It takes an average of 12–14 hours travel by train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. Buses are a lot faster. Sometimes, Air travel cost is not far from the train fare. But there’s something about train rides I enjoy. For me it’s an easy and intimate way to travel through the landscape. Unlike the far and disconnected view from the airplane window or the sedentary feel in the bus, I can freely move around and enjoy looking at the passing view. It’s my first time to travel through Thailand provinces. And as I always do in different countries, slow travel by railway is always in my list to try.
Hualamphong Train Station
State Railway Thailand manages 4,500 km of rail network spread across four main lines to north, south, east and west of the country. All those major lines to long distance routes converge at their main hub at Hualamphong Train Station in Bangkok. Known locally as Krungthep Station, the structure is Italian neo-renaissance in design but it surely needs some updating and maintenance to date. Functional still, with a huge waiting area and fully airconditioned.
People seem to enjoy just sitting on the concourse floor while waiting for their train to take in passengers. There’s a digital billboard on the upper left. There are 26 ticket booths here and about 4 are dedicated to foreigners with English speaking personnels. Lockers and washrooms with shower area are available too. There are 14 platforms, the station serves around 130 trains and shuffling around 60,000 passengers throughout the day. Train tickets can be reserved within 60 days in advance.
Booking in Advance
For Chiang Mai, north of Thailand, tickets are easily sold out so people book in advance. But since I have no means to go to station, I had to go through 12GoAsia to book my tickets. They have an additional service charge on top of the original fare but that was a convenience fee I was willing to pay for assured seats. My train ticket cost 1,132 THB (P1,800) and the original ticket price as I found on the ticket is 821 THB. That’s at least 300 THB on top. Transaction was done through Paypal. The additional cost may seem too much but their service is reliable and staff there were friendly. On the day of my departure, I dropped by their office at DOB building (just across Hualamphong Station) and got my tickets without any hassle.
Trains and Classes
Trains in Thailand have different train types and seat class. There’s the ordinary, rapid and express for the trains. Depending on the trains, there are first class, 2nd class and 3rd class seats. I was fortunate to try a couple of trains when I went to Chiang Mai and back to Bangkok. Their prices vary of course with the first class cabins most expensive, 2nd class have aircon and non-aircon options with sleepers and the 3rd class seats only trains.
Train to Chiang Mai
12GoAsia outlines the train schedule and available seats for preferred dates. For my train to Chiang Mai, I decided to take the overnight sleeper on a 2nd class aircondition express train. I bought It leaves at 10 in the evening and arrives in Chian Mai by noon. I chose this schedule as it would give me a chance to see the countryside in the morning.
[timetable agent=”506263″ from=”Bangkok” to=”Chiang Mai” lang=”EN” curr=”USD” class=”train”]
The train I got is a bit dated. It reminds me of the old train in Vietnam where the toilet drains directly to the rail below. Still, I was amused on how the staff transforms the train seats to sleeping berths. One thing to note is that it was extremely cold. They don’t turn the lights off but there are curtains in each sleeping berth. A pillow and blanket were provided each sealed in plastics making sure they are clean.
The train left on time. It was pretty quiet in the evening as each passenger tries to sleep. I did notice some people get off and got in the train at different stations. As expected there were parts when the train rocks heavily on uneven tracks. Particularly as we got out of the city. I did catch some sleep but wakes up after a few hours. By 6am I was able to catch the sunrise. Waking up to a heavily forested area and could see the train bending through the mountain. Little by little passengers were waking up. We passed by stations were a few of them alighted. The train personnel fixed the seats again and pushed back the upper berth. The smaller stations we passed by were just small platforms but still neat and looks organized with minimal Thai adornments. The towns also looks pleasantly quaint and inviting.
I feel rather silly that morning though. I guess I was to blame. Maybe I was too excited to ask questions. When I got in the train, a guy was distributing a cup of juice. I was thinking this was part of the fee I paid for the train so I took a cup of the juice. He also gave me a menu later that evening for breakfast. I told him I’ll just go to the dining car and told me it’s just the same. This one he’ll deliver here. Prices were already steep and starts at 100 THB. But I did order a club sandwich and chips meal with banana for 120 THB.
That morning, the meal was served with complimentary coffee. The sandwich was nothing special. I could do a better one myself. Then another order of juice was offered. I was thinking, even if I have to pay for the juice it wouldn’t be that expensive right? Then the bill came. The meal cost I could stomach, but 60 THB (P90) for that juice is plain outrageous. It’s more expensive than a Starbucks juice. So I was paying for 2 juice and a meal all for 240 THB! I felt duped but irresponsible as well. It may be hard on my pocket and heart but I paid and charged it to experience. I didn’t want to argue here and ruin my train ride so I let it slide. Besides, it’s partly my fault. And looking at the other foreign passengers there, somehow the look on their faces shows that they feel the same.
Chiang Mai Train Station
The train to Chiang Mai arrived on time at noon. Chiang Mai station is moderately sized, quite apt for the location as it serves about 10 train trips per day. Located near Ping river and close to the city’s Post Office. It is well facilitated for its scale. Good dining choices, a number of ticket booths, left luggage, ATMs and travel agencies.
When I got in, I immediately bought train tickets back for Bangkok. Fortunately, there were a few seats on the sleeper train available on my desired date albeit upper berth.
The train station is 3km away from the city center. From the station there are already Red Taxis (songthaew) that would offer to take you there. Prices are quite hefty though as they were asking 100–150THB from me. Since Thailand had Grab and Uber, I decided to use Grab and got me a car to take me to the city for 56 THB. I did have to meet the car outside the station as the driver told me those local transports are not friendly with them. Although I do understand they are competing with their business.
Train to Bangkok
After 5 days in Chiang Mai, I was ready to go back to Bangkok. I was told by the ticket lady that the train I got was the newer and modern train. It cost me 941 THB for a 2nd class upper berth sleeper. And she wasn’t kidding. From the outside, it looks like a typical coach but inside, the train looks brand spanking new. It was bright as day, seats smells factory fresh and surrounding was immaculate. Aircon was in full blast that I had to wear my jacket. I was amused with the sliding doors with touch screen interfaces. And the toilets! Finally decent and automated. I no longer felt guilty peeing in a train.
[timetable agent=”506263″ from=”Chiang Mai” to=”Bangkok” lang=”EN” curr=”USD” class=”train”]
Learning from my recent blunder, I made sure I bought some food with me. But a visit at the dining car made me buy train food. Hot wonton soup meal for dinner for 65 THB.
The train staff fixed my upper berth bed. There was no view for me this time around but I didn’t mind. I got amused with my personal light and charging ports I spent time watching a movie and reading until I fell asleep. By 5am people were already freshening up. The upper berths were pushed back up and lower berths converted back to facing seats. By 6am the train was already entering Hualamphong Station in Bangkok. It is also convenient that the train is connected to the MRT Station. Easily I got on the MRT for Sukhumvit station where I stayed in Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit.
Tips for taking the Train
- Book in advance, especially during peak seasons for assured seats. Preferably, 3 days ahead. If you cannot visit the station personally, go through 12GoAsia.
Powered by 12Go Asia system
- Aircondition will always be full blast inside the train. Be ready for the cold.
- If you are sensitive with lights, bring an eye shade. They don’t turn off the train lights.
- You can bring your own food in the train. Passengers are not obligated to buy food.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.