Chiang Mai Railway Station

Table of Contents

The First Chiang Mai Railway Station

Few people know that the current railway station in Chiang Mai is not the original one. That includes people who were born and raised in the city or have been living there for a long time. The first station looked entirely different and there are very few published photographs of it. The first Chiang Mai Railway station  opened on January 1, 1922. They chose that date because it was the birthday of King Rama VI. He didn’t attend the opening though.

The opening of the Chiang Mai Railway Station completed the construction of the Northern Line, which was a watershed moment for Chiang Mai and North Thailand. Things would never be the same. The SRT (State Railway of Thailand) constructed the Railway Hotel opposite the railway station.

Building with horse carts
Best picture of the first station. Date and source unknown

The Greater Asia War or World War Two

On December 8 1941 Japanese forces invaded Thailand. The Thai resistance was shortlived. Thailand signed a military pact with Japan and then declared war on England and the United States. Japanese troops occupied Chiang Mai and Japanese planes were based at the Chiang Mai airfield. Chiang Mai thus became a strategic target for Allied air forces.

Japanese planes, based in Chiang Mai, flew sorties over Burma in support of the Japanese ground offensive against British forces. The Thai railway system offered an all-weather supply link to North Thailand and into Burma. The Japanese intended to build a road from Chiang Mai into the Shan States of Burma.

Cows and people in front of building
Chiang Mai Railway station before it was destroyed in World War Two. Date unknown. The picture was sent to me by Robert Hirschhorn.

American planes destroy the Chiang Mai Railway Station

British and American planes attacked the Chiang Mai airport several times but also railway bridges and, ultimately, the railway station, became targets for the Allies.  December 21 1943 was a dark day in Chiang Mai history. On that day at around 1500, 29 Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” bombers of the US Airforce bombed Chiang Mai Railway Station and the railway yard. About 300 people lost their lives. I understood most of them were civilians. After the destruction of the railway station the trains from Bangkok stopped at Pasao Railway Station, near Lamphun.

Building with tower
The new station after opening in 1950

Construction of the new railway station

Right after the end of the war construction started of a new railway station. A man named Mom Jow Votyakorn Worawan (1899-1980)made the design.He was the grandson of King Rama IV. He graduated from Cambridge University. It took two years to construct the station which was opened in 1947 (2491). The Northern Line has not changed much since its opening in 1922. Most of the stations are still the same. In 2013 more and more derailments took place so the SRT decided to close the Northern Line temporarily for repairs. The line has been running quite smoothly the past few years. The line always has been single track but construction is ongoing to make the line double track.

Building with clock tower Chiang Mai Railway Station
Front of the Chiang Mai Railway Station. Date and source unknown

Pictures by Boonserm Satrabhaya

The late Boonserm Satrabhaya took quite a few pictures of the Railway Station in the 1950s from a helicopter.  These were made during floods. Clearly visible is the turntable on which steam engines were turned in order to let their noses pointing in the right direction. The turntable was made in Germany in 1922 by Joseph Vögele in Mannheim.

Railway yard and station
Aerial view of the Chiang Mai Railway Station with the turntable

Frans Betgem, January 2021

Great Railway Journeys

We love trains and especially the Northern Line. We offer several great railway tours: