Sleeper Train to Chiang Mai
We checked out of our hotel at midday. Our train wasn’t to leave Bangkok until 7:30, so we had some time to kill. Having already spent a lot of time around the city visiting sites, and now loaded down with our bags, we decided to enjoy the air-conditioned heaven of the mall. After our stomachs were full from the delicious Thai food at Pier 21, we went to the movie theatre and watched ‘Her’. In case you were wondering western movies played in thailand (‘western’ meaning hollywood, not cowboys) are in English, with Thai subtitles.
We later made our way to our departing train station, Hau Lampong. Seating at the station was limited, so we waited on the station floor. We had already purchased two 2nd class sleaper tickets to Chiang Mai a few days earlier from the ticket booth inside.
Helpful staff directed us to our carriage upon boarding. There are different types of tickets available for purchase (if not sold out). 1st class entitles you to your own room, but I’d recommend just a 2nd class ticket (with air con), which provides adequate comfort for this length of journey. I have seen clips on YouTube of people spending the night on seats, instead of beds (by mistake, or to save money). Seats for 14+ hrs looks like torture.
Seating in our carriage was arrabges such that each side had facing seat for two people. A table can also be added inbetween, and these are stored under the seats. Not too long after the train departed, one of the train staff made up our fold out beds. The lower one folds out from the train seats, and the upper folds down from the roof. See a video I posted of the beds being folded out
Tegan took the bottom bunk, and I took the top. At this point I’ll describe the reason for the price difference between the top and bottom bunk (top being cheaper). I thought that the differece in price was related to the window (only the bottom bunk has one), and easy access (to get to the top you have to climb a small metal ladder). There are however, some other vital differences. Firstly, the top bunk is a decent amount smaller in width. Next, because the aircon is set to freezing, and enters the carriage from the top, the top bunk is a lot colder (make sure to wear warm clothes). The top of the train also rocks around far more than nearer to the base. By far the largest difference for me, was that the bottom bunk has darkness. I was unaware that the train’s lights stay on… always. The curtain on the top bunk is for privacy only, and provide very little in the way of protection from the glaring lights, a couple of feet from your face. Luckily I had an eye mask in my backpack to facilitate temporary moments of sleep, otherwise grab clothing your not using to prevent frostbite, and wrap it across your face.
The bathrooms were located at the end of our train carriage. There was a western (sitting) toilet, and also a squat toilet. Because almost all of the people traveling in 2nd class are foreigners, the western toilet will be used a lot more, and probably be dirtier/stinkier. Both toilets empty straight onto the track, and by ‘empty’ I mean its a hole (you can see the track sleepers). On the plus, there was toilet paper available, and even hand soap.
Unless you’re experiencing Thai runny bum, you have a decision to make on timing your toilet experience. You can take the extreme balancing challenge while the train’s in motion, OR endure the stink of a communal faeces pile which accumulates on the tracks while stationary.
There were some power sockets randomly locates near seats in our carriage. We were not close to them, and they were jammed full of adaptors and devices anyway. I reccomend taking portable chargers or a good book.
There was a restaurant carriage two down from us, which prepares Thai food. We didn’t eat there, because we had brought snacks. The prices were at a premium for Thailand, but still very cheap by international standards. We probably made a mistake not ordering a meal. What should have been a 14hr train journey turned out being quite a bit longer, due to a 3.5hr delay on the track.
The train does make stops along the way. Some are very brief where people get on and get off. Some are longer, where you can take time to get off the train, and even go and buy food from the station food stalls. There were times when the train stopped in the middle of nowhere, for unknown reasons. At one point it even stopped and then travelled backward a while, only to backtrack again later. This may have been caused by issues with the train or track, which added to the delay.
The night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is the cheapest way to get between the two cities. The trip is simpler logistically than even flying, and also saves the cost of accommodation for one night. The main reason I would highly recommend this mode of transport, is that the experience seeing the people and countryside is far richer than a couple of hours in an airport and plane.
Really enjoying the chronicles of your trip! You’re brave to take the sleeper, last year there was a derailment nearly everyday on that route..thanks for sharing your adventures w/ us!!
Artwork by Don Weller
The Holy Austin Rock Houses at Kinver Edge, England.
Occupied until the 1950s and thought by many to be the inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien’s hobbit holes, the quarters of Holy Austin Rock are carved directly into the sandstone cliff, with the oldest chambers dating back to the arrival of Christianity in England around 700 AD.
Photographs by Andrew Whitman.