Lessons Learned on the Thai Trains
Before getting on the train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, I had developed a cough due to the extreme AC that was pumped into the hostel all night and decided to stop by a pharmacy on the way to the train station. I pointed to my throat and coughed, signalling that I would like cough medicine, and then placed my palms together next to my ear to signal I wanted sleepy meds. Figured it would be a good way to get through the train ride. I popped the pills, my new friends asked for a couple also, and we were all knocked out cold. I don’t think I was awake for more than a cumulative total of one hour that entire trip. Later, when looking up the inscription on the pills, we found out that the pharmacist had probably only understood the sleepy part of my gestures beca
use they were anti-anxiety/anti-depression pills. There are several morals than can be drawn here.
Once on the train, the AC was again blaring the entire time. Keep a hoodie, a hat and maybe even a scarf handy. My cough definitely got worst because of it. On the way back to Bangkok a few days later, I wrapped a bandana around my mouth and nose to help warm the air I was inhaling. The windows don’t open and there were times that I went to the bathroom or in between the cars just to get a whiff of warm, moist air.
Other than that, the train was comfortable to ride in and was extremely punctual every time. There were a couple of outlets at the entrance to each car which enabled you to charge your devices. Unfortunately you do have assigned seats, which, in a crowded car train, are enforced so if you are somewhere in the middle of the car you’ll have to keep a close eye on them because you won’t be close to the outlets. They also served coffee or tea with a light snack for breakfast and a tasty, decent sized lunch, so if you’re on a budget trip you can factor those meals in.
Other than the AC, the only other complaint I have is that there was no WiFi. That being said, even on North American trains where it is provided, it’s frequently unreliable and I end up using data most of the time, which is what I did here (after purchasing a Thai SIM card). In fact, whereas in North America, even the cellular data is spotty at times in between major cities, I was rarely disconnected here so the only limiting factor is how much data you purchased.
In essence, this is a reliable method of transportation and definitely a cheaper alternative to flying. If you can handle the long rides, I definitely recommend it as the Thai landscape is lush and beautiful. It’s also very rare that we give ourselves that much time to just sit and read or think, and I astounded myself at the minor epiphanies that came to me during the ride back to Bangkok, where I wasn’t sedated on strange Thai medication. Bring your favorite book or download one on your kindle, make sure you have a trusty travel notebook with you to write stories and thoughts, and enjoy the ride!