A sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai? To be honest I was pretty excited to add this to our Thailand itinerary. At the end of our stay in Bangkok, the easiest way to our next destination would have definitely been by plane, but after traipsing through airports 55 times this year, it was time for something a little different.
What is a Sleeper Train?
A sleeper train is a long-distance train that travels through the night, with seats that convert into beds, to allow for a much more comfortable journey. Our trip was 13 hours, which would have been less than ideal in an upright seat (in which case a plane would have been our preference), but with the option of a sleeper train available, it was a “must do” as we travelled by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Why travel by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?
The rail system in Thailand is comfortable, safe, cheap & environmentally friendly. It is a genuine Thai experience which truly makes the act of getting there an exciting part of the trip.
The experience of travelling through the Thai countryside was just wonderful, and from a budget perspective, it also doubled as one night of accommodation! And whilst you may not see much from your window as you travel through the night, waking to the glorious countryside as the train rushes towards Chiang Mai was simply breath taking.
Train classes – sitting or sleeping?
The beauty of the Thai railway system and travelling between Chiang Mai and Bangkok is the level of choice when it comes to seating. The trains are made up of three classes, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Like many Thai trains, the trains departing from Bangkok to Chiang Mai included 1st and 2nd Class Sleepers, and both 2nd and 3rd class seats!
1st class sleepers
1st class sleepers consist of individual, lockable, air-conditioned cabins, containing two sleeping berths. There is a western style toilet and a shower, with a small washbasin opening off a side corridor. Berths are sold individually, so one ticket gets you one bed, and for privacy, a solo traveller will be required to purchase two berths.
2nd class sleepers (a/c & non-a/c)
2nd class sleepers were our carriage of choice and were very comfortable, although in the air-conditioned cabins, we did find the air-conditioning a little chilly. The 2nd class sleepers are naturally cheaper than the 1st class sleepers and are an enjoyable way to travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Berths are located either side of a central aisle. Set up for day time they are very comfortable face to face seats, which an attendant will convert into the beds of an evening, and dismantle as the train arrives into Chiang Mai.
Ready for sleeping, the lower berths are substantially wider than the upper births (we managed an adult and child in one berth – not by choice!), while the upper ones are quite narrow and have only a few vertical straps to stop one from rolling off the bed. As an adult, this might be enough, but for a small child Sienna’s age (6), the upper berth proved to be a bit of a safety issue. Brody on the other hand enjoyed his berth and had plenty of space to himself. Another point to note is that the older style cars allow a lot of the aisle light into the berth on the top bunk. We hoped the lights might be dimmed overnight however this didn’t occur. The lower berths were dark and cozy, perfect for a good night’s sleep!
Pillows, blankets and sheets are all included. They were clean and comfortable, however the pillows, as is quite customary throughout Asia, were very thin and a blow up travel pillow would certainly be advisable – it made our trip a lot more comfortable.
Most Westerners choose this carriage class as it is safe, affordable and quite the adventure. Basins and a toilet are located at the end of the carriage, but do be warned that if the toilet window is down as you pull into or out of a station, you will be staring directly at the people on the platform.
Windows do not open in the air-conditioned cabins, whilst they do in the non-air-conditioned cabins, which is useful for those wishing to take photographs along the journey, without an annoying reflection. Non-air-conditioned cars are cooled with fans throughout.
Something to note, is that power supply is extremely limited, with only 2 outlets per car, located together in the centre of the car. This made for a crazy mess of cables and phones all piled up, with travellers desperately topping up their devices before arriving in Chiang Mai!
2nd class seats
Another option which is cheaper again is the 2nd class seats, available in both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned options. While comfortable enough for daytime journeys, I personally would prefer the comfort of the night time sleeper option.
3rd class seats
The absolute bare bones of travelling by train in Thailand between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the 3rd class seats are the cheapest option, and certainly look like the least comfortable!
Food on board
The train we travelled on included a Restaurant Car, however, dining can occur at your seats if you so wish.
We discovered that any food purchased on board is tallied up during the journey and your bill is presented at the end of the trip. Be warned that when you board the train, your attendant will “provide” you with fruit juice (which tastes pretty horrible anyway) and despite asking if we needed to pay and told no, we were later charged for it. I guess by no, they meant not at that time!
The meals themselves cost around 100-150 baht. They were quite delicious although a little on the small side, and there was some confusion as to what was included in the meal “deal”, however on the whole it was pretty good. You should note that you are welcome to bring food on board, but we weren’t quite organised enough, given the busy day of sightseeing we’d already had.
The restaurant car is said to be quite the party place once the sun goes down, however with two kids in tow and a busy day leading up to our trip, we were all happy to snuggle down into our beds once they were ready for us.
Are the Trains Safe?
All of our research suggested the trains were quite safe, however being on the cautious side we kept our valuables close and well out of site. We needn’t have been too concerned however as the on board guards patrolled the cars throughout the night making very regular trips up and down the aisle.
* Train 9/10 is the best train to take as it uses the very latest Chinese-built sleeping-cars introduced in November 2016
** Train 13/14 is the second-best sleeper train using the next most modern cars, and it passes the best scenery near Chiang Mai in daylight.
*** Train 7/8 is the best daytime option, the air-conditioned express railcar.
1 = 1st class sleepers.
S = 2nd class sleepers (air-conditioned).
s = 2nd class sleepers (non-air-con).
2 = 2nd class seats.
R = Restaurant car.
3 = 3rd class seats.
You can check train times at the Thai Railways website www.railway.co.th – to translate the page, please right click and select Translate to English.
Cost of Tickets
Tickets are for travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is quite reasonable, and vary depending on the class you choose to travel.
Children’s tickets are at a reduced price, however, this is refunded to you at the time of picking up your tickets before your journey! Children between 2-12 who are 110cm and under, travel for 50% of the adult rate but do not get their own berth. Children under 150cm receive a 30% discount and their own berth. These discounts are calculated on the base fare only, with all passengers charged a standard “bed supplement”.
How to Buy Train Tickets
We purchased our tickets from 12GoAsia.com. Tickets can be purchased online no less than 3 days before travel and ideally no more than 60 days in advance.
Pickup of the tickets was very simple, with the 12GoAsia office just across the road from the train station in Bangkok. Sleeper tickets do sell out, so we’d recommend booking well in advance. During our little exploration of the train, all seats were fully booked, so I wouldn’t leave it to the last minute.
Where does the train depart?
The sleeper train departs from Bangkok’s Hualamphong station. Easily accessible by MRT, we opted for a Taxi with our luggage, which in Bangkok is super cheap – just allow plenty of time!
Arriving in Chiang Mai
Our arrival in Chiang Mai was a little overwhelming as we were greeted by a sea of drivers, all jostling amongst themselves for our attention, competing against each other for our fare.
The most popular form of transport in Chiang Mai is the Songthaew or Red Car, an enclosed ute or truck, lined with rows of seating either side of the tray. Fares are HIGHLY negotiable and with a westerner price often twice the price of the local price, it is essential you barter and be prepared to walk away.
Upon arriving in Chiang Mai, we realised we’d failed to research our transport to our accommodation, so after a quick Google search we bartered a price of 150 baht, which in hindsight we were happy with. Taxis charge a flat 160 baht.
Our Adventure on YouTube
Overall, our travel by sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was a real adventure. The beds were comfortable and those of us not sharing with a 6 year old got plenty of sleep! Travelling in an overnight sleeper train was definitely a new experience and is something we will do again (overnight through China already booked!) We did find our neighbours to be a little noisy. They all woke up at about 5.30am and started chatting at the top of their voices, but a pair of ear plugs would quickly fix that.
If you’re headed by train from Chiang Mai from Bangkok, we’d highly recommend you jump onboard and enjoy an overnight adventure through Thailand’s countryside.