The Thai New Year, or Songkran, is coming up and is celebrated widely here in Thailand, mainly from 13-15 April. It’s hot here at this time of year and everyone is setting their sights on a nice break from work for a few days and if lucky enough, an escape from the city.
We thought this would be a perfect time to share with you our newest, favorite mode of getting around Thailand: train! Recently, Taste of Thailand team headed up north from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and decided that we’d take the local road there. It’s definitely not the fastest way, but think of all the time you have to see the countryside or spend time with your favorite people in close quarters!
Now, there are new, fancy trains that are heading along the tracks in Thailand these days, but you do have to book months in advance to secure a seat on one of these shiny new rides. As we were just travelling on a whim, we booked ourselves a double first class sleeper (with aircon!) on one of the older trains and settled in for an overnight trip to Chiang Mai.
Departing from Hua Lamphong station is quite a nice taste of Thai life and architecture. Passengers travel through this station to most of the far corners of the country. Hua Lamphong station was actually designed by an Italian architect, Mario Tamagno, from 1907-1916. It’s an interesting example of the European influence on Thailand which you will see along some of the grand streets of the old city.
The grand waiting hall space is reminiscent of many European train stations, with a definite Thai flavor and a bit of wear-and-tear that makes it feel worn-in but comfortable. The train shed is clearly marked with platforms and conductors are friendly and eager to help you on board!
We opted for the overnight train, which would depart at 7:30 pm and arrive bright and early, ready to start the day at 8:30am!
It’s definitely a rustic way to travel. Even in first class, this is not the grandest of rooms or the most comfortable of beds, but it is all part of the adventure! All ages from small children to older adults can enjoy! There is a dining car and you can have food brought to you, as well.
After an hour or two, the train attendant will come and switch up the room and make the beds for the night. It’s a quick flip, lock and wrap for them to get the room set and you are ready to sleep!
Occasionally the train would jolt to a stop at a station (or in the middle of nowhere) in the night and I would awake to take a peak out of the window and see a small little station or even just a field. This is actually the charm of the train. Being able to imagine or even see who lives there and who would be getting on and off in the middle of the night!
Of course, there are bathrooms, but they are surely an adventure, as you do have to deal with the side to side jostling of the train and try to keep your balance!
Then, before you know it (having slept ideally), you arrive in the wee morning hours, slowly passing through the small towns on the way to Chiang Mai. The knock on the door will once again be the train attendant coming to set your room right back to where it was when you arrived. Shortly thereafter, the train pulls into the station. It’s somewhat disappointing that it is over!
Upon disembarking from train, you can see the morning departure trains filling with customers getting ready to head back towards Bangkok.
Songtaew (red, open-back trucks) are waiting just outside to shuttle you to your first stop in this lovely northern city. And then your day really begins! Chiang Mai has so many lovely choices from cooking classes and food tours to trekking, hilltop temples and the highest spot in Thailand, Doi Inthanon. Or, if you prefer, just enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in one of the (very) many lovely cafes there. It is truly a great place to sit back and relax over a long holiday!
There is always a chance to meet new friends, see new places and gain insight into a country and its people through a slow journey via train. It’s not only the destination that is important, but the journey is worth a little attention too!