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Traveling by train is the best way to experience Thailand and its peoples, especially if you travel on ordinary trains.

Not only will you see the scenery and how people live in the countryside, you can also converse with the friendly Thais on the train.

Main Train Lines

There are five main train lines in Thailand:

Northern line

Bangkok – Chiang Mai

North-Eastern line

Bangkok – Ubon Ratchathani
Bangkok – Nong Khai

Eastern line

Bangkok – Aranyaprathet
Bangkok – Ban Phlu Ta Luang via Pattaya (weekdays)

Southern line

Bangkok – Sungai Golok
Bangkok – Padang Besar

Western line

Bangkok – Nam Tok via Kanchanaburi
Bangkok – Suphan Buri

A map of the main train lines in Thailand.

Most train lines leave Bangkok from Hua Lamphong train station, which is referred to as Bangkok station on the timetable. However, Thais call it sathani rotfai Hua Lamphong or simply Hua Lamphong.

A few train lines such as Kanchanaburi line and Suphanburi line leave from Thonburi station, which locates on the west side of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok.

Thai railroads feature single track. The lower the class, the more often the train stops to give ways to higher priority trains. Ordinary train stops at every train station. Rapid train, express train and special express train stops at less and less stations respectively.

The train tracks in the far south splits to two destinations: Sungai Golok and Padang Besar. Only Padang Besar train enters Malaysia.

When you travel toward Malaysia, it's safer to take Padang Besar line since there is political tension in the three southern provinces (Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat) where Sungai Golok line passes. You will notice military officers on guard on the train and at these stations.

Types Of Trains

These are the five main types of trains in Thailand: ordinary, rapid, express, special express and special express sprinter.

Ordinary Trains

Ordinary trains offer both short and long distance services. They stop at every train station. Moreover, all ordinary trains have third class carriages with fans.

Most of the carriages feature bench-like seats with thin padding; otherwise, the seats are made of wood. The seats are set in pairs and face each other.

A few ordinary train lines feature second class carriages with fans, in addition to the third class carriages. All the reclining seats face forward.

Ordinary trains are a popular mode of transportation for medium to low income Thais, so they are often packed with passengers.

Lately, the government has offered free train rides to Thais on certain lines of ordinary trains. When it's busy, you might not get a seat and end up standing for part of the trip. However, there should be no problem finding seats during weekdays outside rush hour.

Rapid Trains

Rapid trains only offer long distance services. They stop at all the main stations, as well as some smaller stations. They offer third class fan carriages, second class fan and a/c carriages and second class fan and a/c sleepers.

Express Trains

Express trains only offer long distance services. They stop at fewer stations than rapid trains and are also more expensive. They offer all types of carriages, but not on every line.

Special Express Trains

Special express trains just offer long distance services and only stop at main stations. Every line features second class a/c sleepers. However, second class fan carriages, second class fan sleepers and first class sleepers are available on certain lines.

Special Express Sprinter Trains

Sprinter trains only offer long distance services and stop at a few more stations than special express trains. They feature a/c carriages with comfortable second class seats. The sprinter trains are faster than other trains because they don't carry cargo.

There is no restaurant carriage on sprinter trains, but a Thai meal and a snack are included in the fare.

Sleeper Trains

The interior of a sleeper carriage in Thailand.
Most long-haul trains travel overnight. It's quite practical to take a sleeper train and it also saves you one night's accommodation.

Sleeper carriages are only available on rapid, express and special express trains. You can choose between second class fan sleeper, second class a/c sleeper and first class a/c sleeper.

Second class fan sleeper and second class a/c sleeper carriages feature upper and lower berths, on both sides of the aisle.

First class sleeper carriages offer private a/c cabins. Each cabin features two berths (upper / lower) and a washbasin. This type of sleeper car is only available on certain lines of Express and Special Express trains.

Buying Train Tickets

The main train stations in Thailand have computerized ticketing systems, however, small stations only issue ticket for same-day travel.

A rapid train ticket from Thailand.

All the main train stations have a ticket counter and a separate office for advanced bookings. The ticket counters only issue tickets for same-day travel, while the advanced-booking office sells tickets 30-60 days in advance.

Thai Railways Call Center

The call center is a 24-hour service and the phone number is 1690.

This is a convenient way to reserve your tickets if you're in Bangkok or within its perimeters. You can make your ticket arrangement up to 60 days in advance, but no later than 5 days before the trip.

When reserving your seats, you will receive a 10-digit code that you need to bring with you when you collect your tickets.

Tickets must be picked up at a train station in the greater Bangkok area, within 24 hours of making the booking. You can let someone else collect the tickets, as long as the person has the 10-digit code.

Changing Tickets

Tickets can be changed or refunded at any train station that has a computerized ticketing systems.

You can change your tickets once which costs 20 – 50 baht. The latest you can change the ticket is 1 hour prior to departure from the station of origin.

Ticket Refunds

Refunding tickets is possible until 1 hour before departure from the station of origin. The refunding fee is 50% of the ticket price.

When the tickets are refunded 3 days or more before the departure date, the fee is reduced to 20%.

If you have already changed your ticket once, the refunding fee is 50% of the ticket price.

Ticket Fares

In most cases, the third class trains are the cheapest form of transportation in Thailand.

The basic ticket price is calculated based on distance. In addition, supplementary charges are added such as: Rapid train fee, second class fee, first class fee, a/c carriage fee and sleeper carriage fee.

Train Station Facilities

Hua Hin train station in Thailand.
Major train stations like Hua Lamphong in Bangkok, Surat Thani, Ubon Ratchathani and Nong Khai station have facilities for travelers, including shower rooms and storage services. There are also banks within a few blocks from the train stations.

Small train stations are really basic. They may only have a single ticket counter and a few benches.

Food On The Train

Every train, except for special express sprinter trains, has a restaurant carriage. Either you go there to eat or buy the food by your seat. The restaurant staff walk around with trays of packed meals. It's Thai food that has been wrapped with plastic film.

In the morning, the staff sell hot coffee or tea straight from a thermos.

Private vendors are not allowed on the trains since they usually block the aisle. Nevertheless, most Thais don't like to follow rules. As a result, you still see a lot of vendors walking back and forth throughout the train.

Additional Information

Towards the end of 2016, the State Railway of Thailand added four new special express lines between Bangkok and Chiang Mai (line 9 and 10), Bangkok and Ubon Ratchathani (line 23 and 24), Bangkok and Nong Khai (line 25 and 26) and Bangkok and Hat Yai (line 31 and 32). Every line features a/c throughout and a sleeper carriage with wheelchair access.

Always buy your train tickets from a train station. It's quite common that ticket agents in touristic places add hefty fees.

Ordinary train tickets are normally sold within an hour before the train arrives at the station. You can't reserve a seat on ordinary trains. When the train arrives, just hop on and take any seat that's vacant.

International fares are much more expensive than domestic fares. If you plan to take a train from Malaysia to Thailand, or the other way around, you can save a lot of money by only purchasing a ticket to the border.

When arriving at the Thai border in Padang Besar, first you will go through Malaysian and Thai immigrations. Then, you can buy a domestic ticket to your destination in Thailand. However, it's not recommended to do that on public holidays since the trains can be full and you could get stuck at Padang Besar station.

Inbound train lines (trains going toward Bangkok) have even numbers while outbound lines have odd numbers.

It's a good idea to reserve seats in advance, especially during long weekends, public holidays or other holidays.

Every carriage has a toilet, either at the beginning or the end of the carriage. Choose a seat that is as far as possible from the toilet. Otherwise, you may smell unpleasant odors from the toilet, especially if you're in a fan carriage.

Overnight trains to Chiang Mai are very popular among both Thais and tourists. Therefore, it's recommended to make an advanced booking, even during off season.

When planning your trip, it's advisable to call 1690 to check the current train schedule.

When you go to the platform, ask the staff, who usually stands by the train track, where to wait for your car. That will save you time looking for your carriage during the train's brief stop at the station.

If you have bulky items such as a bicycle or motorcycle, contact the station staff at least one hour before the departure time.

You will be charged two fees: A transporting fee and a delivery fee. The latter fee is for bringing your item to the cargo carriage, which is usually close to the engine.

You shouldn't bring your items to the cargo car by yourself. Since the passenger carriages are in the back of the train, you would have to rush to find your carriage. That would also be inconsiderate of the other passengers, who would have to wait.

Delays are common due to a number of factors such as loading cargo, group boardings, technical problems or waiting to let a higher priority train pass.

While traveling in Thailand, take on a sabai sabai mentality! Sabai sabai means to be comfortable or don't worry, be happy. That allows you to relax and take things as they come.

I truly appreciate the friendly staff at The State Railway Of Thailand for providing me with helpful and detailed information.

Suggested Reading:   Bus Travel In Thailand   Local Taxis

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