Overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Overnight sleeper train 
Two of the most common destinations when visiting Thailand are Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  Most people fly into Bangkok for starters and then journey on to other areas from there.  I suggest giving Bangkok a try for at least a week or so as I was pleasantly surprised by how wonderful the city is, and generally I am quite the country girl so that is saying a lot!

Chiang Mai to the North is the second biggest city in Thailand and arguably one of the most popular.  When traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai there are really only 2 good options, flying and riding the train, which can be an all day affair or an overnight sleeper train.  You can also take a bus but that would be the least comfortable and most time consuming option.

Flying to Chiang Mai

Flying is a great option if you are short on time or if you are not adhering to a strict budget.   Many airlines fly to Chiang Mai but Air Asia is the domestic discount airline that most people travel on within South East Asia.    Although they often offer good deals, it is the more costly of the 2 options.  If you are travelling as a family and need to purchase several tickets as well as carry luggage (all of which there is a charge for) then travel by air may not be the best choice.  The flight is 1 hour as opposed to the 10-12+ hours on a train.  But, and it is a big but...you will miss out on a fabulous train ride, full of great views, an amazing sunrise, and an adventure that far surpasses a short flight!

So where and how do I book the train tickets?

You can purchase train tickets at the counter in the Bangkok train station or order them online.  I purchased ours online and I believe it is a much easier process, although you do need a credit card to make the purchase.  Another advantage of buying online is that it IS advised you purchase the tickets in advance so if you buy at the train station then you'll be making 2 trips there or running the risk of not getting the train that you desired.  Not a huge deal but depending on your time frame it may be an issue.  To buy online go to Thai rail ticket, the pages can be viewed in Thai or English and the site has very easy to follow instructions. You can purchase tickets up to 60 days in advance all the way up to a few hours before the train departs.  I suggest the overnight as the time passes more easily, and you avoid paying one night in a hotel!  One issue I had with the this website was the fact that it automatically picked the seats without showing them on a seat map of any kind.  You can keep going back and sort of playing around to try and get the seats you want but having some type of guide would be best.

Tips on picking seats and having the best ride you can

When choosing seats on the overnight train it is really important to keep a few things in mind for a good night's rest and an overall comfortable ride:
  • Do not pick a seat by the bathroom!  There are 2 bathrooms (1 squat toilet, 1 regular toilet) in each car and after just a couple hours the stench can be almost unbearable.  By the way, give the squat toilets a try, I have to admit I actually prefer them to the regular toilets now:)  But that may be just me!
  • Also do not pick a seat by the doors, these seem innocent enough but when it is time for sleeping the noise is really quite a intrusion.  I could not believe how much quieter the seats in the middle of the car were.  The best seats, in my opinion, seem to number in the teens and 20s.
  • Bring along any snacks or drinks that you can.   No one will bat an eye at it and you'll be assured of having the things you want, especially important with kiddos.
  • Bring some cash.  The food in the restaurant is pretty good! Also bring along any drinks (and they do serve beer and wine) you may want, as they will add up quickly so be prepared.
  • Go second class($25)!  3rd class ($8) is a bit too rough and 1st class ($40) seems unnecessary (private berths with doors).  It is only $15 per ticket more so if you want more privacy go with 1st.  Most people seem to choose 2nd class and it suited us just fine. 
  • If you need more sleeping space pick a lower berth.  They offer more space and are more comfortable for tall adults, or in my case moms that co-sleep with their kids.
  • Bring earplugs and possibly a face mask to help keep out the light.
  • Careful what you accept from the train workers, it may seem complimentary but you will find you are charged at the end of the trip.
  • First and second class are air conditioned so it can get a bit cool.
  • Be sure to take the express train so there will be less frequent stops.
How was the trip itself?

We got to the Bangkok Hualamphong train station 2 hours early, sort of expecting the typical travel garbage of security, quadruple checking our tickets and passports, etc.  We were pleasantly surprised to find NONE of that.  There were plenty of seats and markets in the train station to stock up on some last minute supplies and eat!  We boarded the train on time and found our seats easily.

The serving women came around right away with menus and asking if there was anything we needed.  We made a dinner and breakfast order before the train even took off.  Everyone was very friendly and we all really enjoyed the company of the other passengers on the train.  We made several stops along the way but no one seemed to mind!  Even in the dark, watching the scene outside the windows was a real treat.

Does it get any more comfy than this?
Once dinner was over and the tables were taken down, a gentleman came around making up the beds.  He was so efficient that both bunks were done in about 5 minutes.  We were given nice sheets, good pillows, and comfy blankets.  Around 10pm everyone seemed to be down and out!  The lights stayed on which was somewhat annoying but each berth has a nice curtain so it blocks out most of the light.  My whole family slept great and we felt refreshed when we woke up the next morning.

Coffee was already brewing and our server was bopping around dropping off the breakfasts that were ordered the night before.  The beds were made back into seats by the same gentleman and the tables were reattached so we could eat.  Breakfast was more a mix of lunch foods (chocolate cookie option??) but the kids were happy and it passed a bit more time.  Once the food was all cleaned up the woman came around and collected the money.  

After about another hour we pulled into the station, a couple hours late but with all the flooding we saw out the window by Bangkok I could certainly understand.  It was honestly one of the most pleasant travel days we have ever had.  Comfortable, inexpensive, beautiful scenery, and loads of fun.  If heading to Chiang Mai from Bangkok I think it's the only way to go.

Have any questions that I did not cover here??  Just ask below!  Any tips to add?  Please do so below!



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  1. Great recap Mary. This was an amazing experience and our family can't wait to do it again! I also felt my headlamp was invaluable inside my sleeping berth. Too bad train travel in the US is not what it used to be.

    Looking forward to your future articles!

  2. Great info. Thanks. We're planning to visit Bangkok in March and then take the train to Chiang Mai.

  3. Do you know if this info would be the same going from Chiang Mai to Bangkok?? I assume it would be but thought i'd ask. We are planning on going from Chiang Mai to Phuket via trains mostly and then a bus from Surat Thani. Thanks for the useful information!!!!! :)

  4. I believe it would be the same. Go to the site I listed and you should be able to buy the tix ahead of time. I haven't gone the reverse route yet! Good luck, let me know how it goes!

  5. what kind of things did you bring on the train?

    1. Well we carry all our belongings with us so everything really. But for a short trip where I only picked a few things I would bring an eye mask, ear plugs, a blanket, and books!

  6. Hi, we are moving to Chiang Mai in April, we are flying into Bangkok and then planning on taking the train up to Chiang Mai. Our daughter will be 11 months by then, would you recommend the night train over the day train? We were thinking the day train because then we can see the country as we go.

    1. How exciting! I would definitely do the night train unless you plan to stop anyplace along the way. Its a LONG ride (longer than it will say in the schedule) and I think it would be better at night so you can sleep for a lot of it. The second class is perfectly fine too, very safe, private enough, and they won't charge for the baby. The restaurant car is great fun but maybe not with an infant:) Also check to be sure it is running OK, last I knew they had a portion closed down due to repair work.