Types of Train and Classes of Travel
Trains in Thailand come in a somewhat confusing variety of types: Ordinary, Rapid, Express and Special Express, with the additional feature that some are designated "Diesel Rail Cars" - combined locomotive/passenger carriage. Ordinary trains normally offer only third class seating, and seem to stop at every hamlet; the rest seem pretty much alike in journey time, and offer mainly second and third class seating and/or sleepers.
is available on many long distance services, with air-conditioned day and night compartments, each accommodating two persons. Every compartment has its own wash basin, though bathrooms are shared. Room service is available at most times.
Second Class Sleeper
Second Class Sleeper is available on most routes, and has upholstered seats which convert into bunks, one up, one down; some trains also offer a choice of air-con/non-air-con. The photograph on the right shows a typical second class seat with the upper bunk folded away.
For day-time travel, non-air-con is often a good choice, especially if you like to shoot photos out of the window, as some air-con carriage windows are re-reinforced non-opening, and after an hour or two, not very clean. Always try to get a seat away from the doors, especially for overnight travel as railway staff walk up and down constantly, as do passengers seeking the bathroom.
is not too bad, but you are not guaranteed a seat (or upholstery on the seat), and the fans do not always work. In some carriages seats are upholstered and, if the train is not crowded (which they usually are) the trip can be quite pleasant; some trains, and most trains from Thonburi station to Kanchanaburi and the 'Death Railway', have wooden benches only. On the Eastern Line, third class travel is compulsory except for two trains a day to Chachoengsao, which offer 2nd class air-con.
Advance Booking is advisable especially for weekend or holiday-time travel. Tickets can be purchased upto 30 days in advance from the larger stations.
Food is often included in the price for second class day-time travel, but is not always very palatable. Local vendors invade the non air-con carriages at stations, offering cold drinks (including beer), dried pork, fried noodles and other delights in styrofoam packs - date or time of preparation unknown.
I usually take biscuits or sandwiches with me, except on trains with restaurant cars where you have some control over the cooking. Certain long distance trains, such as the daytime express to Chiangmai, have a scheduled stop for about 15 minutes, where you can get out, stretch your legs, and investigate other culinary resources.
Hua Lamphong Station
Bangkok Central Railway Station: Hua Lamphong
All major lines originate in Bangkok at the central railway station of Hua Lamphong. The station is located on Rama 4 road, not far from China Town. Many buses go there as does the new Subway System (MRT), and most taxi drivers should know where it is.
Inside, above the ticket kiosks, are large Arrival and Departure displays, showing train number, destination, arrival time and platform number. Most booking staff speak English; there is also, to the left, a kiosk specially for tourists.
On the right hand side of the booking hall are advanced booking services and an information counter, where printed time-tables (in English) are readily available. In the station there are also coffee bars and restaurants, a cheap fast-food section and 7-11 convenience store.
On all platforms - probably on every platform in Thailand - independant vendors sell drinks, food, cigarettes, newspapers etc.
Catching the right train
On the side of each carriage is the destination (e.g. Bangkok to Chiangmai), along with the carriage number. For second class and first class travel, seat and carriage are reserved and recorded on your ticket. For third class travel, it is often first come first served, and you might find yourself standing.
Sometimes platforms are changed at the last minute, so, if you are not sure that you have the correct train, show your ticket to the platform staff. Even if they cannot speak English, they will point you in the right direction.
Sadly, even such a pleasant and friendly place as Bangkok has legions of touts offering unwanted goods and services at inflated prices - tarts, taxis, Thai silk, gems, jewelry, copy watches and whatever.
Hua Lamphong has them also, but not many, and usually outside the station; though a friend of mine was once approached inside the station itself:
"Official Information!", pointing to phony ID card, "What your destination?"
"No train today. I can take you bus!"
Of course there were trains, and my friend's reply is not printable in a polite website such as this one. On a recent trip to Hua Lamphong, I myself ran into 2 phony information ladies and a phony monk - real monks do not beg for money.