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Bangkok to Chiang Mai Overnight Sleeper Train - State Railway of Thailand Train to Chiang Mai
Thailand Sleeper Train - Thai Sleeper Train
We took the Northern Line overnight sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in December 2007.
We decided to reduce our 'carbon footprint' by taking the Bangkok to Chiang Mai sleeper train and save ourselves a night's hotel bill in the bargain. We know flying would have been considerably quicker and probably a little more comfortable but the experience was another deciding factor; besides, for the price of one airline ticket we could get two first class train tickets. I know, through family lore, the last time I was on an overnight sleeper was from Leeds to Southampton,in England, way back in the 1950's when I was about seven! But that journey is just a historic fact, I can't actually remember being on a sleeper train before.
We boarded the 19.35 'SP - EXP' (Special Express Train) on platform 5 at Bangkok's Hua Lumpong Train Station a little over half an hour before the due departure time and found our (private) compartment, seats 5 and 6, in car 10. The air-conditioned cabin was quite unusual but comfortable, with a low divan that converted into two bunks, a small table under the window and a grubby looking vanity unit. There was a lockable adjoining door to the next compartment, which coud have been opened if there was a family travelling together.
Just before we set off We made an error of assuming the smartly dressed Thai gentleman was a State Railway of Thailand employee handing out complimentary orange juice in first class, which we had readily accepted, but no, as soon as the straw had pierced the carton lid a request for an inflated 40 Baht per 500ml juice was made! 'Bloody bandit', I thought and then realised it was more like 'bloody fool me', for not being sharper! I had forgotten lesson number one; in Thailand when someone offers you anything, and you would like it, you always ask 'how much'?
Anyway, back to the journey - The train left on time and we had settled down, with our orange juice, it was dark before we left the station and we watched out of the window the Bangkok city lights, made more interesting by the addition of the King's birthday celebration festoons strung in the trees around Chitrlada Palace just a road's width away from the 'Northern Line' track. Making short stops at Bang Sue Junction and Don Muang (the old international airport) we were soon out in the countryside with not a lot to see out of the window, no 'in-flight' entertainment, and home alone in our cosy cabin, when the sullen faced ticket inspector followed by the smiling crew came around to make sure all was all present and correct, taking orders for breakfast as they went, checking to see if we wanted any more orange juice too!
We fiddled with the air-con to reduce the flow somewhat, checked the single tap in the vanity unit had water, and the water drained away properly (no plug!), flicked all the switches to check the lights and closed the curtains - everything worked fine!
About 10pm we decided it was time to make up the bunks, so fiddled with the furniture (which we later found out we didn't have to) and unfurled the matresses that had been stowed above, making up the beds, and the next time a member of staff came by we asked for our bedding. Nice clean, white, fresh bottom sheets and pillow cases with a pristine cellular blanket arrived and were deftly applied to the bunks, while we waited in the corridor.
A visit to the loo was next on the agenda and much to our supprise and joy (not) we found the the WC was a footprint squat type! I will say it was clean and there was loo paper but not the first class sanitary ware we were expecting, but with any luck, I thought, there would only be one more visit to this stainless paradise in the morning before reaching our Chiang Mai hotel. For us Europeans, squatting is not the easiest thing to do on a moving train.
Lights out and snug under the blanket we slept, intermitantly, brought back to the land of the living by a particularly noisy section of track or a shuddering halt as our up-line train waited for a down-line train to pass in the night. But sleep we did, woken by the morning sun looking round the edge of the curtains at us.
Having decided to rise about 6.30am we performed our ablutions a best we could in the confined space, prior to the beds being dismantled. We then watched the flat flood plane of the Thai interior pass by as we headed for the hills, with rural life already in full swing, planting here, reaping there and stock moved to new tethering points everywhere. We made a couple of scheduled stops at Nakhon Lampang, Khun Tan and after our breakfast, that did have complimentary orange juice, Lam Phun station, which meant we only had about half an hour to go.
There was no rush to leave the train at the Chiang Mai terminal and when we did we were the furthest carriage from the exit. A good 150m from our end of the train to the waiting taxi touts. We found that there were no metered taxis at Ciang Mai Railway Station - as there are only five trains per day, it's not worth their while to form a rank there, contending with the eager, friendly, touts. We negotiated our young man 'Mr Jack' down to half the asking price of 200 Baht for the journey to the Holiday Garden Inn on the very far side of town, but to be honest we would have paid anything to get on our way!
We would recommend a Thai Sleeper Train, if only for the experience - Travel Thailand by train? Yes we will.
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