Kick Back in Style on a Thai Train

“Forget that ear-splitting karaoke on overnight buses and take in the countryside at a leisurely pace on a Thai train.”

Westerners certainly have more of a love for trains than most of the locals in Thailand, the latter of whom consider such mode of transport as almost prehistoric – then again, I guess some of the trains operating actually are!
While tripping around Thailand though, it’s almost a must, at least once, to experience the one-and-only Thai train. Take the Bangkok-Chiang Mai train, for example: even though the train does the journey much slower than the overnight bus, you won’t have to tolerate blaring karaoke or sub-zero air-conditioning.

Instead, you could be having a lot of fun in the train’s funky restaurant meeting locals and fellow travellers while enjoying a friendly game of cards and a chilled beer.
And instead of waking up in the morning to the sight of a six-lane motorway and countless petrol stations, you’ll be relishing a beautiful sunrise from the heart of the Thai countryside.
If the North isn’t your cup of tea, then head to Isaan, which definitely has one of the best routes in Thailand: Nakhon Ratchasima to Ubon Ratchathani.

The train is incredibly slow but you can break your journey up and spend a night in the groovy provincial towns of Surin, Buri Ram and Si Sa Ket. It’s a great ride, on which you can enjoy the company of super-friendly locals, who will, for sure, be inviting you to tuck into a delicious on-board picnic of grilled chicken, papaya salad and sticky rice.
You’ll get the chance to pick up some Isaan dialect or even Khmer.
Then, for those who fancy Thailand’s longest route, book yourselves onto the Bangkok-Penang International Express. It’s a 21-hour journey to remember.

So, wherever you plan to go this year, make sure that at least once you take the one-and-only Thai train!

7 responses to “Kick Back in Style on a Thai Train

  1. Maybe SRT & TAT should come up with a special”hop on-hop off” tourist rail ticket that allows a leisurely trip up to Chiang Mai taking in Ayutthaya and Sukothai(Phitsanulok) en-route-maybe even a package including a nights accom in each stop.

  2. we did exactly that in 2003. I don’t know the current schedule, but at that time only 3rd class trains stopped in Ayutthya. it took a million years to get there – 3 hours I think. and then 6 more hours to Phitsanulok.
    once when tickets had run out for the sleeper, a ticket seller wanted to put me on a 3rd class slow train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I was horrified to learn it takes 18 hours!! on the sleeper, it is 12-13, by bus, never more than 10. I love the sleeper.
    one thing that took me by surprise is that you get 3 meals if you take the daytime special express (included in the price) – again, it was in 2005 so I don’t know if it still happens?

  3. I’ve traveled from Udon Thani to Bangkok a few times on the overnight sleeper, most enjoyable. A 21 hour trip to Chiang Mai is as your photo shows a bridge too far for me. I would however recommend the Thai trains for their great service, cheap fares and spot on punctuality.

  4. Thai trains may be slow but they are a lot more enjoyable way to travel than stuffy buses. Like the blog says they pass through nice natural scenery. No better way to travel.
    The train ride to Chiang Mai is about 12 hours not 21 hours as Martyn wrote.

  5. I had a lovely trip to bangkok from nong khai it was the morning service. it took about 11 hours but this is only about an hour or more than the bus. It cost only about 500 baht and the scenery was lovely air con coach 1st class. yiu could have a beer and even the smokers could go outside and have a puff. I will difinitly go by train again. You see so much more of the landscape like rivers lakes mountains and no built up areas like on the bus.

  6. It seems that Mr. Cleary has extensive knowledge of Thai life and maybe knows Noel my nephew. You’re a good writer Stephen and if I am ever back in Thailand I will be sure and look you up or read your blog. Cheers,

  7. Want to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai,day train,breaking the journey at Phitsanulok. Will be commencing journey on 31st Oct. Now this is the start of the Loy Krathon festival, seeing we are headed for Sukhothai will tickets need to be purchased early as possible and do you think the new online service (mentioned in ‘seat 61’) will include trains other than sleepers eventually ? Is it possible to book all the way through but travel in 2 stages ? Thanks for all your good advice everybody.