Train travel in Thailand is cheap compared to train travel in Europe or North America, nonetheless, for people on longer trips or simply a more limited budget there are ways to save the price of a meal, or more, when buying Thailand train tickets. There are certain seat types and certain train services that are very cheap without being particularly uncomfortable and worth considering if are looking to save money.
2nd Class Fan Sleeper Berths
For most of the year in Thailand the temperature is over 30 degrees Celsius in the daytime and over 25 degrees Celsius at night. For this reason most foreign visitors opt to travel in a 2nd or 1st Class air-conditioned carriage, particularly for long overnight journeys. 1st or 2nd Class air-conditioned sleeper berths are cool even if the weather outside is hot. Fan cooled carriages, by comparison, are sometimes uncomfortably hot as the rotating ceiling fans are not particularly effective in keeping the carriages cool.
- Thailand Trains Tip: There is a window you can open if you book the lower bunk in 2nd Class fan cooled sleeper carriage. If you book the upper bunk you do not have window and you are likely to be too hot. Once you open the window the lower bunk in a 2nd Class fan carriage is just as cool as more expensive sleeper berth in a 2nd Class A/C carriage.
On the journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai a sleeper berth in a 2nd Class fan cooled carriage is around 180 THB cheaper than a sleeper in a 2nd Class A/C carriage, and on the journey from Bangkok to Surat Thani (connection point for ferries to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan) tickets are around 200 THB cheaper.
- Northbound Trains (towards Chiang Mai): 2nd Class fan cooled sleeper berths are available on Train #51.
- Southbound Trains (towards Surat Thani): 2nd Class fan cooled sleeper berths are available on Trains #171 and #167.
Ordinary Trains are short distance train services which have only one seat seat type, which is 3rd class fan cooled carriages with bench type seats. You cannot book these trains in advance but generally tickets are always available if simply turn up at the station a few minutes before the train is due to depart. This may not sound appealing in comparison to taking one of the long distance trains with air-conditioned carriages, however, the cost of tickets on Ordinary Trains is very cheap and often a lot cheaper than even basic local bus services. There are lots of Ordinary Train services in Thailand and if you are travelling on a journey of under 3 hours it is worth checking to see if there is one available for the journey you plan to do.
To illustrate the potential cost saving of using an Ordinary Train service consider the journey from Udon Thani to Khon Kaen:
- A ticket on an Ordinary Train from Udon Thani to Khon Kaen costs only 25 THB compared to 267 THB for a 2nd Class Air-Conditioned seat in an Express Train on the same journey. The Express Train service on this route is scheduled to take 1 hour 13 minutes to travel from Udon Thani to Khon Kaen, whereas the Ordinary Train service is scheduled to take 1 hour 52 minutes. This means you would save 242 THB for spending 39 minutes longer on a train cooled by an open window as compared to one which was air-conditioned. For travellers on a tight budget this is a big saving which equates to three meals in a basic Thai restaurant or 3 large bottles of beer from a convenience store.