Located roughly in the centre of Thailand, Bangkok is the nation’s rail hub, and although the network isn’t extensive, it does connect with important areas of the country.
Lines run northeast into Isaan, north as far as Chiang Mai, eastwards to the Cambodian border, southeast to Pattaya, and south to Surat Thani (for Samui and Phuket transfers), then onwards to the Malaysian border. While some people use trains within Bangkok to get to work, they are far from efficient and are seldom used by foreigners.
All long distance trains must be boarded at Hua Lamphong Station, which is a short taxi ride from Siam Square and is also on the Metro line.
Travelling long distance by train in Thailand is quite popular with tourists, although the advent of budget airlines has turned it into a novelty rather than a cheap transportation option. The 1st and 2nd class carriages are quite comfortable, clean and reasonably modern, and the sleepers are suitable for killing long, overnight journeys (lower bunks are more spacious and comfortable).It is advisable to book several days in advance at the station, online, or via a travel agent. While 1st class offers private cabins, these are almost as expensive as an airline seat. Second class has 32 bunks per carriage, and although fairly decent, the chances of sharing with a snorer are high.
Rail service modernisation has stood still over the years, due to lack of management planning, poor investment and an entrenched union resisting any type of reform. A series of accidents in late 2009, followed by wildcat strikes, brought the situation to a head, with renewed commitment to modernise this loss-making state enterprise – don’t hold your breath though. The trains in Thailand aren’t very fast and a typical journey to Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes 12 hours or more.
Food is available on the train, as well as refreshments and snacks at reasonable prices. For 2nd class rates, you can figure on about 75 baht per 100kms of length; thus, Chiang Mai on an overnight sleeper costs roughly 500 baht, while the journey to Phun Phin station near Surat Thani (for Samui, Phuket and Krabi) is roughly 600 baht.