Chiang Mai railway station serves around a million passengers a year, making it one of the busiest stations in Thailand. The station building itself was first opened in 1922 when Thailand’s northern line was completed with help from German engineers, though the current construction dates from 1948, since the original was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II in an effort to disrupt Japanese transport and supply lines. Now it’s not the most photogenic station in the world but below’s a picture anyway and hopefully this post will be read for its helpful content rather than for its aesthetic qualities.
Before we get into fascinating timetables, prices and such, the station is located on the east side of the city on Rot Fai Road (which predictably means Station Road in Thai), just off the main Charoen Muang Road, which takes you the short distance into the centre of town, over the Narawat Bridge and up to Tha Pae Gate itself. (See our city map here).
Tuk tuk drivers claim to be able to take you into town for 100 baht though this may require some negotiation during busy periods. There are also agents within the station forecourt who offer direct transfers to all points in Chiang Mai province as well as popular destinations such as Chiang Khong for a Lao crossing or Pai and so on. We’re not saying they’re all necessarily rip off merchants but unless you’re in a big hurry it’s got to be better to grab a free map, go into town, find a spot to chill out for a day or two and look around at what’s on offer.
Many guesthouses and hotels in Chiang Mai offer free pick-ups from the station anyway, so ask them first and if you haven’t booked anywhere yet ignore tout and driver recommendations and assurances that the one you want to go to is closed/burnt down/full or whatever. If you’re being really careful with your money, walk out onto Charoen Muang Road and flag down a red songthaew which should take you into town for 20 baht. (Check our Chiang Mai transport section.)
Just opposite the station, still on Rot Fai Road, are some useful spots: a few cafes and noodle shops, a 7-Eleven where you can stock up on munchies if you’ve missed the State Railways of Thailand breakfast, a newsagent where you can check last night’s footie results in the Bangkok Post, an Aya Service motorbike rental shop (we’ve mentioned them in our Pai section, where they also have an outlet, and they are generally reliable), or even better if you’ve missed breakfast right opposite is the Bossotel.
We’re not particularly suggesting renting a room, though at 800 baht low season and 1,200 high for a reasonable midrange hotel it’s not a bad deal. What may be of particular interest though is their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet for 99 baht per person. We will confess to not actually having tried it but to be frank you’d be hard pushed to get even a couple of cups of coffee and a juice for that price elsewhere… If you alight early morning in Chiang Mai station after a perhaps questionable night’s sleep it’s a good place to open up your guidebook or connect to the Travelfish Chiang Mai page and take stock of the situation before heading downtown. (We did however review the excellent Rainforest Resort Hotel, which is very close to the station.)
Now on to the nitty gritty: There are three types of train options for getting to Bangkok (not forgetting — how could we – the unusual Bogie Gourmet train): rapid, special express and express. (Some are sleepers and some are not.) None of them are particularly ‘express’ and the fastest of the bunch still takes at least 12-13 hours. Departures are generally pretty prompt but arrivals can vary enormously. We’ve already covered the pros and cons of rail travel in Thailand, so we’ll go straight into a rundown of times and schedules.
Six trains depart Bangkok for Chiang Mai daily:
* 08:30 special express (non sleeper, free meal) (train #9) arrives CM 20:30. 1st 593, 2nd 281, 3rd 121;
* 12:45 rapid arrives CM 04.05 (sleeper) (train #109). Upper berth 491, lower berth 541, air-con. 2nd class seat only 391, 3rd class seat 231;
* 18:00 special express, sprinter arrives 06.15 (#11). 611 for seat only plus meal, air-con;
* 18:10 special express arrives 08:15 (#1). 1st class sleeper upper berth 1,253 baht, lower berth 1,453, four-person compartment 1,953, 2nd class sleeper, upper, lower 791 and 881 respectively;
* 19:35 special express arrives 09:55 (#13) as above;
* 22:00 express arrives 13:05 (#51). Sleeper upper 751, lower 821 and air-con seat only 541.
Now in the reverse direction trains, train numbers, prices and times are, at least in theory similar (surprise, surprise) but obviously best to check first. Note also during busy periods such as holidays and festival periods trains can fill up well in advance.
If you are purchasing tickets though it is far simpler and by the time you’ve paid return tuk tuk fares cheaper, to get one of the numerous travel agents or even your hotel to book tickets for you. Average agent’s commission is around 50 baht per ticket so that’s a big saving.
It’s worth noting that in Bangkok you can board any of these trains at Sam Sen, Bang Sue or Don Muang stations too if they’re more convenient than Hualamphong. Finally main stops between Chiang Mai and Bangkok — it does depend upon which train and the rapid ones tend to stop much more frequently — include: Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Nakhon Sawan, Pichit, Phitsanolok, Uttaradit, Den Chai, Lampang and Lamphun.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 16th June, 2012.