Traveling the interior of Thailand there are a number of options, ranging from (in increasing order of local interaction) planes, taxis, buses, and trains. Exploring Thailand by train is by far my favorite.
Planes are fast, impersonal, and can be expensive- a good choice for those with more money than time. Taxis can be surprisingly economical for mid-distance journeys, with trips of around 2 hours from Bangkok (for example Pattaya or Ayutthaya) costing between 1500 and 2000 Baht (USD50-65). Buses are popular with locals for traveling intercity, but there are too many stories of bus crashes caused by drivers using stimulants to stay awake for my comfort. Trains are the way best way to travel in Thailand.
Train Travel Thailand
Trains in Thailand are safer than buses and are a lot cheaper than taxis or flying. They also provide a stylish way to get to your destination with stunning countryside to be enjoyed in the comfort of your seat. On longer journeys, it is an ideal way to meet new like-minded friends, as the journey can be a good icebreaker. Read more: 35 Amazing Things to Do in Thailand
Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Consider the trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a popular route with retirees and ex-Pats who spend the winter months in this northern city. Read more: 35 of the Best Things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The distance is just under 700km and takes 11-12 hours by express train. If you prefer, there is an overnight sleeper service that saves time by traveling as you sleep and saves money on an overnight hotel.
English-speaking staff can be found inside the terminal and at information booths to give assistance.
You must pre-purchase a ticket before boarding and the conductor will come along the train and punch your tickets during the journey. Generally, trains depart on time, but the single-track system may cause delays along the journey.
Various Classes of Trains in Thailand
Trains in Thailand offer various classes of travel.
- Third-class travel is only suitable for short local journeys due to the thinly padded wooden bench seats, which the fortunate may secure. The majority of third-class passengers have to stand for the journey in crowded conditions, making the bus a better option.
- The gold standard for backpackers is the 2nd class Pullman cars where the seats face each other in pairs and convert into beds for the night. Your luggage can be securely stowed on racks next to you and security is generally good, although money, passports, and valuables should be kept on your person when you sleep.
- 2nd class air-conditioned carriages may be available but fans and open windows are generally more comfortable.
- First-class is the way to travel on Thailand’s Trains if you have the budget, offering comfort, privacy, and great value for money.
Bangkok to Maeklong Trains
A great train journey in Thailand is the 70km trip from Bangkok to Maeklong. Visitors take the journey for unique experiences; the destination is almost immaterial! The journey involves two train journeys separated by a ferry ride.
Best of all, the railway runs through the center of a world-famous market, the wheels passing just inches from the beautifully laid out fruit and vegetables which are displayed along the edges of the track.
The journey begins at Bangkok’s lesser-known third train terminal, the Wong Wian Yai station, and runs for an hour to the end of the line at Samut Sakhon, which is also referred to as Mahachai by local Thais. If you have trouble buying a ticket to Sanut Sakhon, try saying Mahachai.
Train Going Through Maeklong Market
Travelers must descend and walk along Market Street to the river and ferry terminal.
Cross the river to Ban Laem and walk through another fish market to the local station where the train then departs for Maeklong (when you ask for a ticket, the “k” in Maeklong makes a “g” sound).
After about 55 minutes get your camera ready as the market is on the outer edge of the city of Maeklong and is a truly jaw-dropping sight!
I recommend sitting at the back of the last carriage so you can get a great view, and maybe some photos or video, of the stall owners lowering their awnings and returning their produce onto the tracks, within seconds of the train passing.
While you can also watch from the front of the train, all of the produce has already been removed before the train rounds the corner, so the view from the rear end of the train is more dramatic.
This railway line is not part of the national rail network and you won’t find any of the train times listed on the timetable at the State Railway’s website.
Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and River Kwai Train
A 5-day rail trip to Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai is an amazing and moving experience for those wanting to pay tribute to the POWs who built the famous bridge over the River Kwai.
Travelers start the journey in Bangkok and travel through some amazing countryside to Kanchanaburi and then travel along the Thai-Burma railway.
One day is spent exploring the caves in Kanchanaburi along with delving into World War II history in the War Museum and the Allied Cemetery followed by a river trip on a bamboo raft in the rainforest.
The following day is a ride on the “Death Railway” before returning by train to Bangkok.
If you are planning a journey through Thailand, explore the possibility of traveling by train and turn a necessary trip into a memorable adventure!
Looking for a place to stay in Bangkok? Check out our post on Where to Stay in Bangkok – A Guide to the Best Neighborhoods
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Aaron Christe posts photos of, writes about, and reviews as many beautiful Thai hotels as he can afford to stay at.
—You can follow him on Twitter @Sabai_Sabai or on Facebook at ThaiHotels