The Best Thailand Railway Journeys
Great Railway Journeys
Why did we put together our Thailand Railway Journeys? Above all, we love railway journeys. It is a wonderful way of traveling, especially on the Northern Line of the State Railways of Thailand. It is a very relaxed way of traveling, and it allows you to see the countryside and towns and villages. Driving is much faster but far less interesting. Besides that, driving is also much more dangerous.
The Northern Line runs from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The total distance of this line is 751.42km. It starts at Hua Lamphong Railway Station and ends at the Chiang Mai Railway Station. There are daily trains and overnight trains on this trajectory. For our tours, we only use day trains. The overnight trains are perfect, but you won’t see much of the scenery. Many people use the train as a means of transportation only to go from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but we think the train rides are great experiences. You will appreciate them even more if you take three or four days to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and visit sights along the way. This will also make the train rides not too long and very enjoyable.
The Northern Line from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
The Northern Line is the most interesting railroad trajectory of the country. There are several great tourist attractions on the line or close to it, and there is a wonderful variety of landscapes. For our Thailand Railway Journeys, we prefer to use trains with non-airconditioned carriages. Airconditioned carriages are often too cold, but most importantly, you are sealed off from the outside world. You don’t feel the breeze and the sounds of the outside world. Open windows allow you to take great pictures. This is impossible in an air-conditioned carriage. You can find the schedule of the trains that run on the Northern line here.
Travel by train is slow travel
To travel by train on the Northern Line is slow travel. If you don’t like slow travel, read no further! You have to change your mindset if you want to enjoy Thailand Railway Journeys. This is like a journey back in time. People must have been very excited to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in less than 24 hours. Before the Northern Line went into use in 1922, the journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai could take up to several weeks. Nowadays, we are used to flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in one hour. Compared to that train travel takes an eternity. Travel time from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is between 12 and 14 hours, depending on the train.
Construction of the Northern Line
The section from Bangkok to Ayutthaya opened in 1897. It was part of the Northeast Line to Khorat. Then it took almost 25 years to complete the Northern Line from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. Compared to similar major projects nowadays, this doesn’t seem to be that long.
Construction of the line from Ayutthaya to Lopburi started in 1898. With the opening of the Chiang Mai Railway Station in early 1922, the Northern Line was completed. The construction was interrupted a couple of times: in 1909, the money ran out. In 1917 Siam declared war on Germany, which resulted in the German engineers working on the Khuntan tunnel between Lampang and Chiang Mai.
Ayutthaya Historical Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ayutthaya is the first main attraction on the Northern Line. The train arrives at Ayutthaya Railway Station. It was the capital of a Siamese Kingdom from around 1350 until 1767. UNESCO inscribed the Ayutthaya Historical park on its list of World Heritage sites in 1991. We recommend spending the night in Ayutthaya. The highlights of Ayutthaya are too many to mention here. Our personal favorites are Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, Wat Sri Sanphet, and Wat Chai Watthanaram. In our Ancient Capitals by Train tour, we include a boat trip on the Chao Phraya and Pasak rivers. This is a wonderful way to see Ayutthaya. We really love boat trips.
Lopburi, the town of monkeys
Next on the Northern Line is Lopburi, a town that has a history dating back more than 1000 years to the Dvaravati period. Keep your eyes peeled for the magnificent Prang Sam Yod, a ruin dating back to Lopburi’s Khmer period. Yes, this town, the capital of an ancient kingdom called Lavo, once was an outpost of a Khmer Empire based in Angkor, Cambodia. Lopburi has interesting temples, palaces, and museums. The town is also known for the thousands of monkeys that live in the middle of the city. They can be found around the Prang Sam Yod. These are crab-eating macaques. Their presence can be fun but also annoying. If you have time and are into history, Lopburi is very much worth the stop.
Nakhon Sawan, the origin of the Chao Phraya River
Nakhon Sawan was known in the past as Paknampho. There are actually two railway stations: Nakhon Sawan and Pak Nam Pho. This city usually doesn’t feature in itineraries of overseas visitors. We find Nakhon Sawan a fascinating destination, though, worth an overnight. Not only is this the location where the Ping, Nan, and Yom rivers come together and form the Chao Phraya River, The “River of Kings,” but furthermore, this city has more to offer. There is an old center with narrow streets and excellent fresh markets. The Wat Khiriwong offers magnificent views of Nakhon Sawan and its riverine surroundings. Along the Ping River, close to the origin of the Chao Phraya, there is an outstanding after-dark food market.
On the Yom River, Phitsanulok is a pleasant city with a jump-off point for trips to either Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai or the national parks in Loei province. Our train arrives in Phitsanulok at 1312. The city’s main points of interest are the Phra Buddha Chinnarat, a most revered Buddha statue in the Wat Yai, and the Folk Museum of Sgt. Maj. Thawee. We have several Railway Journeys that include visits to the historical parks of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns” such as Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai by Train. The historical park of Sukhothai is about 60km from Phitsanulok.
Den Chai Railway Station is less than 30km from Phrae, a terribly under-visited, lovely town. The journey continues along the Kaeng Luang rapids and beautiful mountain scenery to Lampang, another under-visited destination. Lampang is the horse cart city of Thailand and boasts lots of interesting temples and historical houses. The city once was the dominant economic and political center of North Thailand before Chiang Mai started to develop.
In the train schedules, Lampang appears as Nakhon Lampang. The city of Lampang competed for a while with Chiang Mai to become the most important city of North Thailand. Ultimately Chiang Mai won and is now the economic and political center of North Thailand. Before World War Two, Lampang was the least as influential as Chiang Mai. For a long time, highway no.1 from Lampang to the Burmese border was the most important road. It doesn’t pass through Chiang Mai. Lampang has many sights of interest like temples, heritage houses, and markets. One of our favorite houses is the Louis T.Leonowens House. This iconic house has recently been renovated.
Lampang is the only city in Thailand that has a horse carriage service. The story goes that these horse carts came from Bangkok about 100 years ago. Our tour From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train has one overnight in Lampang and includes a horse cart ride.
Our Best Thailand Railway Journeys
How do our railway journeys work? A knowledgeable local guide will accompany you from the start of the trip until the end. He will take care of the logistics and the guidance on your trip. We have made arrangements at every location along the way.
We have researched all the destinations extensively and optimized your visit.