Tropical Thailand is a destination that lends itself well to adventures by train. Whatever your travel style, there’s a train journey to suit it. Imagine lazy days winding through the hills watching beautiful landscapes unfold at one end of the comfort spectrum, or chatting with locals in cramped carriages at the other extreme. Families with kids will find train travel in Thailand a lot more comfortable than bus travel, and it’s more scenic and less stressful than air travel – no hanging around airports, queues to pass through security, etc.
Fans of trains and train travel will find their railway-based adventures in Thailand extend beyond the journey itself. There are train-themed cafes and bars, iconic railway stations, incredible station hotels and even a food market with trains rushing right through the middle.
Families in Thailand will find that train travel is part of the thrill of the trip, it’s an exciting way for kids to see the country and its people, and sleeper trains tend to be a novel alternative to a hotel bed.
♣ There are three classes of regular train in Thailand – Third Class is the least comfortable, but often the most entertaining option, but better suited to short journeys than long haul trips, due to the less-than-luxurious wooden seats (when you can find a seat, that is…)
Second class steps up the comfort level and is popular with backpackers and familieson a budget – families can sit together on seats facing each other, which convert into beds at night on sleeper trains, and some carriages are air conditioned.
If the budget allows, First Class is the best option for long haul train journeys in family, offering comfortable seating and sleeping, private carriages, and a secure travel experience – the price still compares favourably with air travel and/or the cost of a hotel bed. Train tickets can be bought at rail stations (buy in advance if you’ll be traveling during public holidays), but it’s sometimes easier to book through a reputable agency. Although they’ll charge a commission, it’s often cheaper and less hassle than making a special trip out to the station.
Dodge the speeding trains at Maeklong Railway Market
Just short of an hour’s train ride from Bangkok, this bustling produce market it (in)famous for the honking trains that speed right through the middle of the shops and stalls. It’s wonderfully Instagrammable, but make sure you take photos from a safe distance – don’t let kids hang around on the rails, and move away from the tracks if you hear the train horn! The trains rush through at a pace, but barely ruffle a feather or squash a mango, and the market workers, well accustomed to the spectacle, merely return to their vocal sales patter as though nothing happened. Trains leave from Bangkok’s Wongwian Yai Station each morning, and cost around 10baht. It’s also possible to take a cab or bus, but hey, the train’s the thing.
Visit an Incredible Railway Station at Hua Hin
One of Thailand’s most emblematic train stations, Hua Hin is literally fit for royalty. Built in the 1920s to welcome King Rama VI and his family when they headed to the nearby beach, the ornate style and exuberant decor is a major tourist attraction today. The Royal Waiting Room, built in the style of Maruekkhathayawan Palace, is a world away from your average cramped and uncomfortable waiting area. Almost as grand, the nearby Railway Hotel (now owned by Centara Group, rooms from around 5,000 baht)) has sweeping lawns, luxurious accomodation and staff dapper in uniforms that call to mind the area’s royal past.
♥ The kids and I LOVE trains, and we try to experience as many kinds of trains as we can, in every destination that we go to. We went on train journeys in India, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Japan, Turkey, Austria, Italy, France, and Israel. We especially liked the Mongolian night train, the Bangkok sky train, The express super-fast train in China, and the metro in Istanbul.
Bangkok Train Adventures For Families
There’s very little that can’t be found in Bangkok – for better or worse, it really is a case of seek and you shall find. That doesn’t apply only to insalubrious activities – if you’re looking for a cute pet cafe or, indeed, good clean train-based fun, you’ll find it here.
Ride the Skytrain
The best way to move around this traffic-choked city is by riding high above the streets on the smooth, affordable Skytrain. Great fun to ride, the BTS, as locals know it, covers large swathes of the city (see map) , and runs from 6.30am until around midnight. If you’re traveling with kids it’s a godsend, as traveling from one spot to another becomes part of the fun rather than a chore. It can take a little getting used to ticketing etc (there’s some useful info here) but once you’ve got the hang of it, the BTS is a doddle to use. If you can’t reach your destination overground, head underground – the MRT, or Bangkok metro, is modern, cool, clean and essentially a pleasure to use, with plenty of elevators and ramps for families with strollers.
Take Tea and Cakes in a Train Cafe
You can take tea in a train without fears of spillage at Tales Cafe Hostel in Khaosan – an uber-funky cafe-hostel-co-working space designed to look like the interior of a contemporary, chrome-filled train. The cafe is strong on cold brews and matcha tea, while the hostel is about as chic as backpacker options get, with all mod cons and dorm meds styled to look like train sleeper cabins (beds from 350 baht). The private room is a good option for families with young children, and kids will love the idea of sleeping in a ‘static train’.
Meanwhile, at Inn Train, there’s a good selection of cocktails, coffee, Thai and international food, and once again there’s an opportunity to share a co-working space with the digital nomad gang. The whole thing is designed to resemble a train, and there are board games to keep kids busy while grownups catch up on their emails or just relax with a drink.
Take an epic train journey
There are many epic long rail adventures for the taking in Thailand (including some retro-chic luxury options with Orient Express and some back-to-basics fun to be had rattling along in budget carriages). For a shorter journey that delivers plenty am emotional whack, take the three-hour ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, which takes in glorious countryside before arriving in the picturesque town. It also passes over the Bridge of the River Kwai (made famous by the film of the same name), which is part of the infamous Death Railway built by Allied Prisoners of War during World War II, and as such is something of a harrowing- though scenic and very worthwhile – experience.
♣ Tip: Food and Drink on Thai trains
Many travelers picture themselves sipping drinks in a Thai railway bar as the scenery glides by, or chattering over shared beers in a busy second class carriage. However, alcohol is actually now banned on Thai trains (as are cigarettes, although some determined smokers do sneak a few in on occasion). With rare exceptions, food on fancier trains tends to be underwhelming and overpriced, so it’s usually a good option to bring your own supplies, and while the vendors selling everything from chicken to rice cakes onboard is entertaining, families should bring along easy eats and snacks for fussy eaters, as options will be limited once you’re chugging along the tracks.