Train travel in Thailand is safe, enjoyable, and economical. You’ll often have a more authentic and enjoyable experience than when using long-haul, tourist-oriented buses. Although train delays and problems are common, Thailand has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world. Using the trains in Thailand keeps you off of the roads and allows for better scenery plus a chance to stretch your legs as needed.
- See the other options for getting around in Thailand.
Train or Bus?
While scenic and more comfortable, trains are the slowest form of transportation in Thailand, often even slower than long-haul buses. But unlike the buses, you will be able to walk around, stretch your legs, and will have easier access to a toilet. Train travel in Thailand is more scenic and allows you to gently skirt heavy traffic and bad roads.
If traveling overnight, you’ll arrive much more refreshed after a night on a sleeper train as opposed to the bus. While delays and even occasional derailings happen, train travel is still safer and more environmental than travel by bus.
- Learn about the buses in Asia.
Booking a Ticket
As with other forms of transportation, you have two options for getting your train ticket: purchase it through a travel office (there are many in the tourist areas) or take transportation to the train station and purchase your own ticket.
Travel offices charge a booking fee, but the extra charge may not be significantly more than getting transportation to and from the train station to purchase a ticket.
Trains are often booked up days in advance, particularly during holidays and the busy season. Don’t assume that you can arrive at the train station with your luggage to purchase a ticket and go for a ride!
Travel agents usually make a bigger commission for booking tourist buses and some will even balk or try to talk you out of taking the train -- check with several offices if you are told that the train is full.
- Read more about transportation in Asia.
Which Class to Book?
The rail fleet in Thailand is highly diversified; three different classes of both older and newer trains are on the trails at any given time.
First-class cars are available on air-conditioned, overnight trains only. Compartments hold two people and have a small sink; solo travelers are usually placed with someone of the same sex.
Second class is the most economical option for train travel in Thailand and still offers an enjoyable, comfortable experience. Second-class trains have sitting and sleeping cars; both air-conditioned and fan-only options are sometimes available. Sleeper cars are the best option for overnight journeys.
Third-class trains only offer hard seats and can get warm, although they work just fine for shorter journeys such as the trip between Bangkok and Ayutthaya.
All trains in Thailand are officially nonsmoking, although passengers often sneak cigarettes while standing between the linked cars.
Using Sleeper Trains in Thailand
For travelers with tight itineraries who don’t want to fly, sleeper trains are the way to go.
You won’t lose a day in Thailand to transportation. Instead, you’ll save a night on accommodation and awake at your next destination.
When purchasing your ticket, you’ll be asked if you prefer upper or lower berth. While the upper berths are slightly cheaper and offer a little more privacy because you are off of ground level, they are also smaller. Tall people won’t be able to stretch out fully in either berth, however, the upper berth has even less legroom. All berths have a privacy curtain and come with clean bedding.
Early-morning stops aren’t announced; ensure that your attendant knows your final destination so that they can wake you -- hopefully before arrival. Be packed and ready to get off the train just in case. More times than not, the attendants will come through early in the morning to begin converting bunks back into seats, so you’ll have enough warning.
While theft on sleeper trains certainly isn’t as bad as on overnight buses in Thailand, you should still avoid leaving phones, mp3 players, or other valuables out in the open.
Food and Drinks on Trains
Uniformed train attendants -- working on commission -- will hound you more than once to order food and drinks, especially beer. They may even forget to tell you about the dining car at the back of the train! Food is often overpriced and low quality, but the dining cars usually have a fun, social atmosphere.
Prepare for a long journey by purchasing your own snacks, fruit, and water before you board the train.
Tips for Enjoying the Trains in Thailand
- Book as early as possible so that you’ll have a better chance of choosing your class and seats.
- Enclosed, air-conditioned cars can get quite chilly; have a fleece or blanket handy to use.
- Save money by bringing your own food and drinks onto the train.
- Check out the dining car for a fun experience.
- Second-class train travel is a great way to meet and talk to friendly local people. Know how to say hello in Thai!