As for Malaysia, also for Thailand the railway is a pretty decent option for travellers to explore the country. Railway tickets aren’t expensive and trains are reliable and eventually very comfortable, depending on their age and the class.
For our trip from the border of Malaysia in the south up to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, we chose to travel by sleeper trains. They are a very convenient way to travel, especially if you suffer from travel sickness and busses or mini vans aren’t an option. Furthermore, you save the money for accommodation if you travel overnight by train.
First, we took the train from Padang Besar at the border to Malaysia to Surat Thani. At the station, there wasn’t much to do or see so make sure you bring some snacks and water or plan an extra hour to walk into the village’s centre to buy some. We heard rumours that it is possible to board the train right on the Malaysian side (we crossed the border by walking, it was quite a distance) but we couldn’t find the immigration on the Malaysian train station.
We spent almost seven hours on this train (train number 46) in 2nd class which also had sleeper compartments and a guy who served dinner or breakfast.
After our island hopping we rode by sleeper train from Chumphon to Bangkok (9 hours). This was a very convenient trip, the train number 86 was quite new and the beds were very, very comfortable in the 2nd class AC compartment.
From Bangkok, we wanted to go to Ayutthaya for a one-day sightseeing trip. There are 3rd and 2nd class commuter trains every 30 minutes from the main station Hua Lamphong, The 3rd class was incredibly cheap and maybe not the most comfortable option but for the 1 ½ hour-ride absolutely fine.
Our last train trip startet at Ayutthaya and took us during 11 hours all the way up north to Chiang Mai. Train number 13 was quite old and the berth weren’t as comfy as in train number 86. But still we had a good night’s sleep in 2nd class AC – and our young travel companion simply loved the nights on the train!
How much does it cost?
- Ticket from Padang Besar (Malaysian border) to Surat Thani (360 km): ~30 € per person
- Ticket from Chumphon to Bangkok (460 km): ~35 € per person
- Ticket from Bangkok to Ayutthava (80 km): ~0,50 € per person
- Ticket from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai (780 km): ~33 € per person
Prices for adults. Children travel for a reduced fare.
How to book a train ticket for Thailand?
- Train tickets can both be bought at train station counter (most of them are open 24/7) and online very convenient 90 days in advance until three days ahead for long-distance trains.
- It is highly recommended to buy the ticket for the sleeper train in advance if you’re able to fix a date. Sleeper train tickets sell out fast, especially on peak season.
- For some trains, mostly third class local trains, tickets can’t be bought ahead but only directly at the train station.
- We booked all our tickets via 12Go.Asia. The booking service shows all available trains and berths in real time and send actual agents to the stations to buy the tickets for you. Payment can be made by credit card. If possible, they send a soft copy of the tickets. In one case, at Chumphon, we had to pick up the tickets at the tourist information.
- During the booking process of sleeper trains, you have to choose between upper and lower berth options. Personally, I prefer lower berth, but it’s up to you. Both come with a curtain that gives you enough privacy to get dressed for the night and a bit of darkness.
- Every booking comes with a seat reservation unless it’s a commuter train. In 3rd class there is free seating. Be aware of the reserved seats for monks and novices.
- You have to purchase a ticket for every single train. There are no tickets for connecting trains.
- The lights in the train are switched on the whole night, so bring an eye mask and also ear plugs to cancel any noise.
- Don’t forget to set your alarm clock if you plan to alight before the final destination. But usually the conductor has an eye on all passengers and gives them a call before they reach their destination.
- For sleeper trains, every berth comes with clean bed sheet, pillow and blanket. The conductor sets up the berth for every passenger in the evening and tidies up in the morning.
- There are both restaurant cars as well as push carts with food and drinks. Coffee and breakfast can be ordered as well, but are pretty expensive.
- The toilets on the train are not luxury, but okay. There are also sinks where you can brush your teeth in the morning.
- Remember to bring warm clothes especially for the night. In the AC class it can get very cold and the blanket is quite thin.
- Mostly all trains arrived right on time, but especially the overnight trains arrived later than scheduled at their destination. Make sure to be at the station on time, there are always some food stalls and free toilets.
Train Types and Timetables
The best overview over excisting train types and updated timetables can be found here: https://www.seat61.com/Thailand.htm