Sleeper Trains: The Best Way to Travel When All You Need is Sleep

The Outpost field team travelled in a variety of ways through Thailand: in airplanes, where we enjoyed the luxuries but got slammed by the jet lag; tuk-tuks, where we crammed ourselves into what resemble red-and-yellow Little Tikes cars and are only about 20 percent larger; and what we’ve been calling “truk-truks,” the often questionable tuk-tuk/pick-up hybrids that careen maniacally and seem to be held together by the collective will of the riders.

There were taxis, which would have been comfortable if we didn’t need to pile our backpacks atop our laps; motorcycle taxis, where we hugged our knees lest we lose them on somebody’s bumper while weaving through Bangkok’s notorious traffic; and a rickety train from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok, where we befriended an old Thai woman who asked us to call her grandma and committed over an hour to pronouncing our names.

But by far the most luxurious mode of land transport was the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

chiang mai bangkok train

All aboard the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. (Outpost/John Price)

It had been an exhausting day. Up and at ’em (or at least near ’em) at 6 a.m., there had been a frantic Thaiglish debate with hotel staff over whether our cab was indeed en route. Then, while gazing dreamily out the back door on our belated train ride from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok, Lena and I glimpsed a dog who’d been lying on the tracks when the train came. (The canine did limp off, though was obviously injured.)

After that, we spent another hour squished in a cab crawling through Bangkok traffic to the other train station, only to encounter new chaos as Lena engaged in a second frantic Thaiglish debate, discerning whether we did indeed have sleeper train tickets reserved for us.

“There were windows to gaze out at the passing world, which was mostly shadowed, save for the chaotic smattering of lights as we glided through villages”

The train itself was, therefore, a welcome respite.

Cushioned berths with curtains, pillows and blankets allowed us to stretch out and doze. There were outlets to charge our devices and, of course, windows to gaze out at the passing world, which was mostly shadowed, save for the chaotic smattering of lights as we glided through villages.

bangkok-train-station

Becoming one of the many travellers in Bangkok’s train station. (Outpost/John Price)

Since Lena and I had been booked into the women’s-only carriage (“the convent,” Lena quickly nicknamed it), the crew couldn’t even film us. Instead, we caught up on writing blogs, planned our coming days and lost ourselves in our own thoughts.

Save for the impudent individual who decided to eat chips at four in the morning (!), it was a very comfortable trip, and certainly less terrifying than our truk-truk experience…

…But that’s another story.