Taking a night train in Thailand is a rite of passage for any backpacker, and something we have tried to do a lot. For a budget backpacker, night trains make sense as they’re cheaper than flying and allow you to save money on a night’s accommodation.
If you’re time-rich and cash-poor it’s the best way to get from A-B! It’s also fun hunkering down in your bunk bed with a book and falling asleep to the rocking of the train as you make your way to a new part of the country.
Here’s everything you need to know about taking a night train in Thailand!
- How to book your train
- What to expect
- When you should book
- Choosing your seat
- What to pack
- Eating on board
- Drinking on board
- WiFi on board
- Taking care of your belongings
- North vs South night trains
How to book your train.
Night trains get booked up really quickly, so don’t take it for granted that you will get tickets for the date you want. First- and second-class carriages have beds, but these fill up quickly and if you miss them you will be stuck on a seat for 13 hours.
There are currently two options for booking your night train:
Buy tickets in person
You can buy your tickets in Thailand through a travel agency or directly from the station you depart from. Booking at the station will get you the cheapest price available, but it will also leave you with a very limited choice of fares. I don’t recommend doing this unless you are spending a couple of weeks in Bangkok so you can book well in advance.
It’s not currently possible to book online directly with Thai Rail companies, but you can book online through travel websites. I use 12Go.Asia for most of our train and bus bookings in SE Asia – they have competitive prices and their offices are opposite Hua Lamphong station, so you can pick up your tickets before you get on the train. They also allow cancellation if your plans change – and our plans change quite often!
You can use the booking form below to check out prices and availability for the journey you want to take. If you pop in any date, you can see the different classes of travel available, and the prices for each. I talk a little more about the different classes below.
1. Set Your Expectations
Train travel in SE Asia is decidedly not a glamorous experience, and even if your ticket says first class don’t expect the kind of first class trains you’re used to back home.
Expect things to be a little grimey, a bit broken and slightly uncomfortable. Don’t think of the trip as being about getting from A to B, but about getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new! I was a little bit nervous about my first night train, but now I happily book night trains over flights any time I’m in Thailand.
2. Book As Far In Advance As You Can
No matter what time of year you’re going to Thailand, I’d recommend booking the train in advance if you want to be guaranteed a bed.
When we first started taking trains in Asia we could book up the day before we travelled but now they’re getting a bit more popular and we have to book a few weeks in advance. I’ve booked second class beds up to 2 weeks beforehand, and I give 3-4 weeks for first class cabins.
If you don’t book in advance you may end up spending up to 13 hours on a hard chair which is as grim as it sounds!
3. Choose your seat carefully
Remember when you’re booking your tickets that you’re buying transport PLUS a night’s accommodation so you might be able to spend a bit more on tickets. If you would like a bed on the train, you will need to buy first- or second-class tickets.
We always travel in third class on short train journeys in Thailand, but for overnight ones we value our sleep and comfort so we usually book second class sleeper AC.
Here are the different types of tickets you can buy;
First class sleeper
First class tickets give you an air-conditioned private cabin for two people, with a lockable door and space to put your belongings. The beds are slightly more comfortable than second class, as the mattress is thicker and softer. There’s a window where you both can look out on the view (only bottom bunks in second class can see the view), and the cabins are usually close to the bathrooms.
There isn’t a massive difference in comfort levels between first and second AC; privacy and lack of noise are the main benefits of first class. Security is also a big factor, as your belongings are locked in the cabin with you.
Second class sleeper
Second class carriages have rows of bunk beds lining each side of the carriage. Each bed has a curtain you can pull around you for privacy, and a space to put your backpack outside of the curtain. I usually keep all of my valuables on the bed with me because you can’t see your backpack when the curtain is closed.
When booking second class tickets you can choose between air-conditioned or fan carriages. Fan carriages are usually around £5 cheaper per person and tend to be hotter, and a little smellier than AC. If your budget doesn’t run to AC prices then opt for fan, but I would strongly recommend AC if you can afford it.
Your experience in second class can depend on who else is in your carriage. People can sometimes get a little noisy in the main carriages which can disturb your sleep. In a private cabin you’re protected from any noise. Since alcohol has been banned on trains it has been a lot easier to sleep as people don’t get so rowdy.
Carriages on some routes are reserved just for women and children. These second class carriages are air conditioned and a great option for solo female travellers.
Second Class AC seats-only
The cheapest option for a night train is to book AC seats. You will usually find some seats available last minute, as beds get booked up quickly. We have only ever booked beds on night trains, so I’m not sure what the experience is like in a seated carriage. I can’t imagine that spending 13 hours in the same seat is too comfortable.
It’s only £3 more to book a second class AC bed, so I would definitely recommend doing that instead!
Which should you book?
The price difference between first and second class AC is usually around £15 per person, so if you can afford the extra cost then first class is worth it.
If not then second class is still very comfortable, and we have travelled more by second than first class. Just try to get Second class AC so that you’re not spending the night sweating. I’d advise against seated tickets if you can avoid it.
4. Pack The Right Stuff
We have taken many night trains in Thailand, Vietnam and India, and one thing I learned is that having the right stuff makes the journey a hell of a lot easier. Have a more comfortable journey and a better nights sleep with these essentials:
- Eye Mask: The lights are left on throughout the night on the trains, and although you will have a curtain around your bunk you will still need to have an eye mask to get a good night’s sleep. This is my favourite eye mask – it’s super comfortable and adjustable which means it blocks out all light.
- Ear Plugs: Only if you can sleep with them in! Tim sleeps well with ear plugs but I don’t so I bring my earphones and listen to podcasts to fall asleep instead. Sleep With Me, This American Life, and Bitch Sesh are my favourites.
- Noise cancelling headphones: If you can’t sleep with ear plugs in then block out other passengers with noise cancelling headphones. These are a must for any type of overnight transport in SE Asia – especially buses when drivers crank up their own disco music through the night! These Beats space grey ones are great at blocking out noise, and look really cute too.
- A warm jumper or pashmina: The trains can get quite cold sometimes so bring socks and a jumper to wear in bed, or a pashmina to wrap around you.
- Silk pillowcase: I know this doesn’t seem like a backpacker essential, but silk pillowcases are small, light, and make for a much more comfortable sleep. I use them in hostels and nights trains to have a cosier sleep.
- Sleeping bag liner: Sheets are usually clean on night trains, but I always sleep in my liner as it’s more comfortable than the scratchy blankets that are provided.
- Portable charger: You might not be close to an outlet so pack a portable charger to keep your devices alive. This Pisen one doubles up as a wall and portable charger, and is my favourite charger!
On my first few night train experiences I didn’t put much thought into getting comfortable. I was usually freezing, finding it hard to sleep, and had no battery in my phone. Now when I travel by train I’m tucked into my sleeping bag liner, cosy and warm, resting on my silk pillow, listening to a calming podcast with my phone charging beside me!
I use all of these things on buses and flights too to help me relax and sleep.
4. Bring your own snacks
There will most likely be food service on the train but be aware that the food is terrible and overpriced for what you get. It’s better to bring your own
There are restaurants in and around Hua Lamphong station, where most of the trains leave from. You can buy takeaway Thai food from any of these which you can bring on board with you. There’s also a 7-11 in the station where you can buy snacks and water.
5. The top bunk is colder than the bottom one
When you stay in second class, the top bunk is right by the air conditioning units so it’s much colder up there than on the bottom bunk. The bed is also slightly thinner and shorter than the bottom bunk, so that’s something to consider when you book.
Tim doesn’t feel the cold so he was fine in the top bunk, but I lasted about 5 minutes until I asked him to switch! You can specify whether you would like top or bottom bunk when you book online or in person.
6. Alcohol is banned (but that doesn’t seem to matter!)
After an unfortunate incident on board a night train in 2013, alcohol was banned on trains in Thailand – although it doesn’t seem to stop people from selling or drinking it on board! Usually when you’re waiting for the train to leave someone will walk up and down the corridors selling snacks and beer, or you can buy beer and wine in the shops in the station.
Obviously drink at your own risk, but be subtle if you do as guards often walk along the carriages and may stop or fine you if they see you with alcohol.
7. Don’t forget your stuff when you leave!
In the scramble to get off the train we have left many things behind: eye masks, books, jumpers, and once even my brand new laptop (I got it back thankfully)!
Make sure you’re all packed up and that you double check your sheets before the attendant comes to pack up your bed. That’s how I’ve lost most of my stuff. The best way to stay organised is to keep everything you need for the journey in your small bag and not your backpack. That way you won’t be packing and unpacking your big bag in the corridors before you rush off the train.
9. There’s no WiFi on board
Night trains don’t have WiFi so they can be a great time to switch off and get offline. However not everyone is able to do that, especially people who work online.
If you need to get work done, I recommend buying a SIM card instead – in Thailand they’re very cheap and can be bought in a 7-11.
Network coverage is pretty good on the trains north and south of Bangkok, with just a couple of patchy spots.
10. South is better than north
The two main overnight train routes in Thailand are South to Surat Thani (so you can visit the islands), and north to Chiang Mai. Surat Thani station is well located for islands on the east or west; there are always lots of buses waiting at the station to take you to the different ports.
We’ve taken the southern route several times when visiting the islands in that region, and have always had a fairly consistent, comfortable experience. Recently we took our first night train north and the experience wasn’t so great!
I’ve since heard from a lot of people that the journey south is known to be more comfortable than the journey north. That’s just something to consider when you’re deciding whether to book your train!
That’s everything you need to know about booking your night train in Thailand! If you have any other tips then leave them in the comments below.
While you’re here, check out some other posts on Thailand:
- Common Scams in Thailand and How to Avoid Them
- The Best Time To Visit Thailand in 2019
- 5 Best Budget Resorts For A Cheap Trip To Thailand
Thanks for reading,