Before arriving in Thailand I was quite nervous about arranging to catch a sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Last time I was in the country – eight years ago – my friend and I tried our luck just turning up and asking for a ticket down to the Andaman coast for the same night. We ended up on a bus because all of the trains were full. I didn’t want to repeat that experience, but I couldn’t find much information on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai journey. Here are some of the questions I wished I could have asked in advance, which I hope will be of some help.
FAQs ABOUT THE TRAIN FROM BANGKOK TO CHIANG MAI
SHOULD I BOOK IN ADVANCE?
Unless you can be flexible with your days, I would say yes, you should book in advance. The Man in Seat 61 has some really useful information on buying train tickets from outside of Thailand. To me, this looked like a massive farce. I was due to spend a couple of days in Bangkok so, on my first morning, I made it my priority to book a ticket directly from the main counter in the station.
WHERE DO I BUY TICKETS?
Tickets are on sale at a kiosk directly below the departure board at the central station ‘Hua Lamphong’. You can walk there from the Grand Palace/Khao San Road area of town in about 45 minutes while exploring my Bangkok top 10. A cab will take about 30 minutes and should cost about 80 baht. Not only will you rest easy knowing you have a physical ticket with all of your details on it, you’ll also know the layout of the station and the test run journey will help you to know where to go and how much time to leave when it really counts.
Prices vary depending on which train you get, but you shouldn’t pay much more than 800 baht. Second-class is more than adequate.
WHAT ARE SLEEPER TRAINS LIKE?
There are express trains and slightly slower ones from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but when you’re asleep for most of the journey an extra hour or two doesn’t make much difference. I took a train that left at 18:10 and arrived the next day at 8 am.
I’d had visions of separate carriages, each with just four beds, so I was surprised to see that the seating-come-bed areas were aligned alongside the aisle. When you first board the train, you’ll be sitting beside a window in a seated area. Not long after setting off, train crew come along each carriage and make up your beds. The bottom bunk is significantly wider and has more padding. The top is easy to climb onto and has two buckled straps to prevent you from rolling onto the aisle in the night! Both have curtains for complete privacy.
The air con is pleasant but not over the top. A light jumper should be enough, especially as you’re provided with a blanket. Surprisingly, noise wasn’t a problem, but the occasional sharp jolt of the train or extremely rocky section of track did make for a broken sleep.
Toilets are basic – some Western influenced and some Thai – and there are sinks in a section of the main cabin.
CAN I CHARGE ELECTRONICS?
There was no sign of a plug socket on the train I was on. Light switches were present on both bunks, but mine didn’t work. It turned out that this wasn’t an issue since they didn’t turn the lights out for the entire journey. Bring an eye mask if you have trouble sleeping.
WHERE CAN I STORE MY LUGGAGE?
Most backpacks will slot in the spaces underneath the seats. I use a Lowe Alpine AT Travel Trekker 70+30, which I believe is the best travel backpack. The larger bag slotted comfortably under the bottom bunk and I kept the 30 litre detachable rucksack, containing my valuables, in bed with me. Large suitcases may block the aisle and might have to come into bed with you too. There are also some overhead lockers for top bunkers, but remember to check you have everything before you climb down in the morning.
DO I NEED TO TAKE FOOD?
There’s a dinner and breakfast menu, but because of the length of journey you’d probably be ok to just eat before you get on and after you arrive in Chiang Mai. Otherwise, take some snacks with you. In addition to the cooked meals, train staff have a selection of crisps if you get desperate.
DO THEY WAKE YOU ON ARRIVAL?
This was a question I wished I’d asked as I lay awake in the early hours of the morning with a dying phone battery wondering if I’d miss my stop and wake up in Laos. I needn’t have worried. Calls of ‘Morning’ and ‘Breakfast’ rang through the carriage at around 6 am, followed by the clanging of beds being turned back into seats. The staff gave us 20-minute and 5-minute warnings when we were almost at Chiang Mai as well.
WHERE IS CHIANG MAI TRAIN STATION LOCATED?
Chiang Mai’s train station is to the east of the town centre. Most travellers choose to stay within, or near, the old town within the moat and city walls. If you’re staying on the east side of town you might not mind the walk, but I can say from experience that lugging your backpack all the way to the north western corner in 42 degrees of sun and dripping humidity is an hour of your life you wouldn’t ever want to relive.
All things considered, my Bangkok to Chiang Mai train journey was reasonably easy to organise. Comfort-wise, the top bunk could have done with a thicker mattress and it wasn’t too easy to sleep with the motion of the train and the aisle lights beside my head, but, for not much more than the price of a night’s accommodation in Bangkok and the ease of waking up in your next destination, it was definitely worth doing.
Tips on visiting Bangkok
The Bangkok cat cafe experience
Visiting the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park
Is riding elephants ethical?
The dos and don’ts of visiting Chiang Mai
FIND A PLACE TO STAY
Have you tried the HotelsCombined search tool yet? I’ve just started using it all the time because it aggregates the results of hotel searches from over 40 travel sites to bring you the best deals in the quickest time. You can find hostels and some really good budget hotel deals too.