Bangkok to Chiang Mai Train is a popular means of transport and not without reason. Travelling by land is great fun. You get to see more of the countryside, you don’t have to pass through all of those annoying airport security checks and you don’t need to worry about how much your luggage weighs. It’s a real carefree adventure if you don’t take into consideration the erratic driving and windy, poorly-maintained roads that are quite abundant in some parts of the world.
Having done trains and buses in Europe, Vietnam, Russia and Japan, we decided that it was time we give Thailand and Thai Railways a go. We booked two tickets on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai train. You also can book tickets HERE directly from Thai Railways.
Thai Railways – Hua Lamphong Railway Station
We really had no idea what to expect from the Bangkok to Chiang Mai Train. Overcrowded, dirty wagons? Squat toilets? Or something more exquisite? A dining wagon with gold-plated cutlery and expensive cognac?
The Bangkok Hua Lamphong Railway Station really didn’t give much away. It was a huge hall with two groups of bright purple seats on either side and a large open space in the middle. A large screen mounted on the wall showed Thai tug-of-war matches that the commentators and locals seemed to take pretty seriously.
The hall was fringed with small cafes and a coffee shop. A giant picture of the king hung in the middle of the wall which the seats faced. Electronic screens showed trains arriving from and departing to all parts of the kingdom. A huge throng of passengers entered the hall, clearly having just arrived from a train to Bangkok.
Some people lay across several seats, trying to find some peaceful slumber. Others spread out on the floor with small children, eating, playing and chatting. Some people sat still, intently watching the tug-of-war.
We found a couple of spare seats and decided to rest up before what could potentially be a restless journey. The locals smiled and teased us that our giant suitcases couldn’t squeeze in to the small area allocated for each seat. The security guard blew his whistle brashly and began ushering those sitting on the floor back to the seated section. A man behind us loudly cleared his throat and spat something on the floor. The adventure with Thai Railways had begun.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai Train – Bangkok Railway Station Showers
After some time, we decided to take a shower. We hadn’t booked the first class tickets which offer travellers their own shower and we didn’t fancy spending over 12 hours (17.00 – 7.30) in the same sweaty state in which we’d arrived after our China Town adventure (See Thailand – China Town In Bangkok).
The shower in the station cost 10 baht. Pasha went first while I waited with our suitcases. He returned refreshed, claiming the shower was clean and pleasant. Then it was my turn. I walked tentatively into the room and found the nearest cubicle. The floor was obviously cleaned daily but there had been some pretty muddy feet there since the last clean and wet toilet paper lay strewn over the drain, right beside where I was to stand.
I breathed in deeply, told myself it would all be worth it and started to undress. Out of nowhere, the cubicle beside me started to emit a strange sound. Like someone burping really strongly. But it didn’t happen just once. The sound continued, repeating every 5 or so seconds, getting stronger each time. Like someone was trying to make themselves vomit but only a belch would come out. That was the deal breaker for me. I hurriedly redressed myself, putting on a new pair of undies, and briskly walked out of the bathroom. A long and sweaty train journey it was for me.
Bangkok To Chiang Mai Train – The Beginning of the Adventure
About 40 minutes before our train was due to depart, we approached the help desk to clear up a few questions. Where would our suitcases be stored? Did we need to obtain tickets or was a printout of our booking enough? What time could we board?
Everything was so simple. Luggage with yourself, printout of booking is enough, you can board 20 minutes before departure. And we did just that. We were met with spotless wagons, a hallway down the middle and large four-seater compartments on either side. Our two big suitcases and smaller hand luggage fit under the seats perfectly and there were extra luggage holders attached to the roof. You go, Thai Railways!!
The stewardess soon came around with the menu, establishing what we’d like for dinner and breakfast. Other officers walked up and down the corridor offering fruit platters. Everything was quite expensive but we bought some green mango with chili salt just for the heck of it and sat back to enjoy the ride.
The train left according to schedule and we moseyed our way out of the city, first passing the site where the new train station is being constructed and then some poorer areas of the city where families dwelled in dilapidated shacks nearby rubbish-filled drains.
Bangkok To Chiang Mai Train – Dinner and Bedtime with Thai Railways
As the day drew to an end, dinner was served. Plastic trays with three types of curry and rice, wrapped in glad wrap, were handed out to those who had ordered. There were vegetarian options and the food was edible, but really expensive. You’d be much better off buying a meal before going to the station and saving it for dinner time.
Our trays were then collected and a staff member came around and folded our four-seater compartment into a bunk bed style arrangement. The beds were quite comfortable, with a blanket and pillow provided. Each bed had a privacy curtain that could be drawn to block out unwanted attention. Unfortunately, the train’s bright yellow internal lights are not switched off at any point during the night so you do need to bring an eye-mask with you if you want a peaceful sleep.
Bangkok To Chiang Mai Train – Arriving in Chiang Mai
A new day dawned and those of us on the bottom bunk were able to look out the window and see the jungle of Northern Thailand flashing by our windows. Pasha had his phone out and was taking photos and videos of everything.
Think lots of green. Forests, hills, mountains, dams. All different shades of green. Think locals tooting along on their scooters, banana trees, palm trees and cows grazing in fields. It’s picturesque and pristine. The small screen attached to the wall showed us where we were in the kingdom, how much time until we would arrive and whether there was any delay.
Our bed maker returned at about 6.30 and transformed our sleepers into the original four-seater compartments that we had found at the beginning of the journey. We breakfasted in the same fashion that we had dinner-ed and got ready to explore Chiang Mai.
Conclusion – Should You Travel With Thai Railways?
The journey with Thai Railways was thoroughly enjoyable. Clean, tidy, orderly and punctual. The toilet was in European style, like an airplane toilet, and no squatting needed to be done when it came time to relieve ourselves. The food was edible, the staff friendly and helpful.
The only thing that didn’t match our expectations were our fellow passengers. It turns out this train is almost exclusively travelled on by tourists. Not a local to be seen. We had French, British and Korean travelling companions and maybe that’s why everything was so spick and span. This tourist train doesn’t just run from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. You can catch the train to Bangkok as well and be sure that you’ll be well taken care of.
Also, travels go hand in hand with photography – who doesn’t take a lot of photos when they travel? If you are one of those people (like we are), check out our Fine Art Photography page and let us know what you think!
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