We’ve long been interested in taking an overnight train ride. It appeals to the romantic in us and our preference for slow travel. While you can find a cheap (~$40) flight from BKK to Chiang Mai, we opted to take the night train out of curiosity and a desire to do things a little differently.
Buying the ticket
The train ticket can be purchased at Hua Lamphong station, which you can easily reach via Bangkok’s convenient MRT line. Watch out for the scammers as you exit the underground–they will try to lead you to a tour agency office to earn some commission. Ignore them and go straight then to the right as you exit the metro to reach the train station.
The other potentially tricky thing about this journey is ensuring you can get an available ticket by purchasing it early enough. We read online that if we showed up a few days early there shouldn’t be a problem. Imagine our chagrin when we showed up three days in advance of our planned departure date and they were sold out! We found an ad-hoc solution to this problem, but if you want to make sure you have a seat on the train when you want to leave, we recommend purchasing at least five days before your departure date, especially during high season.
Here’s another little tip you won’t find anywhere else online: if the train is fully booked out the railroad will add a car with extra seats the day of departure. These seats become available for purchase around 12 PM, so if you show up at the station at this time you stand a decent chance of securing a ticket. Just come to the station at noon and keep checking for a ticket every half an hour. This is how we ended up getting our ticket. Fare was about 941 Thai Baht for second class (about $30). Try to get a bottom bunk if one is available, as these have more space than the upper berths.
The train cars were fairly new and modern. Each car has an attendant that will come around and make up the bedding. There is storage space underneath the seats to store your luggage, so the security of your belongings is not an issue. Each sleeping berth has privacy curtains and a power outlet. The beds are not the most comfortable, but they are adequate. If, like us, you are over six feet tall, you may (also like us) wake up with a crick in your neck.
We recommend bringing earplugs and a sleeping mask to make sure you get a decent nights rest. The train will make a couple of stops between Bangkok and Chiang Mai to pick up additional passengers and if you don’t have earplugs you will get rudely awakened. A Russian in our car had his alarm go off at 3:30 AM and took his sweet time turning it off–don’t be that guy!
Purchase your train tickets at Hua Lamphong station at least five days in advance of your departure date or, if like us you prefer to travel fast and loose, show up at 12 PM the day of to buy newly released tickets. Pack your own food, earplugs, and a sleep mask.