I have taken the train to Bangkok and back well over a hundred times in my life. My mother used to say that the gentle sway of the train as it slowly shuddered, shook and stumbled its way up and down Thailand made her feel as though she was being rocked in a cradle. We used to much prefer to take the 12 hour or so train to the capital to the short flight, and over the years it became one of my favourite family moments.
We’d arrive, freshly showered and laden with bags and boxes filled with sai-ua, nam prik num, pork rind and other northern delights to take down to our relatives in Bangkok, rushing to grab our second class air-conditioned seats early, so that we could pack our masses of belongings into the rafters and side baggage holds. We never liked the first class carriage as it was antisocial, and we always enjoyed the people watching and oddities we always encountered. We’d settle in and have a chat to the conductor, most of whom we knew by name, waiting for the bell to ring and the train to groan and grunt its way out of the station. Dad and I would leave mum to her newspaper and rush off to the dining car where he’d order a cold Singha and I would stick my head out of the window, watching the spectacular sights of buffaloes making their way home through paddy fields, school children playing by the side of the track and glorious open vistas of the north. Mum would join us in the dining car for dinner, the aromas and sounds as well as flashes of flame from the sizzling wok wafting out of the kitchen. As I got older, I would order a ban of Sangsom after my parents went to bed and more often than not end up having fantastic a night of revelry with strangers. I remember a memorable trip as I tried to convert two Mormons to atheism as they tried to convert me; another time the waiters and I had an impromptu sing-along that lasted well after midnight and yet another time I ended up meeting a rather charming man I ended up going on a date with in Bangkok.
Retiring to my bunk beds, I would shoo away the cockroaches before settling in for a late night read and slumberous sleep. Being a regular, we would always annoy other passengers by only booking the lower bunk, due to the all night lights which glare from the ceiling. The next morning, well before dawn, we would all be woken up as we approached Ayutthaya with the announcement of breakfast and the busy workings of the bed-making and packing gentleman. We’d fortify ourselves before heading to the stinking toilet to get our teeth brushed and return to our seats which would’ve been efficiently and swiftly turned back from the bunk beds. We’d hop off at Don Muang Airport where one relative or another would pick us up and take us home to breakfast. It was all really rather pleasant and charming…and used to cost under 500 baht a head.
But with the advent of the frenetic world we now live in, who has time for train rides when a couple of thousand baht will see you lowcosting your way to Bangkok in under an hour.
Two of our readers and my friends, Jonas Dept and Oat Montien, recently decided to take the train to Bangkok from Chiang Mai. Since the trains were all redecked out and poshed up last year, I forced them to become instant reporters. So let’s see how they compare our uber modern trains to those of my childhood memories.
Verdict: “We didn’t love it at all. It may be clean and nice looking, but there was absolutely no character. Even with GPS screens and all, this train ride was not as fun as the old one. The air con is FREEZING and the worst part is that they left the light on all night. No alcohol and fags for sale, but I guess that’s for every train from now on. Just sad example of how we are so desperate to Japanese ourselves (train also bought second hand from them) that we forget to leave room for fun. The train was freezing cold, the lights too bright, and it was like sitting in a dentist’s waiting room for twelve hours. Next time we will take the plane,” said Jonas and Oat.
If you still want to give it a go, here is the time table of the 751 kilometre Chiang Mai – Bangkok Train
• Rapid (Fan Train): depart 6.30am arrive 9.10pm
391 baht (first class), 231 baht (second class)
• Special Express (Old Train): depart 8.50am arrive 9.25pm
• Express: depart 3.30pm arrive 5.25am
Second class AC Seats with beds: 751 baht (upper bunk bed) 821 baht (low bunk bed)
Second class AC Seats: 541 baht
Second class Fans Seats with beds 531 baht (upper bunk bed) 581 baht (low bunk bed)
Second class Fans Seats: 431 baht
Third class Fans Seats: 271 baht
• Special Express (New Train): depart 5pm arrive 6.15am
First Class AC Seats with beds: 1,253 baht (upper bunk bed) 1,453 baht (low bunk bed) 1,953 baht (whole room)
Second class AC Seats with beds: 791 baht (upper bunk bed) 881 (lower bunk bed)
Second class Fans Seats with beds: 601 baht (upper bunk bed) 671 (lower bunk bed)
• Special Express CNR: depart 6pm arrive 6.50am
First Class AC Seats with beds: 1,453 baht (upper bunk bed) 1,653 baht (low bunk bed) 2,453 baht (whole room)
Second class AC Seats with beds: 941 baht (upper bunk bed) 1,041 (lower bunk bed)
For more information call 1690 available 24 hours or visit http://www.railway.co.th