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Review: Thai trains

Travel Service - Bus & train

Bangkok, Thailand

Night train to Penang

  • By SilverTraveller JoCarroll

    10 reviews


  • January 2015

61 people found this review helpful

Bangkok is a wonderful city – and it’s a jumping off point for much of south-east Asia. The airport is easily accessible, and flights relatively cheap.

But it’s so much more fun to go on by train.

The first challenge: buying a ticket. At the moment it is impossible to buy tickets for Thai railways online. I used ‘the-man-in-seat-61’website (link attached) for advice on ticketing sites and it worked well; they bought the ticket on my behalf and delivered it to my hotel. (I’ll not give you that site as they seem to change all the time – and may be unreliable by the time you read this.)

If you’re staying around Khao San Road it’s easy to find an agent to buy the ticket for you. But trains can get full around festival times, and tickets are almost impossible to buy around the Chinese New Year.

The main railway station in Bangkok is smaller than I expected. I had plenty of time, and so wandering around to find the right platform was not a problem. I sat on a concrete bench and watched the train being prepared for the journey: steam-cleaning inside and out, sheets and blankets being loaded onto each carriage, boxes of food for the restaurant car.

Finding the right seat was easy – everything is clearly marked and luggage racks are within easy reach. The seats are wide enough to become beds, so there was space to spread my goodies around me.

Many travellers bring enough food for the 18-hour journey. Some settle down to a feast, while others seem to graze for hours. There is a restaurant car, but a woman marched up and down the carriage pressing a supper on anyone without a plate of something in front of them. I could have ignored her and found the restaurant car, but I took the easy option and ate in my seat. The food wasn’t exciting, but it was good enough.

It is no longer possible to buy alcohol on Thai trains. As a result, everyone seems to settle down to sleep once it gets dark. (In contrast to previous trips, where there was always a group of young people having a party somewhere!). As the light began to fade a steward marched down the coach transforming the seats into bunk beds, each one hidden behind a blue curtain. In the past I’ve always travelled on the top bunk (it’s cheaper, and in India it is safer for women). But swinging down in the middle of the night to go to the loo is now too much of a challenge, and I settled on a bottom bunk.

It’s dark, behind those blue curtains. There are meant to be lights, but most of them don’t work. Fortunately my head torch was easily accessible and so I read for a while and then settled to sleep. A chuntering train plays a surprisingly good lullaby. I didn’t sleep for every minute of the night, but it was good enough to carry me through the next day without struggling.

Breakfast was thrust at me before I was really awake. Which was probably a good thing as I needed coffee before tackling the border. It’s all very straightforward, though does involve queueing. And the Malaysian customs officials are looking for drugs, so there were delays when several young people had their luggage searched.

By the time that was done the stewards had transformed the beds back into seats and we settled down for the rest of the journey.

The scenery is interesting rather than spectacular.

And the basics: trains run more or less on time. Each carriage has one western toilet and one squat toilet. They are as clean as your fellow passengers leave them. There is a basin with running water – fine for washing your hands but don’t even think of drinking it, or even using it to clean your teeth. You’ll be in the same clothes for a day and a half, so it’s worth wearing something comfortable.

The trains are not easily accessible for anyone with mobility problems. There are big steps into the carriages and, at Penang, such a big bag between the train and the platform I needed help with my luggage. Having said that, both Thailand and Malaysia are trying to make life easier for people with disabilities and it may be that, if you ask in advance, that they can provide for you.

And, finally, nothing happens if you smuggle in a can of beer and drink it behind the curtain.

This site is the best I’ve found to advise on train travel anywhere in the world.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 1 Comment(s)

  • coolonespa
    almost 6 years ago
    Great review and an interesting experience. I also agree that 'the-man-in-seat-61’ website is great for all sorts of train travel. Found it really useful for the London to Fort William night train.