Tag Archives: thailand

Thailand 2014: Overnight Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Introduction
Cathay Pacific Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific First Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge The Pier Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong to Bangkok
Millennium Hilton Bangkok
Cooking with Poo
Overnight Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Le Meridien Chiang Mai
Patara Elephant Farm
Bangkok Airways Economy Class Chiang Mai to Ko Samui
Conrad Koh Samui
Bangkok Airways Koh Samui to Bangkok
Thai Airways First Class Check-in and Lounge Bangkok
EVA Air Evergreen Lounge Bangkok
Louis’ Tavern First Class CIP Lounge Bangkok
Singapore SilverKris Lounge Bangkok
Thai Airways First Class Bangkok to Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines Lounge Hong Kong
Thai Airways Lounge Hong Kong
Asiana Business Class Hong Kong to Seoul
Asiana Airlines First Class Lounge Seoul
Asiana Airlines First Class Suites Seoul to New York
United Airlines Business Class PS Service New York to San Francisco


To get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, I opted for the overnight train instead of flying. Taking the train was considerably cheaper than flying, and it was supposed to be a more interesting and scenic experience than flying. I found Seat61 to be a very helpful website in preparation for this trip.

I bought tickets via thailandtranticket.com as suggested by Seat61, and the tickets were delivered to the hotel I stayed at in Bangkok. The total for an upper and lower berth in second class on train 13 (departing Bangkok Hualamphong Station at 7:35pm and arriving at Chiang Mai at 9:55am) including the booking fee was 2145 baht.

Hualamphong Station is an interesting place to sit and people watch. There’s a separate seating area for monks, there are lots of people of all sorts milling about, and lots of people end up sitting on the floor. Being in the train station at 6pm is also a somewhat surreal experience, but I guess that’s true of any crowded public spot in Bangkok.

Hualamphong Station

Hualamphong Station

Common for people to sit on the floor

Common for people to sit on the floor

There’s plenty of food at the train station, but most of the food options looked a little sad to me, including a pretty depressing food court. If you wander immediately out of the train station, you’ll find lots of restaurants catering to tourists, but if you wander just another block or so outside of the view of the train station beyond the touristy restaurants, you’ll find food that caters to locals. I stumbled upon a vegetarian restaurant called Ru Yi, which had cheap and delicious vegetarian food and was filled with older Thai and Chinese people. It was pretty great.

While there is a dining car on board and you can also get food delivered to your seat, people often recommend bringing food or snacks with you. I just ate the snacks that I brought, but my traveling companion visited the dining companion for breakfast, and he said that the food was decent but pricey for what it was (about 200 baht for his meal).

The train started boarding about half an hour prior to departure, and it was straightforward to find our reserved seats. There were a bunch of mosquitos in the train car when we got there, so definitely apply some bug spray. Almost all of the cars on this train appeared to be second-class sleeper berths, and the train filled up with almost all tourists. There definitely weren’t any Thai people in our car, except for the vendors trying to get you to buy food and the train conductor sleeping in the berths across from us.

Second-class car

Second-class car

Upper and lower berths

Upper and lower berths

View of a set of 4 seats

View of a set of 4 seats

The seats definitely weren’t fancy, but they were fully lie flat! And they come with bedding and turndown service! And they’re pretty spacious! This would be awesome in the air. Except they’re a little run-down, and cleanliness is a little bit of an issue. The linens definitely seemed clean, but the seats themselves, the mattress pad, and the pillow had all seen better times.

Each car had bathrooms, but the toilets were squat toilets, and the sinks did not work very well. There was running water, but the water would come out extremely close to the edge of the sink, and there wasn’t any hot water. If clean toilets are a requirement for you, you might want to avoid the train, since it’s a long train ride…

Squat toilet

Squat toilet

Sinks

Sinks

Once the train started moving, I was surprised by how bumpy it was. Since the trip was scheduled to be about 14 hours and the train is notorious for delays, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get any sleep because of the bumpiness and that I was in for a loooong night (and I was worried about the implications of the bumpiness for using a squat toilet, but fortunately, I didn’t have to try that). But sleep came relatively easily. The mattress pads were comfortable, and the temperature was fine (I had read reports of people being freezing cold, but I didn’t have any problems in a pair of long pajamas). Of course, make sure to bring an eye mask and ear plugs, but I slept on and off for about 8 hours before waking up and enjoying the scenery on the ride into Chiang Mai.

Lower berth with bed made

Lower berth with bed made

View of the upper berth

View of the upper berth. You can see the luggage storage area behind the curtain, which seems decently secure.

The train did end up being mysteriously delayed for about an hour, but it was a relatively nice and peaceful ride up to Chiang Mai. Since there are overnight trains, you don’t really lose that much time by taking the train instead of flying, and the train is considerably cheaper than flying, plus you save on the cost of one hotel night. Overall, the train was a decent way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and I’d do it again.

Thailand 2014: Introduction

Upon popular request, I’m going to start this trip report now, even though I have a backlog of other stuff that I want to write up. I’ll do my best to churn this out quickly, since there are going to be a LOT of parts. Yes, I’m completely guilty of the 20+ part trip report. Deal with it.

I booked this trip a looong time ago. As in 331 days out when I could first book the outbound flight with AA miles. Since I was traveling with a friend, I wanted to make sure to snag award space as soon as it opened and not leave things to chance.

My routing was SFO-HKG-BKK on Cathay First and Business for the outbound (with a free one-way of JFK-SFO tagged on a while ago) using 67,500 American miles, then BKK-HKG-ICN-JFK-SFO on Thai First, Asiana Business, Asiana First, and United Business on the way back for 70,000 United miles pre-devaluation. I specifically chose these flights and carriers since I knew that they all released space when the schedules opened 11 months in advance and that they release at least 2 first class award seats for the flights that I wanted. Since this was a two-week long trip, I wanted to go to more than just Bangkok, so I planned to Chiang Mai and Koh Samui as well. To travel within Thailand, I booked an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and then flights on Bangkok Airways to get to/from Koh Samui.

Final routing

Final routing

All of the hotels on this trip were paid for using points: 4 nights at the Millennium Hilton in Bangkok for 102,000 Hilton points (pre-deval GLON award, although this hotel is still only 30k per night); 4 nights at Le Meridien Chiang Mai for 15,000 SPG points (one night was a weekend night); and 4 nights at the Conrad Koh Samui for 145,000 HIlton points (pre-deval AXON award).

The out-of-pocket cost for this 2-week trip was less than $1000 per person, and about half of the cost was for the overpriced Bangkok Airways flights (there really aren’t many good ways to get from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui except flying). This miles and points hobby truly is amazing, since this was by far the most luxurious vacation I’ve taken, and it’s crazy to me to think that it cost so little (relatively) to get such wonderful experiences.

Quick Thoughts on Thailand

I’m about halfway through my trip to Thailand, and it’s been incredible so far. Here’s are some quick thoughts so I don’t feel like I’m completely neglecting my blog (although I am).

1) I was initially worried a bit about the demonstrations throughout Bangkok, but as a tourist, it’s easy to avoid all of the protests. I’ve been following Richard Barrow on Twitter, and his feed is a great resource for anyone traveling to Bangkok.

2) The Grand Palace seems extremely overrated to me as a tourist destination. But perhaps I wasn’t a fan precisely because it was swarmed with tourists.

3) Chiang Mai feels like it was built for tourists. Walking around the city, it seems like the majority of people are tourists, and you can’t even walk a block without finding a store selling tour services. All of this makes it very easy to navigate, and the weather is much more pleasant than in Bangkok, but it feels a little bit sterile to me. Bangkok was much grittier and sweatier.

4) I can definitely see why people retire to Thailand. Cost of living seems super, super affordable, and I love that you can get a delicious bowl of noodles for about $1 (maybe not quite as delicious as Yang’s Fry Dumpling).

5) I don’t understand why khao soi isn’t more popular in the US.

6) I flew Cathay Pacific first class on their 747 to get to Thailand. I loved the hard product–great seat, comfortable bed, seats 1A and 1K are perfect for traveling with a companion, the pajamas are probably my favorite airline pajamas to date–but the service was honestly not very good for international first class. Yes, I know you’re supposed to ring the call button, but one of the flight attendants looked like she wanted to kill someone, and she did things like forget courses that I ordered and serve my entree to another passenger and not have any left for me. Of course, these are all major first world problems.