A Night on a Thai Sleeper
The Thai Ministry of Transportation and the State Railway of Thailand caused a lot of excitement with travelers recently when they unveiled their brand-new night trains, which started running between Bangkok and Chiang Mai last year.
What is is like taking the night train? What does it cost? How does it compare to the older trains that still run the southern route for now?
The Old Trains
The older 1990's-era night trains, clunky and purple, still run along some routes. They will be phased out as Thailand puts more and more of the new trains on the tracks.
Taking the old train isn't a bad experience by any means. Sure, the trains are a little older, but you can still get a relatively comfortable night's sleep on the way from one part of the kingdom to another.
A second-class ticket gets you a comfortable seat which porters will fold into a bunk bed around 9pm. The loser bunk is a bit larger and more expensive, but is slightly more comfortable and comes with a view.
The upper bunk is a bit cheaper, more narrow, and lacks a view.
Porters walk through the cars with menus offering dinner and breakfast, and the pillows and sheets are fresh and clean.
All in all, it's not a bad way to travel. It's cheaper than flying, comes with better views, and saves you a night in a hotel.
First-class is more expensive, but gets a private compartment with room service. The beds are larger and more comfortable, and the compartment has a sink.
The New Trains
The new slick-looking night trains currently run between Bangkok and certain cities in Thailand's north.
A digital sign shows the train route, car number, and destination in alternating Thai and English.
The difference between the old and new trains is immediately noticeable.
Second-class feels much lighter and more spacious than on the old trains. Each seat comes with an electrical outlet and plenty of storage room for your luggage.
The bunks are quite similar to those on the old train, perhaps a bit roomier.
A clean and efficient dining car offers a small menu of food and drinks with excellent views of the countryside speeding past. It also provides free wifi for passengers.
Unfortunately, we haven't yet had the chance to experience a first-class compartment on these new trains.
What to Expect on a Thai Night Train
The trains are patrolled through the night by guards, and feel safe and comfortable. In second-class especially, there are lots of opportunities to make friends with fellow travelers. The dining car is a great place to meet new people!
The seats get turned down into bunks around 9:00pm, and turned back up around 8:00am, in time for breakfast and a cup of coffee.
It's especially nice to have an electrical outlet at each bunk and free wifi provided on the train.
All in all, it's generally a nicer experience than flying or taking a long-distance bus journey, and offers some of the best views of the countryside.
Tickets between Bangkok and Chiang Mai will cost the following:
First-class A/C Sleeper: 1,453 baht ($48) per person (sleeps two)
(Lower bunk) Second-class A/C Sleeper: 881 baht ($29) per person
Upper bunk costs approximately 100 baht less than the upper bunk. If available, the lower bunk is highly recommended for a more comfortable night's sleep and much better view.