’t miss this building. The train we took (highly recommended for anyone wanted to travel overnight) was the #9 train to Chiang Mai. In total, the journey takes anywhere from 11 to 14 hours, so traveling overnight is ideal for people who have limited time in the country. This train was also ideal because it utilizes newer train cars, so the sleepers are more comfortable and there is even air-conditioning and a restaurant car. We ordered food from the restaurant car, but nothing too extravagant because the risk of getting food poisoning from dirty water was high. We all stuck to the basics of rice and curry – no vegetables or fruit that had been exposed to water without boiling. The train car workers delivered us our food while we were all sharing stories and playing cards with people we had met from a few beds down. Soon enough it was time to sleep, and because we had walked all over Bangkok that day I was exhausted. I got ready for bed by washing my face off in the bathroom and brushing my teeth with a bottle of water – do not have high expectations for train bathrooms. The train attendants go around and set up all of the sleeper carts, and they also wake you up in the morning when the train is getting ready to arrive. I fell asleep super quickly on the train, and woke up just in time for a spectacular sunrise over the Thai landscape.
Booking the Train
We traveled in the 2nd class sleeper train, and I personally thought it was totally fine. However, if I were going to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train again, I would definitely go for first class. This is because you get your own room with a little sink, and the price is still incredibly cheap compared to anything first class in the US. The entire plan of sleeping on the train also saves a fair amount of money because you aren’t staying in a hotel. Booking a train spot is super easy, and it is best done online through 12GO Asia. I would highly recommend buying your tickets in advance because the busy season (November to March) can get pretty hectic. You are able to purchase train tickets at the station, but it is not guaranteed that you will get a seat as availability is hard to predict. Once booked, just print out your booking confirmation and make sure to bring it with you on your trip! You can pick up your pre-booked tickets at the 12GO office in the DOB building that is across the street from the train station in Bangkok. Get to the office at least an hour before to ensure you have enough time to get your tickets and get back to the train station with plenty of time to board.
12GO's Website: https://12go.asia/en/travel/bangkok/chiang-mai?
Tip: The DOB building can be reached by walking across a busy (very busy) street OR you can venture through the underground railway passage to get to the other side. If you want to try this way, head towards the MRT exit 2 which is right near the left side of the building entrance and head south towards exit 1 which will pop you out right next to the DOB building. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help, but many people will not understand an address unless it is in the Thai alphabet.
On the Train Tips:
1. With the new rail cars there is a restaurant cart, but I would hesitate to rely completely on it for nourishment. Stock up on plenty of snack foods to hold you through the night or order foods that you know will be thoroughly boiled.
2. The newer cars are also air conditioned which means they BLAST the freezing air. Bring a sweatshirt and long pants – trust me. They provide the blankets and pillows, so no need to worry about those
3. Trains can also be very noisy will traveling over tracks, and other people are not always the most respectful of noise volume, so bring some ear plugs if you want to sleep decently.
4. Something I wish I had brought was my own roll of toilet paper not just for the trains, but for the whole trip. The train quickly runs out of toilet paper, and if you wake up to use it during the night you most likely will be airing yourself out!
5. Bring your toiletries bag, so you at least feel somewhat like you’re ready for bed. Wash your face, put on some deodorant etc.
6. Bring plenty of water to hydrate, but also for brushing your teeth (do NOT use faucet water). They only provide one small bottle.
7. Bring something to entertain yourself with, like a book or playing cards – or journal about your amazing trip!
Warning: This train is not a luxury train - the only reason I am so fond of this experience is because it is so unique. It's a bit of a 'roughing it' experience, and honestly my trip would not have been as good without it! So, hopefully you take everything in this with a grain of salt and go all in for a true Thai experience.
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