Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

Izabel Antle's picture
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There are numerous ways to travel across Thailand, some cheaper than others. The train is my favorite. It is cheap, much faster than a car, and fun. For no more than a few dollars, you can travel across hundreds of kilometers and arrive at your destination - Phuket, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, or whatever city you wish to explore. 

I’ve taken many trains in this world; the majority were Thai trains. The novelty of hard seats, long cars with huge open windows, and watching as the train passes through quiet, rural farmland and villages never gets old. While others would call it loud or chaotic, I call the metallic crash of train on track rhythmic…a kind of underrated music as beautiful and unorganized as Thailand itself. 

However, many travelers pause at the idea of taking the train for a long trip. Some even change their mind at the train station. They think that Thai trains are dirty, disorganized, or uncomfortable. However, with a little preparation beforehand, you can make your experience on the train very comfortable - and much more memorable than a cramped flight. 

Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

1. Plan Ahead
Planning ahead when you take the train is crucial. Trains are late more than they are on time, so make sure that you will be arriving at your destination a few hours earlier than you need to be. Tickets must be bought at the station or over the phone. At the central station in Bangkok, there is a special office for foreigners to buy tickets in English. However, you can probably buy tickets at the regular booths just as easily. Long distance trains need a reservation 1-60 days in advance, and short distance third class trains don’t. You simply buy your ticket an hour in advance, and hop on. You will have to show your passport to buy the tickets for both types of trains.

Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience - Plan ahead!

2. Spend time offline
Five, ten, or even twenty hours on a train is a long time. There are no outlets, so consider spending some time unplugged or bring a backup charger for your electronics. Bring something to read, playing cards, or a journal. Or, look out the window!

Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience - spend time offline!

3. Bring soap and toilet paper
Train bathrooms are not as bad as you are probably expecting, but they are also nothing to rave about. If you're a germaphobe, bring some soap or hand sanitizer and toilet paper to make the experience a little easier. The train has running water, which is completely safe to use, but they never seem to have soap. On really long train trips, simple things like baby wipes and dry shampoo can replace showers in the short term. Baby powder works great as DIY dry shampoo. 

4. Travel third class
Don’t let the name scare you off. On short distance and local trains, third class is the best way to travel. Third class is a fun experience - you can stick your head out the window, eat food that vendors sell on board, interact with locals, and save a lot of money. Because these cars are easily accessed, it is common sense to keep your luggage near you at all times. Theft isn’t common, but it is always a good idea to be cautious. Third class isn’t any noisier than the other classes; generally people talk quietly and the only other sounds are the ones made by the train. 

Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

5. Bring a face mask
Open air cars can get dusty from exhaust coming in through the open windows. 

6. Don’t dress to impress
Trains are dusty and you might get a little dirty, so don’t wear something you wouldn’t want to get dirty. 

Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

7. Bring your own food
Many trains have a restaurant car, but they don’t offer snacks. Bring your own food and drinks to solve this problem. It is also possible to purchase something hot from vendors who come on board en route; however, they only sell in the third class cars. Note: alcohol is banned for consumption on trains. 

8. Try the sleeper car
On a really long train journey, for example 15 hours from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north, you will often have the option of the sleeper car. Sleeper cars have AC, are not open air, and are clean. The AC is freezing, so wear layers. The accommodations are very comfortable, spacious, and private. An attendant will walk though the car and make the beds at night, with clean sheets and blankets, and then turn them back into seats in the morning. While he is doing this, stand in the aisle, next to your bunk, out of the way. The beds are all in the same car, separated by curtains. Definitely book a bottom bunk bed, if possible, so you can still look out the window when the beds are down. Bottom bunks are also a bit bigger. Hot food is available at night and in the morning from the restaurant car. A 2nd class sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai will only run you $25. No need to worry about tips - tipping isn’t customary in Thailand, and train workers all make a salary. If you are worried about potential noise, all you will hear at night in a sleeper car is the rumble of train on track, which is actually a very soothing sound. 

Try the sleeper car! From Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

9. Walk around and talk to people
Don’t be shy! One of the best parts about trains is how you can walk around and meet people. You can meet other budget travelers, or practice your Thai speaking skills with locals. Locals are almost always eager to practice their English with foreigners, and in awe when you say a few words in Thai. 

Talk with people! From Top 10 Tips For a Comfortable Thai Train Experience

10. Have fun
The last tip is the most obvious one: keep a positive, open-minded attitude and have fun!

 

Have you taken the train in Thailand? Do you have other tips to add? Please share!

 

Izabel Antle is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. She's traveling the world with her family - follow her adventures at https://wheremycarryontakesme.wordpress.com/

 

Photos courtesy and copyright Izabel Antle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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