why you should take an overnight train from bangkok
We were doing a trip to Bangkok and decided that since I'd never been to Chiang Mai before, nor taken the Thai railway, we did both.
It's a cheap way to travel
Our tickets were about USD20 for a first class ticket (check current prices when you go! It fluctuates between low and high seasons). What that includes is the lavishness of your very own tiny booth with a sink, table, and a couch that folds and separates into 2 beds. Watching the train staff make this bed for you at night is pretty cool. The second class tickets are about half that price, which gets you the shared carriages which are quite comfy and private, enough space to get a decent night's rest.
Meals will have to be paid for separately from your ticket cost. For first class, you get served a 3 course set meal in your booth. It's a little cramped but you'll make do. We brought reading material, snacks, our own 1L bottled water and more importantly, our own bottle of whiskey.
It's really clean
Compared to stories I've heard about how raggy train rides can get, I was pleasantly surprised. The train we took looked a lot less beat than others we passed journey. The facilities were very clean and in the first class cabin there are 10 booths sharing 1 lavatory, which was a relief. And, if you're travelling overnight, you really won't have to worry much about needing it for half the trip.
The booths have curtains that will draw during the night for privacy, and in first class it's proper doors. We were coming back round to Bangkok at the tail end of the trip so we'd left our main luggage in the hotel we'd stayed at. For the train ride we brought on only a backpack filled with clothes and things we needed for 3 days in Chiang Mai. As with most train experiences I've had, and this is true everywhere around the world, the last thing you want to wrestle onto a train is a large wheeled luggage which won't have a decent enough storage space and will just get in everyone's way. This train is no different.
You have a bar on wheels
The ride is 12 hours. Have you ever been on a train for that long? I took a 6 hour train once in Switzerland and went mad from restlessness after exhausting all our activities (no internet!). So if you're prone to fidgety boredom from the lack of wifi and being cramped into small spaces, an overnighter is great.
The last carriage is an absolute kicker of a bar at night, with the gaudiest flashing lights, disco ball and 80's Thai karaoke. It's surreal to have that blasting while the train chugs noisily into the night.
An overnight train departs from Hua Lamphong Railway Station on the Northern line from around 6pm, and they have 2 other later time slots. You can buy tickets on the day itself or they have separate advanced ticket offices, or online via Thai Railways. This Bangkok to Chiang Mai route is quite popular so saving your seat in advance is highly recommended.