We took the Chiang Mai to Bangkok Train in February 2016. Overall, it’s a great experience. I don’t know that I would do it again, as flying is just sooooo much quicker and easier. That being said, it’s fun to ride a train halfway across Thailand. If you’re not in a rush to get to your next destination then this is a great way to travel. The time we had on the train was well spent and the countryside is beautiful. Sometimes the slower, less direct routes are often the more memorable and exciting ones. Life is all about adventures. Right?
Booking the Chiang Mai to Bangkok Train
Enter V. She did all the research before getting the ticket. Indeed, if it were up to me (Ian) we would have never of made the train. Apparently some people plan to take this train months in advance, especially during the peak season. Wow.
Originally we wanted to take the 3:30pm Express Train No. 52 to Bangkok because we wanted to enjoy the scenery, and have a fan with open windows (s 2nd class sleeper), rather than air-conditioning. Alas, it was fully booked and we were unable to get tickets. We had left it too late. Instead we managed to secure last minute train tickets (the day before departure) for the 5pm Special Express Train No. 14 to Bangkok. We booked an S 2nd class sleeper, which is a fully air-conditioned sleeper train. V was worried it would be cold (she’d read a bunch of online reviews about it being cold and unpleasant), however we were pleasantly surprised that the temperature was perfect. We were happy and warm the entire train ride. Our tickets were only 881 Baht per person = $25 USD per person for a 12 hour overnight train ride.
The Story of the Chiang Mai to Bangkok Train Experience
We start out at a great wifi cafe called Rosabieng Restaurant. It’s pretty much directly across the road from the Chiang Mai train station on Rotfai Alley. If you get to the station early, there’s plenty of sweet spots along Rotfai to chill out at and bide some time.
We walk into the train station and V breaks down how the process of getting a last minute train ticket works. Hint: it’s not super easy in the peak season (November – February and/or ‘Peak Periods’ like Public/National holidays, Festivals, weekend travel (Friday-Monday) or even ‘Commuter Rush Hour’). Many people plan a long time in advance before taking this train during these months. as these are the most popular routes. If you’re late in buying your ticket (like us) V provides a game plan.
Then we board the train and enjoy the trip. It’s fun. V wanted to eat in the restaurant car, but the lady pressured her into having us buy our food from our seats. She was a little perturbed until she investigated the rest of the train and learned that the food in the restaurant car was the same as what we were served in our seats. Yes. Happy travelers!
The attendant comes around and takes your order at the beginning of the train ride, and your meal is delivered to your seat around 7pm. Beware that food is separate and not included in the price of the train ticket. It’s also more expensive than the usual Thai meal, so if you have a chance I recommend you eat before you get on the overnight sleeper. I’m not going to lie, V and I both thought the food was very average. So buy your food beforehand!
Next, the train crew come around to put everyone to sleep early, around 8pm. They start from the top end of the car and work their way to the end of the car in a swift, orderly manner. You have to move out of your seat to let the attendant do their thing. They stash the table away under a side compartment, then your seats folds out to make the lower berth, lastly they fold out an upper berth from the ceiling. We both got the lower berths which worked out great, they are slightly more expensive however much more comfortable than the upper berth. They had more room (if you’ve got valuables you can even store them at the foot of your bed for peace of mind), no ceiling lights bothering you (which never go out), and you’re further away from the air conditioner, so it was a warm and pleasant sleep. Well worth the few extra bucks.
I needed to stay up late working on videos so the Thai train attendant set up beds for everyone else but me. He gave up in the end. If you’re like me and always have work to do, especially on long road trips, then stick to your guns. I did and I got exactly what I wanted; a long train ride to get stuck into editing. I stayed up late making the Nomad Summit video and the Nomad Summit Day video. We actually bought our train tickets on the morning of the Nomad Summit Day video, so if you’re interested in seeing how that went down, check out that video too.
I think it was complete luck that we were sat right next to a power socket (outlet). We didn’t do a completely thorough search of the train, but by the looks of things there aren’t many power sockets on these overnight sleepers. So if you have important online work to do and you need your electronics, then this might be quite the challenge and you may want to rethink this travel option.
If this is important to you, I would recommend that you ask the Thai Railways customer service operator (before purchasing your ticket) if your train has power sockets (and ask if you can be seated next to one). Also, if you need wifi during this trip, good luck. It’s super patchy and pretty much non-existent for majority of the trip. If you have an unlocked cell phone I recommend purchasing a prepaid sim card upon arrival to Thailand (True, 650B = $35 USD/month, Unlimited data) which allows you to tether off your phone and in this situation use the train as an office. If you have an online business I recommend doing this so you’re never left high and dry.
At the crack of dawn you’re woken up by the train attendants. We were the last ones asleep and probably the last ones up. They start packing away beds (in the same manner as setting them up) so that majority, or all of them, are returned to seats and ready for new passengers who will board the train when it arrives to the Bangkok train station.
We say goodbye to our new friends from the UK at a town just North of Bangkok. (I always love meeting new people and making new friends in random places – Thanks for the interesting conversations Chris and Stu!). Then V and I jump off the train prematurely (one stop before Bangkok Station) because we realize that it’s quicker if we bail here to get to our hotel. It’s a bit unexpected, but it was a success.
Our story of Chiang Mai to Bangkok train ride comes to a close as we wave the train goodbye and V bargains with a Bangkok Tuk Tuk driver (they know how to hustle in BKK) to take us to our hotel. But that’s another story altogether.
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3 Helpful Tips to Book a Chiang Mai to Bangkok Sleeper Train (last minute, during Peak Season):
- In-person at any train station – This is the most efficient way, avoiding any extra fees. The SRT has tried to make ‘Advance Booking’ as easy as possible especially for popular destinations and busy periods. In fact, you can book tickets up to 60 days ahead at stations, and up to 30 days ahead online. It’s recommended to book as far in advance as possible for these ‘Popular Routes’ or during these ‘Peak Periods’. You should book at least a week ahead for ‘Popular Routes’ leaving from Bangkok, such as Chiang Mai or Surat Thani, at any time of year, especially for ‘sSleeper Services’. This is where you’ll also be able to pick up your ‘last minute’ train tickets you’ve found over the phone.
- Over the phone – If tickets are sold out and it’s less than 4 days till your departure date you can call Thai Railways at 12:29-12:30am to talk to a lovely, helpful English speaking Thai customer service operator (within Thailand call 1690 and follow the prompts) and they will be able to inform you if any new tickets have been updated into the system (people have failed to pick up and pay for these tickets) and are now available for purchase. They can tell you of any new availabilities, however they can not sell you the ticket. If you’re lucky and there’s a ticket available you need to race to the nearest train station (Chiang Mai train station hours 7am – 7pm) to be the first ones there the next morning to purchase these golden tickets! You can call Thai Railways every night up until the night before you wish to travel to see if any new tickets have appeared for sale if you’re desperate to get a train ticket. There’s definitely a possibility that a ticket may pop up and it’s worth the late night conversation and early morning motorbike ride to the train station to pick up your ticket. No hidden fees involved. Smiles all around. Well worth the time and effort!
- Using a travel agent – This option is only available no less than 3-4 days pre departure date. The rules vary for each agency so make sure you check their website or call them. You can book up to 60 days in advance at some agencies. Choosing this service means you need to pay extra agent fees. So beware. You’ll also have a number of options of how to pick up the tickets, obviously this will depend on how much time in advance you’ve purchased them. I was given this travel agency in Chiang Mai to call if I wanted to go this route. B.I.S Travel 05 32 33 962. This option would be great for people not yet within Thailand and can’t get to the train station in person.
Check out all Thai Prepaid Sim Card options. I’ve also heard AIS have great deals. You can also use an AIS sim card to work for free at CAMP, an awesome co-working space in Chiang Mai. Feel free to check out CAMP in this vlog.