Night Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Love or Hate
Your first experience on a night train can be either a nightmare of stress, worry and discomfort, or one of wonder and intrigue. Really, it all comes down to a matter of persecutive where applying the principles of the glass half full or half empty analogy is applicable. If you enter the night train for the first time with “expectations” of sleeping in the comfort you are accustomed to, or for that matter, getting any sleep, then you will most likely be disappointed. If, however, you choose a different route and are “grateful” for any amount of sleep, then you can come away for a unique and interesting experience—and the night-train experience is definitely just that, unique.
Fifteen Hour Train Ride
The night-train from Bangkok Thailand to Chiang Mai takes about nine hours and my train left the station promptly at 10:00 pm to arrive around 1:00 pm. The host at our hostel recommended booking a second class bottom bunk, however, because the bottom bunks were full, I was only able to get a top bunk. Bottom bunks, I later found out, have a window, don’t require climbing, and are slightly larger with more head-room. Being only about $3 more, they are definitely worth it. Oh, and costs for the train are not that bad. At the time of my trip in November of 2014, the lower bunk was around 880 Baht and upper was 770.
Choice of Freezing AC or Sweating While Eaten Alive by Mosquitos
The second class bunk I booked had air conditioning. Although it is November here, Thailand is still on the hot side with temperatures in the low 90s, so for comfort seeking Americans like myself, AC is a highly desirable feature. However, like so many other countries where AC is a luxury, there is a tendency for those in management to believe that when you have AC it must be run at the maximum extreme as cold as possible. I’d recommend double blankets, a winter coat, gloves, scarf and hat if you want to be comfortable with the frigid tempts. You will be supplied with a light weight blanket, pillow and fresh sheets and no control over the AC. In a top bunk, next to the AC you’ll freeze. I was fortunate enough to have a hoodie and although I was very cold during the trip, I was thankful I had thought to bring it. Others were not as fortunate. I ran into someone the next day who booked without AC and was told they opened the windows and used fans. He said there are tons of mosquitos attacking any inch of exposed skin, so I guess perhaps the cold AC is preferable to mosquitos.
Bottom Bunk with Window View
Without a window on the top bunk, I was not really able to see anything, which is perhaps my biggest disappointment. I really enjoy riding trains and watching the scenery of different landscapes. From my perspective in the top bunk, I was able to see the bottom few inches of window in a bunch below across from me with a nice view of grass near the tracks.
Sleeping for me was perhaps a bit more of a challenge than most. I’m six foot six and the bunks here are about six foot four. So I could lay down only with my knees bent. So, I definitely got more sleep than I would on an airplane or even sleeping in an airport. I’d say it would be similar to sleeping on a living room couch, but one that is rocking and moving. I was actually surprised I got as much sleep as I did given the freezing AC and smaller bed.
Before settling down to sleep for the night, a lady came through the car offering to take orders for breakfast. Four choices were offered with the Western style being eggs, toast, fruit, ham, orange juice and choice of coffee or tea. Total cost was about $4. In the morning some of the lower bunks were converted to tables with two seats reminding me of camper units where a table also acts as a bed. The lady came back through around 8:00 am and put a table cloth down and told me my breakfast was ready. She pulled out a plate covered in plastic wrap and poured some coffee into a small paper cup. The best part of breakfast was sitting in the lower bunk area where I learned the temperature is just about right! I’ll have to remember next time to make sure I have a lower bunk more for the AC temp than anything else. Oh, and the view from the window in the lower bunk is better than anything else. I absolutely love watching the green jungle go by as the train moves through the landscape.
If you are taking a night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, book it at least two days in advance (or more) so that you can get the bottom bunk second class. You’ll won’t be freezing cold, have a slightly larger bunk, easier access in and out, and best of all, you’ll get the window to the world of beautiful jungle landscape for a good six or seven hours after waking. It’s a delightful way to experience Thailand.