Getting to Hat Yai – our 1st class Sleeper train experience in Thailand
The trip from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Hat Yai was the last leg of our trip through Thailand (which would continue through Malaysia to Singapore). It was also our first experience taking a 1st class Sleeper train in Thailand.
This post might be of interest to anyone wondering what a 1st class Sleeper train experience in Thailand is like.
Firstly, you can check schedules on the official Thai Railways website. There are usually 6 trains a day that do the trip down south. We took the Special Express Train 37 that leaves Bangkok at 15:10 (ie. 3:10 pm) and finishes at Sungai Kolok (at the Malaysian border close to the East coast) at 11:20 am the next day.
Note: we didn’t start in Bangkok. We got on at Prachuap Khiri Khan and got off at Hat Yai, 60km from the Malaysian border on the West coast of the peninsula. Our itinerary called for departure at 20:36 (ie. 8:36pm) and arrival in Hat Yai at 7:20 am.
Note: Only “Express” and “Special Express” trains have 1st class Sleeper cabins. They usually have one 1st class Sleeper carriage that has 12 cabins, each consisting of a lower and upper berth. So if you’re a couple you can get a cabin to share with your partner. If you’re by yourself, you’ll be sharing the cabin with someone of the same sex. 1st class Sleeper Cabins are the most comfortable option as well as the most expensive. See this post on the difference between 1st class and 2nd class carriages (not included are 3rd class carriages – which are ‘sit only’ carriages).
Buying your ticket. We pre-bought our tickets online using 12Go Asia. We were able to print our travel vouchers at our Prachuap Khiri Khan hotel. When travel day came we went to the station, traded the vouches for tickets, and just climbed on board the train. Easy.
The 1st Class Sleeper Ticket from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Hat Yai was the most expensive tickets we’ve bought on this trip: 1,361 Baht each, or about $42 USD.
This post covers everything you need to know about train travel in Thailand
So what was the actual experience like?
The train was scheduled to arrive in Prachuap Khiri Khan at 20:36. When we arrived I asked the station agent if the train was on schedule and was told that it would be an hour late (which I’m told is something that often happens).
An hour and 15 minutes later the long train pulled into the station. The 1st Class Sleeper carriage was carriage #12, the very last carriage on the train. It meant running down to the end of the train which was quite a long way…but attendants were expecting us and were waiting, helping us lift our suitcases onboard.
It was then that I realized that Lissette and I were not in the same cabin. She had seat 22 (the lower berth in one cabin), I had seat 24 (the lower berth in the cabin next to it). It ended up fine – Lissette had a Thai lady with her daughter in the bunk above her, I had a friendly Thai man above mine. As I mentioned earlier, if you can’t get a cabin together they’ll always match you up with a person of the same sex.
Being almost 10 pm, the seats had already been converted into beds. On both our beds were a plastic-wrapped blanket and pillow as well as a plastic water bottle.
The bed was very comfortable and the cabin had Air Conditioning and was cool (but not cold).
At the end of the carriage there were two bathroom compartments: one included a squat toilet, the other a Western toilet.
Restaurant: we had read that there is a restaurant carriage on board. But we didn’t see any sign of it and there didn’t appear to be any attendants anywhere we could ask. Lissette and I decided to go investigate but there was a man sleeping (an attendant) near the carriage door, effectively blocking access to the other carriages. We didn’t want to wake him. We had packed beer and a few snacks so we ended up being ok with that for 12 hours.
(note: I was told the next morning that alcohol was not allowed on the train).
No attendants or food vendors were seen all night. It seemed strange to us because on previous train trips there was always a ‘stewardess’ walking around offering food or drinks.
With not much else to do, both of us got comfortable in our respective berths and eventually fell asleep.
NOTE: they don’t turn off the lights in the cabins! (maybe they’re afraid of something happening). You’re much better off in the lower berth because the lights are situated on the ceiling. But either way you should bring something to cover your eyes.
Related: Our worst ever Train experiences
We were already awake the next morning when attendants came to our cabin to tell us that we would be arriving in Hat Yai in 20 minutes.
It was about 8:30 when we arrived in Hat Yai, just a little over an hour later than the advertised 7:20.
So thoughts on our 1st class Sleeper Experience?
It got us from A to Z and the sleeping experience was fine. But Thai “1st class” was nothing special and after the good 2nd class service we received on day trains (see here) we expected a bit more in the way of services. Still, it was a good way to do this long trip and we arrived in Hat Yai rested. That, ultimately, is the goal of overnight train travel.
Thailand Tour Packages that may interest you.
Hat Yai – and on a different side of Thailand
The great thing about travelling overland is seeing the gradual changes in geography and people. We woke up in the morning to scenery we hadn’t see further up the coast. Everything seemed lusher and greener, with big-leaved banana trees and palms dominating the view. Where previously there were only Buddhist stupas and temples, here there were an equal number of mosques dotting the landscape.
Arriving in Hat Yai we felt and saw the mix. Many women wear headscarfs while many men wear a songkok (a Muslim cap). There’s a more conservative feel in the air. In a way, it felt as if we had already crossed the border into Malaysia (60 away). You also won’t see many Western tourists in Hat Yai – in fact I don’t recall seeing any in our day there. You will however see many Malaysians who come here for shopping and entertainment.
Note: Since 2004, there’s been an insurgency in the 3 southernmost provinces of Thailand by an Islamic separatist group (the Barisan Revolusi Nasional). The latest bombings happened in 2014 and wounded 8 people. Over the last 14 years it is estimated that 6,000 have been killed as a result of the insurgency.
Klonghae Floating Market
What to see in Hat Yai? It’s not really known for its sightseeing highlights. But to get a feel for the culture and to see something unique, we went to the Klonghae Floating Market. A few photos:
Accommodation in Hat Yai: The Hat Yai Greenview Hotel. No frills, basic modern hotel that is a bit faded. But the bed was comfortable, there was free coffee downstairs, and it’s in the center and a 10 minute Tuk-Tuk ride from the train station. The room was 750 Baht (about $24 USD) and was fine.
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Related: Things to consider before settling in Hua Hin, Thailand. And why it isn’t for us.
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Totally agree Frank. For all us ‘train-buffs’ any train is an experience – and invariably a fun one at that – and I love them all , from the ancient steam bone-rattlers on narrow guage track right through to the latest 350 kms per hour TGVs . One of the best of Man’s inventions, space to walk around, wonderful way to meet people – and see the country. I used to love the African steam trains that took us students the 2.500 kms down to University in South Africa each term, and back home each vacation … (In the late 60s roads in southern Africa were still a slow and tiring adventure and cars still quite a luxury so few students had them) Now the trains are all electrified, and mainly freight , and as the road system is fantastic, and cars commonplace, few people still do any long distance train trips. They don’t realise what they are missing ! Vive le Train !
Some years back we took the overnight sleeper ‘express’ train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – probably the busiest and best operated section of the Thai Rail system. The compartment was v acceptable, clean and comfortable, the trip of 800 kms odd taking about 12 hours . The coach attendants made up the berth beds (crisp fresh sheets etc) provided snacks, coffee and drinks , as well as remaining on call through the night if requires etc – as well as a full breakfast (a menu of b’fast options was provided.) .
Imagine our surprise, getting up early, to see the attendants, each sitting at their coach ‘junction’ with a small portable gas stove preparing fried eggs and bacon etc for us (and presumably other travellers in the coach …) The last section of the journey – undoubtedly the most picturesque and prettiest part of the trip from Bangkok, was done in the morning . And arrival in Chiang Mai was a mere 20 minutes late – probably another record for the Thai rail system ! A great way to travel – and to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai !
Thank you Tony! Great hearing about the experience. Sounds like a step up on ours 🙂
We find more and more that we’d rather take the train, not matter how much longer, than fly.
Unless it’s in Romania that is…
I used to travel overland(by train as well by bus for part of the journey) via Hatyai train station to Bangkok and onto Aranyaprathet and onwards to Siem Reap. I would stopped to have a meal near Hatyai train station while waiting for my connecting train or bus to Bangkok.
I found Hatyai train station to be quite chaotic and it can be quite confusing when taking a connecting train to Bangkok from there.
The long train journey can be quite boring, tiring and uncomfortable.
It was exhausting and quite tough on me even though I did not have many luggage with me. I guess I was quite adventurous at that time and thus
coped quite well with all the discomfort and hassle that comes with travelling overland
It seems like ages ago though it was only a few years back.
Thanks Wendy. Yes, Lissette said the same about the trip – very long, especially if taken during the day. That’s why we’re happy we took the sleeper carriage.
Me and my husband tried the 1st class sleeper when we were travelling from Bangkok to Surat Thani on our way to Phuket a few years back.
But we did not enjoyed it and found ithe train cabin to be quite in poor condition and in need of maintenance.
I do like train travel too and it would be nice if they could spruce up their cabin and improve on their train service.
That’s all true Wendy. It isn’t “1st class” as “1st class” should be. It’s more comfortable than sitting down in a hard chair for 10 hours but there’s a long way to go..
Agree with you. By the way, have you try train travelling
in UK? It is much more comfortable
and much more pleasant.
Do you have trains in Canada?
getting a nice cabin is enough for me! 🙂 it looks pretty comfortable! Like the look of Hat Yai!
I know you’re big on train travel Andy and that you’ve had some pretty exciting rail trips. This probably won’t compare to some of those but, as you say, it’s comfortable and gets you somewhere.
Call me curious (in answer to your opening paragraph) and your post answered a lot of questions. We’ve done overnight train trips in both Morocco and the US and, while I hate to miss viewing the countryside outside my window, it’s a great way to cover a lot of ground and ditch the plane option. Loved your floating market photos – so colorful! One of the things I’d looked forward to during my recent trip to Vietnam was a chance to see a floating market but it was a huge disappointment. The tourists outnumbered the vendors. Looks like you had a much better experience!
We really like train travel Anita, much more relaxed than the plane and you see the world gradually changing before your eyes unlike the plane where you are transported somewhere else without seeing what’s in between.
I won’t tell you that the market is the most exciting thing in the world – I think the highlight was seeing the outfits of the sellers and the food.