Rail lines laid throughout Thailand create a 4,000 km system that is both efficient and comfortable. Passengers can travel by train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to the Laos or Malaysian borders and many places in between. While the journey on a Thai train generally takes longer and can be more expensive than a voyage by bus, trains are safer and are generally more comfortable. Popular train routes include Bangkok to Chiang Mai and Bangkok to Surat Thani, the launching point for boats to Koh Samui.
There are three classes of Thai train service, allowing even the most budget conscious traveler to experience travel by train in Thailand. However, while first class is quite plush, featuring private cabins with twin sleeping arrangements and air conditioning on select routes, prices are often higher than flying the same route on a budget air carrier. On the other end of the spectrum, third class is cheaper than the bus but may not be the most comfortable way to spend 11 overnight hours. Second class prices on Thai trains are equivalent to first class bus tickets, both in price and in comfort, though the train has fold down beds and it’s easier to get up and stretch your legs on the train than on a bus.
Thai trains depart throughout the day, though some are express and some make frequent local stops and comprise of only third class seating. Train tickets sell out well in advance for some holidays and weekends, particularly the more limited sleeper cars and the wider, lower bunk, second class sleeper seats. It is advisable to book ahead through an agent, at the station, or from the State Railway of Thailand. 66(0)2-223-7010 or via email at SRT firstname.lastname@example.org for a 200 baht surcharge. Schedules and available seats are posted on their website: www.railway.co.th.