That Time On The Thai Train From Hell

Almost every guidebook you’ll come across will tell you how travelling by train in Thailand is a great experience.

And to be fair, they’re more than likely right. But me and Chelcie’s first experience on the train tracks in Thailand was one I wasn’t keen to repeat.

Having already booked our accommodation in Chiang Mai before we even hit Asian soil, we had to be arriving there on the Saturday. As such, we paid attention to the assorted guidebooks and decided to experience a Thai sleeper train. We weren’t able to get down to Hualamphong station until the day before we needed a ticket, and upon reaching the counter and stumbling our way through trying to book a ticket, were told that the only sleeper carriage left was non air-conditioned. The counter assistant and concierge exchanged a surprised look when we decided we had to plump for this, which left me a little anxious as to what was ahead…

We arrived back at Hualamphong station the next day on a swelteringly sticky evening awaiting our departure at 10pm.Stocked up on liquid and sweet supplies to keep our energy up in the stiflingly warm conditions, we soon boarded our sweat box of a carriage and tried to get comfy for the night ahead. And then our train just sat there.

Although I should have expected it due to the part of the world we were in, our train was of course delayed. We were hardly in a rush of course, but with it already getting late and not expecting the comfiest night of sleep, it was much more of an annoyance than it might have been. And with the stifling conditions and lack of air-conditioning already telling, my vest and shorts were already turning into a sweat-suit. I could tell it was going to be a long night…

Counting the hours…

With it already being quite late the beds were soon made up by the train attendants, and most people soon bunkered down for the night. Now as a more nocturnal individual I wasn’t particularly keen or looking forward to sleep yet, and especially as I’d done the courteous thing and given Chelcie the lower and more spacious bed. But I eventually clambered up into my higher tomb bunk and attempted to settle down.

Which I couldn’t.

I wiggled around trying to get comfy. I sweated. I put my headphones in to try and block out the constant “ch-ch ch-chugg”. I sweated some more. I wiggled to try and catch as much of the roof fan as I could. I sweated a little bit more. I listened to six episodes of Football Weekly. I sweated ever more. I got slightly claustrophobic about my tiny sleeping space. I slept.

For 22 minutes!


I gave up on trying to relax at this point, and lay awake checking the clock, sweating and listening to music until my iPod died. I also desperately tried to resist going to the toilet again, as despite being right next to it at the end of the carriage, I didn’t particularly want to reacquaint myself with the shining example of squat toilet cleanliness that lay through the doors.

Morning comes…

Finally the carriage began to stir as light began to creep through the windows, and morning made me hopeful that our journey would soon be over in the next few hours. A tapping from underneath alerted me to Chelcie being awake, and I joined her downstairs. Whilst the Thai countryside outside was a welcome sight, our sleep-deprived, sweaty and uncomfortable states meant we just wanted to see our destination station as soon as possible. Having not left Bangkok until 10.45 pm, were hoping to reach Chiang Mai at 11.00am-ish. But as we headed further north, the time ticked on. 11.00, 11.30, 12.00, 12.30, 1.00, 1.30, 2.00…

Exhausted, overheated and possibly getting worryingly close to dehydration – we got through all of our fluids due to the extended length of the journey – we finally reached Chiang Mai sometime after 2.30 in the afternoon. Our 12 hour sleeper journey had taken nearly 16 hours once we actually left Bangkok, and we weren’t the only unhappy looking backpackers climbing off the train at the end. We clambered into a tuk-tuk and after yet another delay, finally reached our accommodation. Our first Thai train experience had not been a good one at all, and Chelcie was pretty ill for the rest of the day. After washing, rehydrating and recovering we booked our ticket back to Bangkok for next week. By plane.

In short, if you’re going to take a sleeper train in Thailand, make sure you get in an air-conditioned carriage, and expect delays! There’s no doubting it’s worthwhile overall, what with the super cheap cost and general availability. Just be prepared!

Have you taken a sleeper train in Thailand? And how was your experience of it?

12 responses to “That Time On The Thai Train From Hell

  1. Yikes! That’s certainly not a comfortable experience at all. I find it uncomfortable to be on trains when the temperature is not controlled (either too hot or cold) can make for an unpleasant journey and sometimes even cause you to get sick.

    • Ha yeah it wasn’t a fun trip at all! This was in our first week in Thailand so I guess I’d been a bit naive in thinking it may be slightly cooler at night – Big mistake! I imagine the trip would have been a lot more comfortable in an air-con carriage, although I still wouldn’t have liked that top bunk! Flying back from Chiang Mai to Bangkok after that was one of the few splurges I made, but I was more than happy to spend the extra to be comfortable.
      Thanks for your comment, it’s much appreciated and I hope you can keep reading 🙂

  2. That sounds awful. I also had my worst train experience ever in Thailand and also on my way to Chiang Mai. Someone I know told me to take the day train as the views are amazing. To be honest, they really are not bad at all.. but you can only enjoy it for so long. After one hour it all looks the same and there’s still 11 more hours to go!
    I actually had an A/C wagon however after two hours or so the air condition went out. That’s some bad luck I guess. So we had to continue for ten hours without A/C.. yeah.
    Well, I’ll never do that trip again.. but it’s some good memories though 😉

  3. That is bad luck! I guess you too know exactly how ineffective those “fans” on the ceiling are when it’s just those attempting to cool you down!
    Indeed the view actually was pretty impressive, but by the point we could see it we were just desperate to get off the train and into a cold shower haha!
    In hindsight it is a… memorable trip I guess, but yeah I’d never take that particular trip again too!
    Thanks so much for your comment, hope you can keep reading! 🙂

  4. Carl, that is sad. I am still contemplating on a trip in the future to Thailand and though shorter than you, I hate being in too small spaces for a night and without airconditioning, I will be sweating like hell. This post had me thinking which trains to take to Chiang Mai.

    I can imagine your boredom when you just kept on tossing yourself to sleep and listening until your IPod stopped playing.

    • Well you may be fine if you manage to go in an air-conditioned carriage and you get the lower bed, but yeah I definitely don’t recommend my set-up haha 🙂
      I was ridiculously bored indeed, but I was glad I had loaded my iPod up at least!
      Thanks hugely for your comment, it’s massively appreciated! 🙂

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  6. My sleeper train experience in Thailand was awesome. We took the train from Surat Thani to Bangkok. Everything was on time and I slept quite well (To be fair I would be able to sleep through a hurricane) This article makes me wonder if I was just lucky to have had such a pleasant experience.

    • I think I was more unlucky really. Most people seem to have had a better experience that me, so I guess I just had a bad one! Did you have air conditioning though? I really could have done with it, that’s for sure!

  7. I took train from KL to Hatyai and it delayed for 3 hours at Padang Besar. Not nice, but I luckily the 2nd sleeper class is quite comfortable for me, also I love the sound of the train, noisy, but I like it. I’m thinking to take train from Bangkok to Penang next year, hopefully I’m lucky this time (no delay).

    • Glad you’ve had a better experience Shella. I actually quite like the sound of the train too, but it was the small top bunk and lack of air-conditioning that made that journey unbearable for me sadly!

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