One of the most exciting things about backpacking is doing new things that you’ve never experienced before. And last year during our travels, commuting via the night train, also known as the sleeper train, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was a new and exciting experience.
I must warn you though, it’s not the most glamorous thing, but I didn’t mind it at all. It’s basically the more interesting and more cost effective way of traveling between the two major cities in my opinion.
The Start of Our Train Journey
The way this works is that the journey is about 12-13 hours in total by train, and this particular one will depart at some point in the evening. Our one left at around 7:30 in the evening local time, and got us to Chiang Mai at 8:00 in the morning the next day.
You can buy the ticket at the station, which might be limited for spaces, or you can buy them in advance on the website. If you are doing this, you’d best book this quite far in advance as it is pretty popular with backpackers and tourists.
Upon arrival, you must head to the manned booths where you must queue up for the tickets. Fortunately there are ticket booths with staff that can speak a little English, so buying or collecting your ticket shouldn’t too much of a problem. Chances are they are used to tourists buying night train tickets.
The tickets will tell you which train you are on, what time it leaves and arrives, and where you are seated. Your seats will be on a specific carriage, which needs to be located once you identify your train number.
We were on a train which was pretty full with the majority of people being from other countries too. There were loads of nationalities, ranging from anywhere in Europe and North America, to people from western and central Asia. It was very reassuring to see so many people wanting to experience the very same thing.
Dinner was provided shortly after our journey departed, and at this point it was pretty dark. There was little to see out the window, so you had to rely on your own entertainment such as a phone or a book. We were provided with mini table with which to eat our food from.
Preparing the Cabin Beds!
Once we’d finished dining, the cabin crew would come around and start preparing our beds for us. Of course, being a 13 hour journey going through the night, it meant that we had to sleep through our journey.
So our little seating area with an overhead storage became a top and bottom bunk bed set. The seats at the bottom which faced each other would come down and the base of the bedding would be set up for us.
View of the top bunk cabin when closed up and a view down the train from our seats.
As for the top bunk, well most of it is set up. For both parts, the crew came around and put the bed sheets and blankets into place. To finish it off, there were curtains that could be drawn across our beds once we went to sleep, which gave a lovely feeling of some security.
First I must tell you something about the restrooms. Yes, they had them on the train, and same for a sink and water to brush your teeth. And if you’re male, the toilets won’t be anything different.
But as a woman, be prepared. As is usually the case in certain regions of the country, these toilets are the ones you need to squat down on your haunches for. So, best get practicing with those legs! And bring your own toilet paper, because there probably won’t be any.
I personally had no issues with this, and got pretty used to it since I sat like that as a child for most of my life. But if that’s not something you think you’ll be good with, you might be worth opting out of this one!
Sleeping on the Train
Depending on how tired you’re feeling, and how you sleep, your experience here will vary. For my partner and I, it wasn’t very long since we had touched down in the country, which was only about 3 days before. We were pretty tired, so we did manage to get some sleep on the journey.
These beds are not very long however, and if you’re anywhere in the 6 foot tall region, you’ll need to bend your legs to fit, or have a pillow of some sort to support your back. Since we were backpacking, we could use our bags as support too. For myself, the beds were no problem though and I could lay down comfortably.
In terms of noise levels, you’ll definitely hear the sound of the train rattling through the night. Since we were in an economy class train, there wasn’t going to be any noise canceling or soundproofing.
You can also feel the train as it bumped slightly on it’s journey. But all in all, for myself I found this to be no problem at all. You’ll find that you’ll get used to the feeling of lying down in a train, and you won’t really notice it.
In total I got around 6 hours of sleep. Between midnight and 3:00 in the morning, and then up till around 6:00 in the morning, I managed to sleep some more. And once the morning starts to arrive, that is when the magic starts to happen.
After traveling for most of the night, we woke up just before sunrise at around 6:00 in the morning. Where we had left the hustle and bustle of the city the night before, the view out the window started to show us more of nature.
Most of the view coming into Chiang Mai were now of fields, trees and all kinds of greenery. There was the feeling of going past more villages and more rural parts of the country. The beauty was pretty indescribable when you’re still exhausted but in awe a place that is so far away from home.
And at around 7:00, we started to see some magical views of the sun rising over the mountains in the distance. What a beautiful way to start the morning!
Breakfast and Preparing to Arrive
With barely 1 hour to go until arriving at our destination, we had to wake up and start packing our bedding away. Once again, the crew came around to help get this back to the seating positions, and we were served our breakfast.
When we finished eating, it was time for us to get ready for our arrival at Chiang Mai train station. At this point, the weather was looking so lovely, with blue skies already showing through, and the temperature creeping up again.
Before leaving the train, you must remember to pack everything and leave nothing behind, or you may have trouble finding these items again.
And so eventually we pulled up to Chiang Mai train station. It was such a beautiful entrance to a city that we would discover was just as beautiful.
Much of the decor was covered in gorgeous golden tones and lovely colors, and it was an opportunity to finally see the trains that we boarded. During the night before, it was difficult to get a good look at our train.
And the last sight of that station was the image right at the top of this post. It was the perfect entrance to Chiang Mai, and an experience which you should definitely consider if you enjoy travel and backpacking.