When it comes to public transport, I’ve finally accepted that I’m never going to be able to get any rest.
It’s ok. I’ve made my peace with it. I can’t sleep on planes, buses, or in cars. Don’t ask me why. I’ve learned not to take sleeping pills, because I never actually fall asleep, and just arrive at my destination in a zombie-like state, completely unable to make a decision or behave like a human being.
So I knew when I decided to take the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai that it was probably going to be a long night. I’d accepted it, and loaded my laptop with movies, downloaded some books for my kindle, and stocked up on snacks.
If you’re thinking about taking the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (or the reverse), here’s what you need to know:
Tickets for the night train can be purchased from windows 15-22 at Hualamphong Station. I was lucky enough that one of my friends was heading to the station to buy his ticket, so he picked mine up at the same time. Keep in mind that you usually need your passport, and I had to give him my passport number before they would let him purchase my ticket.
You generally want to get your tickets at least the day before (2-3 days is better in peak season), since the night train is really popular, and the better classes sell out first.
While you’re technically only allowed one large bag, I was traveling with two, as well as my backpack since I’d been living in China and I had everything I own with me.
I had my large backpack, my small backpack, and a huge purple suitcase. The hardest part was getting it up the stairs and onto the train, and avoiding the eyes of the other passengers who were giving me accusatory looks.
Which train and class?
There are a few different trains to choose from. I took the express train, which is train number 1, and arrives into Chiang Mai earlier than the others. The clases can be a little tricky, as the type of seat, bed, and cabin will all depend on the style of train that you choose.
1st class sleepers are little cabins, and usually two berth, although some of the older Japanese trains only have single cabins (trains 13 and 14). I chose the 2nd class sleeper, which is a seat that converts to a bed.
2nd class has curtains for privacy, and air conditioning, although it gets pretty cold. I paid between 800 and 900 baht for my ticket, although if you want to go cheaper you can choose a cabin without air con.
While they have snack food available in the station, I highly recommend you eat before you arrive. Of course I forgot to do this, and was starving by the time I boarded the train. The staff came around with menus, and I chose the vegetarian option.
While I definitely appreciated that they made a cute heart shape out of my rice, it didn’t make up for the food, which was awful. I’ve written before about how I’m a picky eater, but believe me when I say the most tolerant eaters wouldn’t have been able to stand it. It was overcooked, lukewarm, and tasteless.
I brought a small bottle of water, and ordered another one at dinner. At 3am I was pretty sure I was dying of thirst, and I was told that there was no water available until breakfast. Make sure you bring way more water than you think you’ll need.
I chose the bottom bunk, as I had done my research and heard that they were roomier. They cost a little more than the top bunks, but you don’t roll around so much, and it’s worth it to be able to stretch out. We had only been on the train for around an hour when the attendants came around and began making up the beds.
They give you a pillow and a small blanket, and I was at least prepared for the cold, with thick socks and a hoodie. They never turn the lights off on the train so make sure you bring an eye mask, and of course some earplugs.
I took a melatonin, crossed my fingers that I would get some sleep, and actually managed around four hours-a record for me. The other passengers were pretty quiet, although in the early hours of the morning Thai locals began boarding and waiting to disembark, and thought it was appropriate to stand in the aisles and talk loudly. I’m a demon if you wake me up, and managed to quiet them with my death glare.
Our beds were converted back to seeats at around 6am, and we got to enjoy the scenery on the way into Chiang Mai.
I would 100% take the train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok again. In fact I’m going to do it before I fly home in February, since I’ll still have a bunch of stuff that I need to drop off. It’s a good chance to meet other expats and local Thai’s, and there’s just something more romantic about train travel compared to flying. Well, until you need to go to the bathroom.