The summer’s still not over! And for those looking for an easy and interesting travel experience with the kids, consider rail travel in Thailand. Operated by the State Railway of Thailand, this mode of transportation is pretty dated (and hence rickety and slow), but it’s a great way to see the countryside, interact with local people, and enjoy a sense of nostalgia. Also, tickets are inexpensive, with several levels of comfort: third class, second class and first class. If traveling with kids, go for either second or first class, which have air conditioning and sleeper options for overnight trips.
The Bangkok — Chiang Mai route is pretty popular, as there are new(ish) trains that run overnight so you board in the evening at Hua Lumphong Station in Bangkok and arrive in Chiang Mai by morning. The first class sleepers offer a private cabin for two passengers, with wide, bench-style seating that coverts into a bunk bed. The cabin is fitted with a tiny sink, an outlet, bedside reading lights, a fold-away table and some overhead shelving. Doors lock from the inside. If you’re traveling in a group of three or four, some cabins have adjoining doors so they can open up into two rooms. First class cars also come with toilets and showers that are shared only with other first class passengers.
The second class sleeper features a similar sleeping configuration but in an open cabin with other people. The upper and lower bunk beds, however, are curtained off for privacy. The lower bunks are slightly more expensive, but they are a little wider, with more headroom and a window. Select trains will also provide cars for women and children only.
Once the journey is underway and night falls, a train attendant comes around to convert the seats into sleeper bunks and makes the bed up with fresh sheets, blankets and pillows. Upper bunks are pulled down from the overhead storage position and can be accessed by a small metal ladder. Another attendant will take drink, snack and breakfast orders, which incur an additional fee. There is also a restaurant car at the front of the train.
Throughout the night, the train makes stops along the way. At certain stations, the air conditioning, which is normally icy cold, goes out and fluorescent lighting permeates the cabin. Needless to say, it was hard to get a comfortable night’s rest. Bring ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones if you’re sensitive to noise, as well as a small towel, toiletries, sweatshirts, snacks and drinks to make the journey more comfortable.
The highlight for us was getting up to the sunrise in Lampang province and watching the rice paddies, small town squares, cliffs and forests fly by. Also, once you’re close to Chiang Mai in neighboring Lamphun province, the train enters Khun Tan Tunnel, the longest of Thailand’s railway tunnels, where you’ll be moving in completeness darkness for a good two minutes.
First class sleepers should be booked well in advance as they sell out quickly. One-way or return tickets can be purchased online directly from the State Railway of Thailand’s website, through third party travel booking sites like 12GoAsia or in person at the ticketing office at Hua Lumphong Station. Enjoy the trip!