Jan 18 2013
No one has ever accused the Thailand State Railway of pushing the technological limits of train travel, and it has just taken a big step backwards by axing its online booking service. A message popped up a few days ago on the official website’s e-ticket (E-SRT) page that “The State Railway of Thailand has decided not to continue the Internet Ticketing service from January 14, 2013″. Here’s what it could mean for travellers.
Generally speaking, Thailand’s trains have more seats than customers; if you search for a route on the State Railway website and simply show up at the station, you’ll most likely be able to catch the train you want. However, sleeper cars can fill up on popular routes, such as Bangkok to Chumphon, Surat Thani and Trang during island high season and, especially, Bangkok to Chiang Mai at any time. Trains can also fill up around the late December and mid-April holidays when Thais head to their hometowns in droves. If possible, we recommend purchasing tickets at the train station a few days in advance if wanting to ride the rails in these scenarios.
Otherwise, our visit to three typical Bangkok travel offices that advertise “train tickets” on their footpath signs revealed that none are now able to arrange them. There is, however, one company holding out a pre-booked rail ticket service for popular destinations in Thailand. The thailandtrainticket.com site run by Travex Co and recommended by the world train travel gurus at Seat 61 will continue offering pre-booked tickets, but it’s not as simple as the E-SRT system was.
Like everyone else, Travex now needs to head down to the train station in person to purchase tickets, so it’s necessary to book at least a day in advance, although a few days or more is best (and often necessary for popular routes). They accept a range of payment options, including credit cards with a small processing fee, and they can pre-deliver tickets to a hotel in any of the destinations they service, or meet travellers at the train station an hour before departure time. Obviously, the service is pricier than purchasing tickets yourself at the station, but it’s a solid option for anyone wanting to ensure a seat or bed on that overnight train.
One final note: while the State Railway website’s online booking page is now frozen, it clearly states that bookings made prior to January 14 will be honoured. If E-SRT members had accrued credits through the service, their credit/debit cards will apparently be refunded. As for why the e-ticket service has been taken off the table, the gentleman we reached through the E-SRT contact number was as baffled about it as we are. But he assured us, “You can still go to the ticket counter at the train station to buy tickets.” Phew, that’s a relief.
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