With numerous domestic airports dotted around Thailand, getting to most destinations is straightforward by air. But if you prefer the ethos of slow travel, taking the train in Thailand can be an enjoyable way to reach your destination. Whether you’re travelling on a modern sleeper train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai or taking the local rattler from Hua Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan, there is a certain charm to travelling by train in Thailand.
Thailand is gradually modernising the rail system in preparation for the introduction of a high-speed rail network. The most obvious example of this modernisation programme is Bangkok’s cavernous new train station (see below). Despite the ongoing upgrades, there are elements of travelling by train in Thailand that still hark back to a bygone era. Take a window seat on an ordinary train and savour the sights and sounds of life on the rails. Listen to the chatter of the food vendors as they meander through the carriages and watch the scenery unfurl before you as you pass through picturesque rural train stations.
Thailand’s regional rail lines branch out from Bangkok to different areas of the country. There are currently four main routes for train travel in Thailand:
- Northern Line
- North-Eastern Line
- Eastern Line
- Southern Line
The Northern Line extends from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai. The overnight sleeper train on the route from the Thai capital to Chiang Mai is one of the most popular train journeys in Thailand.
Notable stations on the Northern Line include:
The North-Eastern Line connects Bangkok with Isaan. One branch runs through Nakhon Ratchasima to Surin and on to Ubon Ratchathani. The other main branch runs north of Nakhon Ratchasima through Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and up to Nong Khai and the border with Laos.
Notable stations on the North-Eastern Line include:
- Pak Chong (for Khao Yai National Park)
- Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat)
- Ubon Ratchathani
- Khon Kaen
- Udon Thani
- Nong Khai
The State Railway of Thailand’s Eastern Line runs from Bangkok heading east to Aranyaprathet and the border with Cambodia. A branch line also runs towards Chonburi and the coast.
Notable stations on the Eastern Line include:
- Si Racha
Many travellers use the Southern Line to travel to Hua Hin. The sleeper trains to Chumphon and Surat Thani are also popular with tourists heading to the Gulf Coast islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. Although there is no train service to Krabi or Phuket on the Andaman Coast, travellers can use Surat Thani station. From Surat Thani take the bus across to Phuket or Krabi. If you are going to do this journey, be sure to stop off en route to explore the gorgeous Khao Sok National Park.
Another option for travellers who want to travel by train to the Andaman Coast is to take the train to Trang or Hat Yai. From either destination it’s possible to take buses/minivans for connecting boat services to the Trang Islands or Ko Lipe and Satun. With frequent boat services during the high season, it’s also an option to go island hopping as you travel up towards Ko Lanta, Phi Phi, Phuket and Krabi.
Notable stations on the Southern Line include:
- Nakhon Pathom
- River Kwai Bridge
- Cha Am
- Hua Hin
- Prachuap Khiri Khan
- Chumphon (for ferries to Ko Tao)
- Surat Thani (for ferries to Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan)
- Nakhon Si Thammarat
- Hat Yai
Bangkok’s new train station
Bangkok’s gleaming new train station opened for business in January 2023. The official name of the station is Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal. However, when the station was constructed it was called Bang Sue Grand Station. At the time of writing (February 2023) the signs outside the station still show Bang Sue Grand Station and it is this name which may still be more familiar to Bangkok taxi drivers.
Long distance trains to and from Bangkok now use Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal (Bang Sue Grand Station). Although the classic old station at Bangkok Hua Lamphong continues to be operational for some routes, travellers heading by train from Bangkok to locations such as Chiang Mai, Chumphon, Nong Khai, and Surat Thani will now need to head to Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal.
Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal is located in the north of Bangkok near to the northern bus terminal and Chatuchak Market. If you’re travelling by MRT metro, get off at Bang Sue (station BL11 on the Blue Line) and follow the signs up to the main terminal concourse.
How to buy tickets
Tickets for long-distance and sleeper trains can be purchased online via the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) ticket portal. You do need to register to use the service and feedback from some users say it can be a frustrating site to use. Tickets can also be purchased in person at any SRT station.
If you’re travelling on an ordinary train service tickets can’t be purchased online. Instead, you simply buy the ticket at the departure station on the day of travel.
Tickets are supposed to be printed out, but the ticket inspectors should also accept e-ticket confirmation on smartphones or tablets.
Good to know
Train times in Thailand should be regarded as an estimate and not a guarantee. Punctuality will no doubt improve in the future once the system is fully modernised, but in the meantime allow plenty of wiggle room if you have onward connections. Long distance sleeper trains can often arrive an hour or two later than scheduled. Trains can be tracked in real time via SRT’s Train Tracking System.
Train services in and out of Bangkok tend to be extra busy around the dates of Thai public holidays, especially Songkran in mid-April and the New Year holiday at the end of the year. Booking in advance is recommended. Berths on some sleeper trains can also fill up quickly during the tourist high season (November-February). If you’re planning to travel on popular routes like Bangkok-Chiang Mai or Bangkok-Surat Thani, it’s best to book tickets in advance.
On sleeper trains, the daytime seats are converted into beds by the train attendant. The lower berths are more expensive than the upper berths, but they do have more room and are worth paying extra for.
The air-conditioning on the sleeper trains is efficient and can soon get chilly. Blankets are provided, but a light jumper or jacket can also be handy. Lights remain on during the night in sleeper carriages and although there are curtains for privacy, eye masks are helpful. Ear plugs are another useful item to pack if you are a light sleeper.
Official information on Thailand’s trains can be found on the State Railway of Thailand website. But of far more use is the excellent Thai Train Guide which has been lovingly put together by British expat, Richard Barrow. If you have a question about train trips in Thailand the chances are you’ll find the answer on this comprehensive site. With advice on which routes to take, how to buy tickets and timetables, the site has quickly established itself as the go-to resource for train travel in Thailand.
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