Exploring Thailand by train can be one of the best ways to see the country. And there is no better time than now to experience the old-style charm of train travel before Thailand modernises the rail system.
It’s a time of change for the Thai rail network. Work is underway on high-speed rail lines and newer trains are gradually replacing the old. In Bangkok, the classic Hualamphong train station has fortunately been spared the wrecking ball, but a vast new modern terminal — Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal (aka Bang Sue Grand Junction) — now serves long-distance trains in and out of the Thai capital.
Many travellers will have fond memories of train travel in Thailand using the old trains. Although change is slowly taking place, the joy of train travel in Thailand remains. In our round-up of some of the best train trips in Thailand we’ve included a little bit of everything. From ordinary trains to luxury carriages, and short journeys to overnight sleeper routes. Featured here in no particular order is our selection of some of the best train journeys you can take in Thailand.
1) Death Railway, Kanchanaburi
One of the most memorable train journeys in Thailand transports you from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi via the historic Death Railway. The highlight of the trip is the section of track which takes travellers across the Bridge on the River Kwai and on to the remarkable Wang Po Viaduct. This breathtaking section of track was originally built by POWs and forced labour during the Second World War. Travelling across the wooden trestle bridge is a poignant reminder of the horrors that took place here.
The State Railway of Thailand runs tourist excursion trains at weekends, but arranging a trip independently on any day of the week is easy to do. Ordinary trains run daily from Bangkok Thonburi to the end of the line at Nam Tok in Kanchanaburi province. Although it’s possible to do this rail journey as a day trip, it’s better to spend at least one night in Kanchanaburi town to explore the wartime sites.
2) Mae Klong Railway Market, Samut Songkhram
The market at Mae Klong was already established when authorities decided to build a railway line there. In typical Thai style, a compromise was reached. As the trains slowly approach the market, the vendors pull up their canopies and umbrellas and lower them again after the train has safely passed through. This happens eight times a day.
Known in Thai as ‘Talad Rom Hoop‘ (Folding Umbrella Market) Mae Klong Railway Market is a popular day tour from Bangkok, but with a little planning it’s possible to travel there independently by train and enjoy a birds-eye view as the train passes through the market.
Travel to the market is on local trains departing from Bangkok Wongwian Yai station. The journey from Bangkok involves two trains. The first takes you to Samut Sakhon (known locally as Mahachai). It’s then a short walk through a fresh market to the harbour and a quick ferry ride to Ban Laem. From here it’s another short train journey to Samut Songkhram and Talad Rom Hoop.
Tickets can’t be purchased online or in advance. Instead, tickets must be bought at the station in person on the day of travel. For more details, Richard Barrow’s excellent Thai Train Guide includes a comprehensive guide to getting to and from the Mae Klong Railway Market.
3) Singapore to Bangkok on the Eastern & Oriental Express
At the opposite end of the scale to the Mae Klong Railway is the epic journey between Singapore and Thailand on the Eastern & Oriental Express. This once-in-a-lifetime trip treats travellers to refined luxury, impeccable service and spectacular scenery.
From Singapore, through Malaysia and on into southern Thailand, the Eastern & Oriental Express also takes in the route west to Kanchanaburi with the train crossing the iconic River Kwai Bridge before ending its journey in Bangkok.
4) Bangkok to Chiang Mai sleeper train
The overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is one of the most popular train services for international and domestic tourists. Departing Bangkok in the early evening, passengers can wake up to the sight of the train climbing through the mountains and jungles of north Thailand.
Watch the train attendants expertly transform the daytime seats into beds before you nod off to sleep with the gentle sway of the train. From the people you meet on board to the scenery you wake up to, the overnight sleeper train journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai can be the perfect introduction to the delights of Thai train travel.
There are four overnight services on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route. Special Express No. 9 uses the newer style train carriages pictured above. Although the newer style trains are undoubtedly more comfortable and better appointed than the older carriages, whichever sleeper service you take this is a memorable experience.
First and second class sleeper carriages
In the second class carriages, lower bunks are worth paying a little extra for. They are bigger than the upper bunks and also have the advantage of a window. There is also the option for female travellers to book a berth in a carriage which only allows women and children.
First class carriages have two berths per cabin. If you are travelling solo and don’t want to share with a stranger you can pay an extra 1,000 Baht to have the cabin to yourself.
5) Chiang Mai to Lampang
For another perspective of the scenic north Thailand train route, hop on a local daytime service from Chiang Mai to Lampang. The absence of air-conditioning (there are fans) is a distinct advantage on this journey. With windows down and the breeze blowing through this is the ideal way to appreciate the lovely scenic views.
The train passes through quaint rural stations and over the White Bridge (Saphan Khao) at Tha Chompu in Lamphun province before reaching Doi Khuntan National Park. It is here where the train travels under the mountains and through what is currently the longest train tunnel (0ver 1,300 metres) in the country. The Khun Tan train station also has the distinction of being the highest on Thailand’s rail network sitting 577 metres above sea level.
Spend a few days exploring Lampang before travelling south by train to Phitsanulok for Sukhothai. Or simply take the daytime train back in the other direction from Lampang to Chiang Mai and appreciate those fabulous views all over again.
6) The ‘Floating Train’: Pasak Chonlasit Dam, Lopburi
On weekends and some public holidays, the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) runs a number of special excursion trips. Amongst these is the trip from Bangkok to Pasak Chonlasit Dam in Lopburi province. Surrounded on both sides by water, it is this section of track across viaducts on the dam which has earned this journey the nickname of the ‘floating train’.
Trips to Pasak Chonlasit Dam are usually arranged in the cool season months from November to January. Tickets go on sale 30 days in advance, but because this trip is so popular with Thai travellers tickets tend to sell out quickly. Refer to the SRT ticketing website for more details or call the SRT helpline (available in English) on 1690 for more details.
7) Steam train to Ayutthaya
The steam train trip to Ayutthaya is another of the special excursions arranged by SRT. There are actually around half a dozen chances each year to travel on steam trains in Thailand to different destinations close to Bangkok, but the Ayutthaya trip is the most popular.
The dates of the steam train trips to Ayutthaya are usually:
- 26 March (anniversary of the opening of the first public railway)
- 28 July (in honour of King Rama X birthday)
- 23 October (anniversary of the death of King Rama V)
As with the other SRT excursions, tickets go on sale 30 days in advance but do sell out quickly. The steam trains use the older style third class carriages so windows can be lowered.
8) Hua Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan
The route between Bangkok and the coastal resort of Hua Hin is certainly one of the most popular routes in Thailand. In fact, it was the opening of this route in the early 1900s that led to Hua Hin establishing itself as a seaside resort for royalty and high-society travellers from Bangkok. While this can be an enjoyable journey to take, there is a less well-known but more scenic option from Hua Hin.
From Hua Hin, take the daytime ordinary train along the coast to Prachuap Khiri Khan. The ordinary train is a bargain at around 20 Baht for the three hour trundle south from Hua Hin to the provincial capital. Sit by an open window and soak up the sights and sounds of this coastal route.
This is also a great opportunity to spend a few days exploring the charming coastal town of Prachuap Khiri Khan before continuing your journey by train south to Chumphon and the Gulf Coast Islands or heading back to Hua Hin.
- Exploring Thailand by train
- State Railway of Thailand (SRT) website
- SRT online ticket website
- Richard Barrow’s Thai Train Guide
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