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It’s safe to say that one of the great parts about Thailand is how far your dollar can go. From taxi rides around town (provided you use a metered taxi or are a confident/patient bargainer) and overnight busses, to flights within the country, you can travel far and wide for a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S. and many other Western countries.
One of the must see places in Thailand is Chiang Mai.
And guess what?!? $30 or less gets you to there in an hour and fifteen minutes.
As a backpacker here, this is an especially awesome perk. However, as an expat who may have not packed as lightly as you should, those extra airline bag fees suddenly made that total price a lot less awesome. So when we had to get from a friend’s wedding in Bangkok to our new home in Chiang Mai, we decided to get creative. Our two options besides flying were a 10 hour bus ride or a 13 hour train ride. Although the train is 3 hours longer, it gave us an actual bed to sleep in overnight instead of a cramped bus seat, so we chose the overnight sleeper train!
The sleeper train leaves Hua Lumpong train station in Bangkok which is very easy to get to from Khao San Road. Once there, the station is not very big so don’t worry about getting lost.
If you didn’t already purchase a ticket in advance there is a ticket counter at the back of the big room where you can buy a ticket if there are any available (we highly suggest buying one in advance online with thairailwayticket.com which we discuss in detail below).
There are two main train tracks to the left of the big waiting room! Just show someone your ticket and say “Chiang Mai” and you will be directed to your correct train car! It’s that easy!
The biggest advantage to the sleeper train is right there in the name. The cars were built with sleeping in mind, which you really appreciate if you’ve ever tried sleeping in a bus or plane seat where even the most expensive neck pillow can’t help you. Each ticket gets you access to a seat that converts to a bed with a privacy curtain. Your “bed” will be made for you once the attendant comes through and they will also let you know what time you should be up by.
There are luggage racks outside each bunk for your bags, which we did use, but our backpacks filled with our most valuable items (laptop, passport, etc.) stayed in our bunks with plenty of room to spare. Because we each had a bunk, one top one bottom, we were able to share luggage space and both keep an eye on our things.
As for the beds on the train, you’ll definitely never find yourself wondering if the Thai Railway signed a partnership deal with Tempurpedic. The bed is closer to a workout mat with a fitted sheet placed over it than mattress, but it does the job. The sheet and pillow cover were all pulled out of sealed plastic bags, which was definitely comforting from a cleanliness aspect. A cheerful attendant then came around after the train left and converted the seats into beds and even put our on sheets on for us!
As far as comforts go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that they never shut the lights off on the train, even overnight. I eventually appreciated this, as I realized this was for safety purposes. It’s not all that much of an issue though because your curtain does a fine job of blocking the light. For bags, though everything seemed very safe, I’d still advise sleeping with your valuables close by, if only for peace of mind.
Beyond the ability to stretch out and get some rest, we ultimately chose the sleeper train for the same reason that we travel at all: we had never done it before and wanted to try something new. The train was a great way to see the countryside as the sun was coming up. We rolled through the mountains of Chiang Mai right alongside the morning fog. Looking out the window as our train passed through sleepy towns and sprawling farmlands at dawn was a great way to start our day.
Aside from each of us carrying one bag too many, our arrival in Chiang Mai right around 9 am was very easy. Once you exit the train station, you’ll be greeted by a crowd of taxi drivers eagerly (and sometimes loudly) waiting to offer you a ride. You want to take a red truck (songthaew) which should cost around 30-60 baht per person to get into the main part of the city. As with most taxis in Thailand you will probably get quoted a very high initial price because you are obviously a tourist, so just stay firm and keep trying a few other taxi drivers because by our 3rd taxi driver they agreed to 50 baht/person (also, you will get much more respect and have to bargain less if you know your Thai numbers). It is also smart to have your address written down or have a with a map screenshot, (bonus points if it’s in Thai).
Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that flying is still my first choice. But all in all, the sleeper train, while maybe not be the fastest or most luxurious option to get to Chiang Mai, is a great way to go! So, if you’re into trying new things, or for some reason decided not to listen to us on the dangers of overpacking, I say head to thairailwayticket.com and book your ticket.
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