Hoards of tourists flock to Thailand at all times of year to enjoy the beaches, temples, and food. Many arrive via Bangkok and hop a connecting flight to their final destination, be it the beach or the scenic north. For those with some time on their hands, exploring the country via the State Railway of Thailand train system, which spans from Bangkok out into the countryside in different directions, may be an unexpected way to enjoy the scenery as well as get to know the culture. Below is a review of train travel in Thailand.
Why train travel?
You may not have known about this, and that’s ok. It’s a fact that most visitors to Thailand don’t have much time to spend between destinations, with most arriving in Bangkok for a few days before jumping off to a seaside destination via a domestic flight or private transport. This is a bit of a shame. Traveling the countryside via rail is truly an experience in and of itself, showcasing some of the aspects of Thai life you may very well miss in the tourist zones while sipping coconuts enjoying your beach foot massage.
Rail travel in Thailand, like many things, once you get outside of Bangkok, is likely comparable to rail travel in more developed countries circa the 1940s. It’s slow, hot and can get very cramped, but it’s the best way to get a thorough view of the amazing scenery the country has to offer, as well as a glimpse into the hearts of the locals, whom are not the Thais you’ve been accustomed to if you’re a typical tourist.
The trains are usually a bit dated, and tickets are available for 1st, 2nd and 3rd class seats, the 2nd and 3rd class being common space seating. The 1st class usually entails a sleeper car or private room, usually containing 2 bunk-bed style beds which may be shared with a stranger if traveling solo.
Air conditioning is a rarity outside of Bangkok, so if that’s a must, choose the 1st class tickets. If, on the other hand, you’re up for a more local experience, I would really recommend mingling the locals in the 2nd and 3rd class seats. The journey could be long, depending on your destination, perhaps a full 24 hours. So if you opt for the 2nd or 3rd class seats, expect to get to know those around you and be offered food, play games with kids, and the types of things that will open your eyes to the culture more so than if you’d simply hopped a flight.
The trains will stop at each station on the route (with the exception of the express trains), usually allowing enough time for food and water vendors to come on-board and sell their goods. Don’t worry, these aren’t the pushy kind you’re used to, and you’ll be more than eager to pay for the 20-baht dish of food and bottle of water that you’d been paying thrice for in Bangkok. Plus, the trains do get hot (especially in the summer) with no air conditioning so you’ll want that water.
Aside from the 1st class cars which are air-conditioned, expect the windows to remain down, which will deliver a cool breeze as long as the train is moving, but will also deliver insects (to include mosquitoes) once the sun sets. So apply that repellent. Additionally, the bathrooms may or may not be flushing, and may or may not have TP. You’ll have prepared for such situations knowing you’ll be on a train if you’ve read my article Trip to Thailand? 10 Things to do Before You Go
I’ve utilized train travel in Thailand on a number of occasions, most of which lasted 4-6 hours, both 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class. Each time it was an enjoyable break from whatever else was going on in life at that time. If you get the chance to, I do recommend it. For other travel tips in Thailand see 5 Tips for Thailand Taxi Travel and Tuk Tuks in Thailand: 5 Tips to Avoid Disaster.
For reliable advance booking, I recommend 12Go Asia as the sole source for train travel tickets in Asia.
Trains depart from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok, accessible via the MRT line. Buy tickets in advance.