How to travel by overnight train in northern Thailand. Thailand is an awesome country, mostly known for its amazing islands and beaches, but don’t forget that the north offers unique landscapes too.
Chiang Mai, the biggest city in the north, is reachable via the reliable and fascinating Thai state railway that crosses the nation vertically. We used Thai trains several times, from Chiang Mai to Bangkok overnight, from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, and also from Bangkok to the eastern border with Cambodia. A full visit to Thailand wouldn’t be complete without a train travel, always the most interesting and straight way to get to know a country and its population. If you have time, try an overnight train to cover long distances, otherwise a short trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya is a great experience as well (we warmly recommend 3rd class for an authentic journey!)
Here’s a quick guide on how to book a train ticket in Thailand.
There are 3 ways to book a seat on a train in Thailand:
- Book online in advance on 12go.asia, a clear website of a reliable agency which allows you to use all the main global credit cards. There’s a processing fee (around 2$) and you will receive your e-tickets to your email. You can either print them or head to the 12go.asia office you’ll find in all the main stations in Thai. Showing your ticket from your mobile should also be fine, but it’s always better to have a valid alternative ready.
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- Book online on Baolau.vn, the best platform in Vietnam that is now expanding to Cambodia and Thailand too. Main credit cards are accepted as well, fair prices, a small processing fee, and a neat interface to help you choose your seat, especially if you travel on a sleeper train. You will receive your e-ticket straight to your e-mail, print it and show it when you board the train. We use it regularly and it never let us down, a very good service.
- If you can’t book in advance, just head to the train station and buy the ticket that suits you. Most of the employees can speak a basic English which is enough to make the job. We strongly recommend to book in advance if you travel by overnight train, and also check these online websites to make sure there are still enough tickets left, you may travel on some holidays or festivity and find everything sold out!
What seat/bed do I need to buy?
It depends on how long your journey is. Trains in Thailand are quite slow, which is good both to enjoy the landscapes by day, and to get some sleep at night. If it’s gonna be a 6-hour travel or more, as the Chiang Mai-Bangkok route, we suggest to do it by overnight train. You have these choices:
- 2nd class sleeper berths: on Thai trains, 2nd class beds are allocated along the carriage aisle, there are no compartments. During the day you sit on large facing sofas, whilst in night-time an attendant will set up beds, a lower and an upper row, on both sides of the central aisle. Each bed has curtains and the size is decent, lavatories are at the end of every coach. We found this quite weird but fun too, it’s like a long dormitory carriage train. A very good solution both if you are traveling with friends or alone, you get the feeling to be in a traveling hostel!
- 1st class sleeper berths: if you are a couple, perhaps you might want to have more privacy, and these 1st class compartments are the perfect solution for you. A cozy private room with a huge sofa for 2 that transforms into bunk beds at night time. Good space, comfy mattress. 1st class carriages are usually quieter, well designed, with lavatories that include showers too.
If you have a shorter journey, you can try a very local experience like:
- 3rd class seat: wooden seats in crowded carriages is what you are up for if you buy this kind of ticket! Not really comfortable as a sofa, but for a few hours that will do. Very nice experience to see how local people travel everyday. On slower trains as the Bangkok-Ayutthaya that wobbles through the capital’s outskirts at not more than 10km/h, the doors will stay open to allow more air in (and dust and smog and dirt…). No numbered seats, so get on early to secure a decent spot. Ridiculously cheap!
- 2nd class seat: a “normal” train seat as we know it, less crowded coach with numbered seats. Complimentary snacks are normally served, otherwise vendors will do their job.
Although many trains cover the Chiang Mai-Bangkok route daily, sleeper beds on overnight trains are always the first to sell out, it’s vital to book some days before to find a bed.
The city of Chiang Mai is the main centre in the north, your starting point if you want to explore the surroundings. The city itself is very charming, with dozens of temples inside and outside the ancient walls and the famous Chiang Mai night bazaar.
Just outside the town a world of adventures is waiting to be explored, from elephant sanctuaries, to mysterious areas like the Golden Triangle near Chiang Rai and Laos, from Pai and its natural attractions to legendary long-necked women tribes close to Myanmar. A cozy guesthouse with a great common area we enjoyed a lot was the Dutch Guesthouse, walking distance from the bazaar. Read more here about our stay in Chiang Mai!
As for Bangkok, we could spend hundreds of adjectives to describe it, and it would never be enough. Despite being chaotic and messy, it’s definitely worth to spend at least a couple of days in this cosmopolitan city before reaching your dream destinations country-wide.
If you arrive by train, stunning Hua Lamphong station will welcome you. Then, absolutely go and see the Royal Palace and don’t miss our favourite temple, Wat Arun, along the Chao Praya river. A welcoming place that hosted us warmly was Hansa Bangkok House, located close to the riverside. Read more here about our last time in Bangkok.
Overnight train travelling in Thailand is a great experience, don’t think twice, get your ticket and prepare yourself to be amazed by wonderful Thai culture!
- The Dutch Guesthouse, Chiang Mai: 250baht/room, very chilled place, friendly and helpful owner, great food, close to night bazaar;
- Hansa Bangkok House: friendly guesthouse, riverside, very warm welcome.