Thailand’s train system connects the four corners of the country and is a scenic, if slow, alternative to buses for the long journey north to Chiang Mai or south to Surat Thani. The train is also ideal for short trips to Ayuthaya and Lopburi from Bangkok, where traffic is a consideration.
The 4500km rail network is operated by the State Railway of Thailand and covers four main lines: northern, southern, northeastern and eastern. All long-distance trains originate from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Train Station.
Most train stations have printed timetables in English, though this isn’t always the case for smaller stations.
The SRT operates passenger trains in three classes – 1st, 2nd and 3rd – but each class varies considerably depending on whether you’re on an ordinary, rapid or express train. In 2016, SRT announced the purchase of 115 modern train carriages with seat-mounted TV screens and more comfortable bathrooms, currently in use on the northern and northeastern routes.
1st class Private, two-bunk cabins define the 1st-class carriages, which are available only on rapid, express and special-express trains.
2nd class The seating arrangements in a 2nd-class, non-sleeper carriage are similar to those on a bus, with pairs of padded seats, usually recliners, all facing towards the front of the train. On 2nd-class sleeper cars, pairs of seats face one another and convert into two fold-down berths. The lower berth has more headroom than the upper berth and this is reflected in a higher fare. Children are always assigned a lower berth. Second-class carriages are found only on rapid and express trains. There are air-con and fan 2nd-class carriages.
3rd class A typical 3rd-class carriage consists of two rows of bench seats divided into facing pairs. Each bench seat is designed to seat two or three passengers, but on a crowded rural line nobody seems to care. Express trains do not carry 3rd-class carriages at all. Commuter trains in the Bangkok area are all 3rd class.
Fares are determined on a base price with surcharges added for distance, class and train type (special express, express, rapid, ordinary). Extra charges are added if the carriage has air-con and for sleeping berths (either upper or lower).
Advance bookings can be made from one to 60 days before your intended date of departure. You can make bookings in person from any train station. Train tickets can also be purchased at travel agencies, which usually add a service charge to the ticket price. If you're making an advance reservation from outside the country, contact a licensed travel agent; the SRT previously had an online ticket service but that has been discontinued.
It is advisable to make advanced bookings for long-distance sleeper trains between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, or from Bangkok to Surat Thani, as seats fill up quickly.
For short-distance trips you should purchase your ticket at least a day in advance for seats (rather than sleepers).
Partial refunds on tickets are available depending on the number of days prior to your departure that you arrange a cancellation. These arrangements can be handled at the train station booking office.
You’ll find that all train stations in Thailand have baggage-storage services (or ‘cloak rooms’). Most stations have a ticket window that will open between 15 and 30 minutes before train arrivals. There are also newsagents, small snack vendors and some full-service restaurants.