When time does not push, traveling by train is my favourite option for long distance trips in Thailand.
Overnight trains, specially. Over the years, I’ve taken several overnight trains between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Nong Khai and the South, and they keep being my option of choice. VIP overnight buses can be very comfortable and are always a much faster option, but in my opinion if time is not an issue they can never beat the train experience and atmosphere.
if time is not an issue, VIP buses can never beat the train experience and atmosphere
Thailand has a broad railway network that allows to travel -or at least get quite close- to most of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, except for the mountainous areas of the North.
Trains in Thailand are cheap, and comfortable enough if you choose the right class/train car. They are a good option both if you like to socialize and if you prefer to read or even do some work with your laptop. You can easily stretch your legs, move to the next carriage or have a snack at the restaurant car while enjoying the moving landscape and a slow pace of life.
Trains are also a good option for some mid distance trips. For instance, what better means of transportation could there be to visit Kanchanaburi than train, with a glorious arrival across the bridge on the river Kwai? In any case, it is highly recommended to properly check all the details before deciding whether it is a good idea or not to take a train for a particular route. Especially in the hottest months, when you better make sure not to get stuck in a third class carriage with hard seats and no air-con, stopping at every hamlet you pass by on the way to your destination.
But travelling by train in Thailand is generally only a good idea for long and mid distance trips. For short trips, taking trains in Thailand usually doesn’t make much sense, unless you’re a big fan of trains and don’t mind spending most of the day for a trip that you could well do in half the time by bus.
Thailand’s Railway Network in a nutshell
Thailand’s railway network is managed and operated by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), and has a total length of about 4.400 km.
There are 4 main lines:
- NORTHERN LINE: connects Bangkok with Chiang Mai, the main city of North Thailand, 751 km (467 mi).
Most popular stations among travellers: Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Phitsanulok, Lampang, Lamphun, Chiang Mai.
- NORTHEASTERN LINE: this line splits in two to connect Bangkok with most of the main cities of the vast region of Isan (Thailand’s northeast). Both end stations connect with the Laos border: Nong Khai (with central Laos) and Ubon Ratchathani (with south Laos).
Most popular stations among travellers (Northern stretch): Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Nong Khai (Laos border).
Most popular stations among travellers (Eastern stretch): Pak Chong (for Khao Yai National Park), Nakhon Ratchasima, Buriram, Ubon Ratchathani (Laos border).
- EASTERN LINE: connects Bangkok with Aranyaprathet, at the Cambodian border, 225 km (158 mi). It splits in two at Chachoengsao Junction, and goes south for 123 km until Ban Phlu Ta Luang.
Most popular stations among travellers (Eastern stretch): Aranyaprathet (Cambodian border).
Most popular stations among travellers (Southern stretch): Chonburi, Pattaya.
- SOUTHERN LINE: connects Bangkok with the Malay border, at Sungai Kolok, and with a length of 1,144 km (711 mi) is the longest railway line in Thailand.
Most popular stations among travellers: Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Surat Thani, Sungai Kolok (Malaysia border).
And among the shorter railroad lines, there is a quite popular one:
- KANCHANABURI LINE: the short Western line is known as Kanchanaburi line, and stretches for about 199 km to Nam Tok.
Most popular stations among travellers: Kanchanaburi.
Why trains in Thailand are a great option for mid and long distance trips
Here’s a few good reasons:
🕤 Slow down your pace
Yes, it’s slower than a bus, but are you really in a hurry? If you are, bus it is. If you are not, give trains a chance and enjoy its relaxed atmosphere.
📖 Read, write or work comfortably
Trains move in a regular pace following a rather straight line, so you can read, write or work comfortably enough on your laptop without any risk of experiencing motion sickness.
Trains offer a better opportunity to socialize, and when socializing backfires, with an opportunity to move to the next carriage or the dining car. Over the years, while travelling by train in Thailand I’ve met remarkable characters, including many fellow travellers. How could I forget the karaoke-restaurant carriages that used to be found in some trains covering the overnight Northern and Northeastern lines, where you could hardly get any of the waitresses to get you a beer since they were joyfully fighting each other to get the mic and sing out loud popular Thai pop tunes.
Some memories come to my mind. I’ve met an English sailor who regularly visited his Thai girlfriend paying for his trips by smuggling Thai cigarettes into England, a Thai train worker who very dangerously earned a bonus by offering tourists to smoke an opium pipe in a tiny train room, or a former Thai gang member from a Bangkok suburb who was on a trip with friends but couldn’t cross the Lao border, since he didn’t have a passport and was afraid he’d be arrested if he stepped into a police station to get one.
Since the main danger of travelling in Thailand are the road accidents, travelling by train in Thailand may well be the safest means of transportation. Just take the common sense precautions against bag lifters, keep your valuables with you or safely locked, and enjoy the ride.
🤑 Cheap price
Price depends on the class you choose, but trains in Thailand are always cheap, and sometimes even ridiculously cheap. I remember a long daytime trip from the Cambodian border to Bangkok, sitting on 2d class, which took most of the day and cost me about 1 euro. Overnight trains will cost a bit more than a VIP bus, but you’ll sleep on something that resembles much more a real bed, and you’ll still be saving the cost of 1 night hotel/guest house.
🏃♀️ Stretch your legs
You can stretch your legs in a VIP bus as well, but in a train you can actually do much more than that. Being able to walk along the corridor from carriage to carriage possibly doesn’t qualify as exercising, but it is a great advantage on long overland journeys.
🛌 Comfy beds
Well, not exactly, but possibly much better than you may expect. In the evening, shortly after dinner time, train staff will appear and ask you to stand up for a few minutes while he rearranges your seat into a bed with a few pulls and pushes. Clean bed sheets right out from a plastic laundry package, a small pillow… and a blanket, especially important not to freeze overnight if you travel in an air-con carriage! You won’t have the soundest sleep in your trip, but it will possibly be much better than during your trekking homestay.
🍗 Food on board
Since 2014 it is forbidden to drink alcohol on board of trains in Thailand. The days when you could drink a Singha beer at the restaurant car, while chatting with fellow travellers or enjoying the landscape outside the window, are long gone. But you can still have a basic Thai meal, a soft drink and a snack at the restaurant car, or at your seat if you prefer. Train staff makes some extra baht by selling food to the passengers, so buying your meal on the train is not only convenient, but also a nice way to help these underpaid workers who almost literally spend their whole working years on the train.
Before meal times train staff walk along the corridor, showing a food menu so passengers can order their meal in advance. They’ll bring the food to your seat, or you can eat at the restaurant car. Expect simple Thai dishes, a bit more expensive than they would be on the static outside world.
Current upgrade of the Railway Network in Thailand
At the moment of writing these lines a major change is about to happen. Bangkok’s central railway station, Hua Lamphong, is about to be replaced by the brand new Bang Sue Grand Station, located 9 km in Chatuchack district, in the northern suburbs of Bangkok. It will be Thailand’s new railway hub, the terminus for all long-distance rail services from Bangkok.
With its 26 platforms and about 275,000 usable m2, it has become the largest railway station in all of Southeast Asia. It is linked to Bang Sue MRT subway station, and an elevated walkway connects to the new Mo Chit bus terminal. At the time of writing, the future of Hua Lamphong remains unclear, since its closure and conversion into a museum and commercial area has been repeatedly delayed due to opposition, and still remains operative so far.
the future of the old Hua Lamphong train station remains unclear
The relocation of Thailand’s railway hub, besides easing traffic congestion in the capital, is central to the plan to develop the country’s rail network. The main development will be the construction of a high-speed rail network, a project that was approved by the Thai Parliament in 2010 and is slowly implementing.
Of the 4 high-speed lines initially projected, the main priority is the Northeastern, which will connect Bangkok with China through Laos, linking with Laos’s brand new Chinese-built high-speed railway, which started operating in late 2021. This line is the only one currently under construction, while the Northern one to Chiang Mai has been turned down due to low passenger projections. Plans to build a Southern line to Hua Hin (which would be extended to the Malaysia border in the future) and an Eastern line to U-Tapao airport keep slowly moving forward.
Most popular Overnight Train trips in Thailand
First, one general reommendation for all overnight trips: it is highly advisable to book lower beds, since the price difference with upper beds is small, and you’ll get views and much more room above your head, instead of an elevated coffin.
Train Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Special Express trains 9 and 13 depart Hua Lamphong at 18:10 and 19:35, and take 13 hours when they don’t delay.
Number 9 is newer and a bit more expensive, and offers 1st class private cabins with 2 beds (1,450-1,650 THB/bed; 2,450 THB/whole cabin), and 2nd class beds along the carriage corridor (about 1,000 THB).
Number 13 is older and cheaper: 1st class private cabins with 2 beds (1,250-1,450 THB/bed; 2,000 THB/whole cabin), and 2nd class beds along the carriage corridor (about 800 THB).
We have an article covering the whole night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai experience.
Train Bangkok to South
There are half a dozen daily trains connecting Southern Thailand with the capital. One of the most popular train stations in the South is Surat Thani, convenient for taking a ferry to the main islands in the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao), visiting Khao Sok National Park, or taking a bus to the main tourist destinations by the Andaman Sea (Krabi and Phuket).
There are currently 2 overnight Express trains offering beds:
- number 83 is bound for Trang and departs at 17:00, and
- number 85 is bound for Nakhon Si Thammarat and departs at 19:30.
The journey to Surat Thani takes about 11 hours with both, provided there are no delays, and prices are almost the same with both: 1st class private cabins with 2 beds (1,150-1,350 THB/bed; 1,850 THB/whole cabin), and 2nd class beds along the carriage corridor (about 700 THB).
Train Bangkok to Nong Khai
There’s a Special Express (train 25) departing Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong at 20:00, which takes about 11 hours. It offers 1st class private cabins with 2 beds (1,350-1,550 THB/bed; 2,350 THB/whole cabin), and 2nd class beds along the carriage corridor (about 900-1,000 THB).
How to book train tickets in Thailand
First of all, you must know that it is highly advisable to book your train tickets at least a few days in advance, especially for the most popular overnight routes like Bangkok-Chiang Mai, since beds often sell out.
DTicket, the official website
✅ This is the official online ticket seller for the State Railway of Thailand, working since 2020. Since there are no added charges, is the cheapest option. You can book tickets on their official website. After completing the purchase you will receive your tickets by email in pdf format, which you should print on paper for boarding.
I’d say DTicket website has 2 minor downsides:
❌ You have to register in order to buy tickets.
❌ The website is not as user friendly as the other 2 online platforms we’ll see below. Basically because some information is not clearly displayed or just not found, there are some dead links, and some content is only available in Thai.
Baolau, our recommended choice
✅ Lists the official fares, without mark-up. Simply adds a small fee for the ticketing, which makes it still a cheap option.
✅ Allows cancellation.
✅ There is no need to collect the paper ticket before travelling, since Baolau issues e-tickets which are a valid boarding pass and can be used to board the train at any departure station.
Within 24 hours after completing the payment, you will receive the itinerary, ticket confirmation and payment receipt by email, and your electronic ticket attached in PDF format. You can also access Manage your reservation through the web and download the electronic ticket to your device.
Changes are allowed up to 1 day before departure, only once. Customers can change seats, class, schedule or destination within the same route, but not the name of the passenger. Seat change is free, subject to availability. Change of class, schedule and destination, within the same route, costs THB 50 if the ticket is for Second Class Seat or Third Class Seat, and THB 80 if the ticket is for First Class Bed, Second Class Bed or Second Class Seat (A/C)
Cancellation is available up to 1 day before departure.
- 20% of the fare per ticket (or minimum THB 20) + THB 30 per ticket if more than 4 days left for departure
- 50% of the fare per ticket (or minimum THB 20) + THB 30 per ticket if 1-4 days left for departure
- No refund is allowed if there is less than 1 day left for departure
12go, another option
Where to collect the paper tickets:
- Bangkok: at 12GO office in the DOB Building opposite Hua Lamphong railway station.
- Chiang Mai: for trains departing from Chiang Mai railway station tickets can be picked up either at the parcel office inside the train station or 24/7 from the check-in counter in Bossotel, right in front of the railway station.
- Elsewhere: ask 12GO to send your boarding passes to your hotel or the parcel office inside the Railway Station that you’re going to depart from, at an an additional cost.
✅ One nice thing about 12GO is that at the time of booking you can choose among many options just in case your chosen seats/berths are not available, which can save much time on support communication. Options include ‘Not Flexible’, ‘Flexible Seats’, ‘Flexible Class’, ‘Flexible Departure Within Same Day’ and ‘Flexible Departure within 2 Days’.
Changes: you can change the date/time once, subject to availability and not less than 24 hours before departure, for THB 100.
Train Station Counter and travel agencies
And well, although we live in the digital age, let’s not forget about the classic train ticket booking methods. You can book train tickets at any little travel agent shop in Thailand. Just make sure to choose a honest agent, and check the official price at the official website of the State Railway of Thailand, so you know exactly what fee the agency is adding on top. And of course you can buy the tickets at the station counters, although if you are in a big city it can be time consuming to buy your tickets in advance, so often it is more convenient to use one of the websites mentioned above or a travel agent.
Price comparison between train ticket booking platforms
We compare the prices of Dticket (the official website), Baolau and 12Go. Here you have the results:
Prices of the trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai:
|1rst Class Bed (Special Express CNR 9)||2nd Class Bed (Special Express CNR 9 )||2nd Class Seat (Special Express DRC 7)||3rd Class Seat (Special Express 13)|
|DTICKET||1,653 THB||1,041 THB||641 THB||311 THB|
|BAOLAU||1,849 THB||1,164 THB||725 THB||374 THB|
|12GO||1,993 THB||1,357 THB||941 THB||X|
Prices of the trains from Bangkok to Surat Thani:
|1rst Class Bed (Express 83 – lower berth)||2nd Class Bed (Express 83 – lower berth)||2nd Class Seat (Express 83)||3rd Class Seat (Express 83)|
|DTICKET||1,339 THB||718 THB||398 THB||257 THB|
|BAOLAU||1,499 THB||921 THB||466 THB||318 THB|
|12GO||1,550 THB||961 THB||484 THB||322 THB|
Prices of the trains from Bangkok to Nong Khai:
|1rst Class Bed (Special Express CNR 25)||2nd Class Bed (Special Express CNR 25)||2nd Class Seat (Express 75)||3rd Class Seat (Express 75)|
|DTICKET||1.557 THB||998 THB||498 THB||253 THB|
|BAOLAU||1,741 THB||1,121 THB||573 THB||314 THB|
|12GO||1,812 THB||1,161 THB||580 THB||310 THB|