How to get the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
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I don’t know why I found getting the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai so difficult.
I’ve taken chicken buses through Guatemala, I’ve travelled by train all around China and I’ve taken international coaches through Europe. But for some reason, I just seemed to mess up everything about the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Luckily, I learned from my mistakes, so I’m here for you now to show you how to actually get the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – or reverse.
Booking your tickets
I’d recommend booking your ticket like, as soon as you know what your dates of travel are. I waited until a week before to book them online and they were already sold out. You can book them online at 12Go Asia (which also shows you other transport options, if you decide that night train life just ain’t for you). Click here to book.
You’ll have a few options when you book your tickets. They are:
- 1st class sleeper
- 2nd class sleeper
- 2nd class seat
- 3rd class seat
I find it mildly entertaining that the seats don’t get a 1st class, but do take that literally – sleepers are highly preferable on the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Why? Well, I’ll go into it in a second ;).
1st class sleeper
I’m not a super budget traveler anymore, but to be honest, I wouldn’t book a 1st class sleeper until I had a bit more disposable income. They’re not expensive, but all prices add up and I find the 2nd class sleepers fine for my needs. Extras you will get if you opt for first class are WiFi, a private berth (but if you’re travelling on your own there will probably be a stranger there as well), more space, the ability to order from a screen in your berth (that’s pretty cool), and a few snacks.
2nd class sleeper
These are more like very large hostel dorm rooms with a little more privacy. Every sleeper gets a curtain and the bunks are a fairly decent size (note: this is my opinion, and I am 5 ft 3/ 160 cm. Take that as you will). However, once you get down off your bunk, you will just be in the main carriageway. The bunks are seats in the daytime, and staff come round to change them into beds as evening comes. This also means that you may be woken up early in the morning as your bed will need to be changed back into a seat! There is no WiFi, but you can connect in the restaurant cart. It’s sporadic at best.
2nd class seat
This is where I travelled on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai leg of my journey. They’re not as bad as most train seats, but you’re not going to get the best sleep in one of these. They recline quite far, and leg room is decent, but the lights stay on all night – and due to this a lot of people stay up talking, even if it’s 4 in the morning (I get very cranky when my sleep is disrupted). Again, for WiFi and food you’ll need to head to the restaurant cart.
3rd class seat
These are basically normal train seats. No recline and not much leg room. You might be in luck and find that the carriage is quiet, but if lots of people get on (and there are a lot of stops between Chiang Mai and Bangkok), you’ll have to get cosy. Like the 2nd class seats, the lights stay on all night here as well.
As you may be able to guess by that little summary, my recommendation is the 2nd class sleeper. It costs just under 1000 baht (about £25) but does act as your night’s accommodation as well as transportation. You’ll hopefully get a semi-decent night’s sleep and be able to explore some of Chiang Mai upon arrival!
Getting to the station
Trains to Chiang Mai leave from the Hua Lamphong Station. It can be accessed by BTS (the Bangkok skyrail system) or by tuk-tuk, taxi or Grab. If you’re getting a taxi, I recommend asking your hotel or hostel how much it should cost. I was quoted 160 baht for a Grab that didn’t turn up and ended up having to pay 300 baht for a taxi there, which was far more than it should have been #nightmarescenes.
I was recommended to get there an hour before, which was fine as my train was already there, but as there are no checks at Bangkok station you don’t really need that much time. Still, always better to be an hour early than five minutes late.
There are a few little shops and cafes at the station, so you can grab some snacks or waters there. There are also bathrooms that cost 3 baht and don’t have toilet roll – I would recommend waiting until you’re on the train if you can.
Getting on the Train
Boarding a train in Bangkok is nothing like boarding a train in China. In China, you have to go through a scanner and have your ticket checked to even get into the station. You then go to a designated boarding area for your train. You then queue up to get your ticket checked and are allowed to board the train. You then get your ticket checked again at the carriage door to confirm you’re boarding the right one. Once you’re on the train, your ticket gets exchanged for a boarding card.
In Bangkok, you just walk into the station and get on the train. There aren’t that many leaving per hour, so you might find that the Bangkok to Chiang Mai train is already there when you get to the station. Look at the board to see which platform to go to – the destination rolls around in English as well as Thai. Once you reach the right platform, check that there is a sign like the one below to confirm you get on the correct train.
Finding your seat is pretty self-explanatory. On your ticket, it will say ‘cart number’ and ‘seat number’. Just match that up with the cart and seat on the train and you’re good to go!
If you’re in a seat, chuck your bags overhead and get comfy. It’s gonna be a long old journey.
The Restaurant Cart on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai Train
I was still pretty jet lagged when I travelled by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and had a food craving at about 2am, so I thought I’d make use of the restaurant cart. I was delighted to find a vegan meal – stir fried veggies, clear soup, rice and pineapple. It cost 190 baht, which is a little steep considering what it was, but not daylight robbery by any means.
On some trains, someone comes around with a menu and you can get food right to your seat. Awesome service. However, the one downside of eating on the trains is the plastic problem – it’s pretty ridiculous. All of my food came in individual plastic containers, it was on a disposable plastic tray and came wrapped in a plastic bag.
Sleeping on the Train
So my biggest bugbear about getting the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was that I couldn’t bladdy sleep. This was partially due to the lights being on all night and partially due to being surrounded by rowdy backpackers (I’m so grumpy about noisy backpackers nowadays, it wasn’t even that long ago I was one).
On the Chiang Mai to Bangkok train, I had a bed – yet they still keep the lights on. That being said, you do get your own privacy curtain and at least, because everyone’s tucked up in their sleepers, you don’t generally get someone yapping away in your ear alllll night.
If you’re travelling in a 2nd class seat, you need these items. If you haven’t yet left home, click through to purchase them on Amazon.
- Earplugs – the train is really noisy
- Eyemask – as mentioned 567 times, the lights stay on all night
- A phone with music – the earplugs might not drown the noise out
- A blanket – I thought I was going to be sweltering when I got on, but I actually ended up very cold!
- A pillow – definitely makes life more comfortable
- A kindle – the train ride is 14 hours, so unless you’re a professional sleeper, you’ll probably want some other form of entertainment
- Tissues incase the loos run out of toilet paper
Make sure that you have these items in a bag and keep it with you rather than on the rack. They’re actually really high and my 5 foot 3 self needed help to put my bag up there – so I only wanted to take it down once!
I felt safe on the train and as there were many people around, I think it’s unlikely that someone will go through your stuff. But I have heard of incidents of people being pickpocketed on Thai buses when asleep so do be mindful of your valuables.
Getting to and from Chiang Mai City
Getting off the train is rather uneventful, and then suddenly – you’re in Chiang Mai. Upon leaving the station, you’ll be offered a taxi – which is basically a shared pick-up truck. You just need to tell the driver where you’re going and they’ll add your stop to the route. Negotiate the price and look up how far your hotel or hostel is before getting there – I was again overcharged because apparently, my hotel was 25 kilometres from the station (it wasn’t).
If you have data, you can also get a Grab taxi. If you’re looking for a good value hotel to stay at close to Chiang Mai station, I have stayed at and can recommend the Riverside House Hotel. Click here for rates, reviews and to book.
Would I recommend the train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai?
Even though I’ve complained throughout this whole post (seriously, I love life, but when my sleep is jeopoardised I become a grumpy mare), I would recommend the night train. You’ll save a decent amount of money when you consider it as a night’s accommodation, and of course, it’s preferable to flying because trains are much better for our carbon footprint.
Just make sure you do it right and don’t do it like I did.
My checklist for ‘doing it right’ is:
- Book ahead to make sure you get a sleeper
- Have a bag with all the important stuff to keep on you
- Remember snacks
- Take enough clothes and warm things!
I would be interested in taking the Bangkok to Chiang Mai bus to compare – next time eh?
I hope you found this guide to getting the Bangkok to Chiang Mai train/ grumble due to sleep deprivation mildly useful and entertaining! I’m just about to begin a silent meditation retreat in Chiang Mai (where I won’t be able to write) so I wanted to get as many words on paper (or on MacBook) as possible. If you enjoyed this post give it a share so others can read it too, and follow me on facebook for more British humour.