Taking the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand is probably the easiest and most enjoyable way to travel between the two cities.
If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, both Bangkok and Chiang Mai probably appear on your itinerary (as they should!) There are lots of different ways to get there. You can fly or take the bus instead of taking the train. But the cost, time, and experience make the train my first choice.
I started researching transportation options using Rome2Rio.com. This is one of my favorite travel planning resources. You can type in any two locations and it will tell you all your transportation options, how long they’ll take and how much they cost on the travel dates of your choice.
Be careful, though, not to click one of the many ads on the site! (You can’t blame them, though. It’s how they make money on this amazing free resource.)
Here’s what I found:
Flying is on top of Rome2Rio’s list because, of course, it is the fastest. However, you can see it’s not the cheapest method. Bus and train cost between $15-$50 depending on your travel dates.
If you scroll down even further, you’ll find the option for the overnight train, a 13.5-hour journey starting at Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok (Google Maps). Depending on what class you choose and where you board, the overnight train costs around $30.
Bonus: Add an Ayutthaya day trip on the way to Chiang Mai
We actually completed our first leg of the journey from Bangkok to Ayutthaya (the popular day trip town with the most magnificent ruins in Thailand) on a different train. It was a third class ticket in an un-air-conditioned train car but it less than $2 per person. Though it was a little uncomfortable during the hottest season (April, before the rainy season starts), it definitely a local experience and worth the savings.
We spent a few hours in Ayutthaya riding around in a tuk tuk seeing the sights. Because we are not too deeply interested in touring religious sites, just an afternoon in Ayutthaya was enough for us.
The best way to buy your overnight train ticket
We departed the third-class train and then bought 6 p.m. tickets for the night train in Ayutthaya. That’s right—you don’t need to buy the tickets in advance. We actually tried, but the website didn’t work very well. Thankfully, there’s really no reason to buy them ahead of time.
How to pick the fastest/newest trains
I was lucky to discover tons of great information about Thailand’s trains using this awesome resource from ThailandTrains.com. They have so much information about the exact trains you should choose and why. In short, though, here’s what you need to know: the fastest train is #7 and the newest overnight train is #9.
We chose the second-class ticket on the new #9 train at about 1,000 Thai Baht ($31). The ticket includes, of course, a bed, as well as a pillow, sheet, and blanket. All were clean and just as good (probably even better) than you would find in a normal hostel room.
I slept on the top bunk, which would be slightly difficult for some people to climb into because the ladder is very, very small. That’s why this bed costs about 920 Baht while the one below costs about 1,000 Baht. Both, however, have power outlets and workable table setups for when you aren’t sleeping.
Sleep quality on the train
As a person who gets motion sickness, trains are generally a great option for me. However, as a side-sleeper, sleeping on the train was a little difficult. The back and forth motion made me unstable unless I slept on my back. Of course, this slight discomfort is nothing compared to a bus or a plane where the seat hardly reclines at all and you are cramped in between another person on each side.
I love that, with the sleeper train, you can sleep while you travel instead of spending precious waking hours in transit. On a plane, it takes lots of time to go through security and board. Even after you are seated on a plane, it is very difficult to get any quality sleep. Not everyone feels that way, but that’s definitely my experience.
How to save even MORE money by riding the train
I love that taking a sleeper train all night long means that you don’t have to pay for any accommodation. Perhaps it’s obvious, but for someone who had never tried one before, I really appreciated this benefit.
Again, an imperfect sleep before a day of exploring Chiang Mai is not for everyone, but budget travel fits your style, it’s totally doable. Even for our day trip to Ayutthaya, we were able to find a hostel right across from the train station that allows people to store their luggage for a small price. (It was advertised on a sign outside and everything, so you can’t miss it!)
Why sleeper train is the perfect budget travel option
All things considered, there really couldn’t be a better option for a budget traveler to get from Southern to Northern Thailand than the sleeper train. We were able to stretch our money extra far by skipping accommodations for the night and getting our rest on the train.
Pin it to your Thailand board: