Train travel in Thailand is tempting. It’s cheap, offers a chance to see more rural and wild areas of the country, and is a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. All this, while enjoying a bit of extra leg room when compared to a car or bus. Plus, with the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, you can sleep away while traveling, spending around the equivalent of a night’s accommodations.
Yes, train travel has a romantic draw, but the reality may not be so ideal. Here are a few tips and lessons I’ve learned from my own experiences traveling by train in Thailand.
1. Book a first- or second-class sleeper for the overnight train.
You might think you can get by in a seat, but believe me, it will be the longest night ever. These trains aren’t exactly new or modern, and the ride won’t exactly be smooth the whole time. At least having a bed will mean the slight possibility of sleep happening.
2. Bring food and water.
This is probably the most important thing to remember. The food on the train will be neither healthy nor appetizing (or edible in my case). No one’s really coming around with water, either. Take responsibility for your own wellbeing and comfort, stock up on some snacks and water beforehand.
3. Be prepared for delays.
Often no one will tell you if there is even a delay, and you might spend an extra 3 hours waiting to reach Bangkok with no idea how far away you are. Then you reach your hostel and are starving and the only places open nearby to get any food are convenience stores, because you figured getting a place near the train station would be easiest since you have to go to the airport in the morning anyway. So you go to bed hungry, you really should have packed some food.
4. Bring more than one thing to do.
On the plus side, I finished my Game of Thrones book in one sitting on the ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. Although, it wasn’t by choice. Every time I thought I’d had enough, I realized that I literally had nothing else to entertain myself with. Even a good book can get tedious after 10 hours straight. I’ll admit I was sorely prepared, my laptop charger had pretty much exploded during charging the day before (meaning I also had to go find one of the older MacBook chargers, costing me $90).
5. Go to the station to buy your train tickets.
We bought our tickets from a booking site that said we could pick them up at the station. When we got there, no one knew anything about it. So, with departure time approaching, we were forced to wait in line and manically try to book new tickets last minute. You can buy tickets and have them delivered to your hostel or hotel, but this experience has made me distrust the whole process. Buy the tickets at the train station, even go a few days in advance, and avoid the added anxiety.
6. Prepare for heat, but bring a scarf.
The air conditioning busted and it got hot in our car. So much so that everyone in our car eventually had to vacate and move to the one behind. Having the scarf means that you’ll also having something to bring to the bathroom to cover your nose. Which is also a smart decision, trust me.
7. Let it all go, and enjoy the scenery.
Thailand is a stunning and diverse country, and the train route is a great way to appreciate this. Watching the sun rise as you approach Chiang Mai is a definitive experience, and the difficulties that go along with the journey just help round out the story.
Do you have any more tips/experiences to share about train travel in Thailand?
Feature Image by David Jones