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Thailand’s Northern Line: Bangkok <> Chiangmai by Train

A WindowSeater Summary

· Train,Travel,WindowSeater,Thailand,Railway

This is a long trip. You'd best learn how to enjoy it with this our WindowSeater Summary.

Departures Hall at Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Station

This WindowSeater took the daytime train from Bangkok to Chiangmai. It was a nice ride, but a tad too long to be honest. Some regret were later felt in not choosing the comfort, unconciousness, and free night of accommodation that the overnight sleeper version of the train would have provided. But those travellers that choose to fly Bangkok <> Chiangmai will miss a nice opportunity to explore and learn about the “real” Thailand — cutting through the rice paddies, the industrial centres, the smaller towns, and the different environments, all on board the rusty relic of Thailand’s modernisation.

But whether you choose the day or night train, you will be spending some of your trip gazing at a sunlit Thai countryside, and its a good idea to plan to see the best bits during the day if you can.

In short, the first third and the last third of the line offer some interesting sights, with some good nap time in the less interesting middle third.

Bangkok <> Ayuthaya <> Lopburi:

There’s plenty to absorb on this stretch. You will get a grasp of the scale and tones of Bangkok as it rolls out and over the surrounding paddies. You will see some glimpses of important sights of Thailand’s culture and society, as well as its thriving industrial and agricultural economy. You will begin to see religious and traditional suburban architecture in and between villages and towns.

You will see the mighty Chao Phraya river, the immense floodplain it has laid down over centuries, and three of the ancient Siamese capitals that were built on its banks. At Lopburi, the train will pull in and stop right in front of massive and ancient Khmer temples covered in Macaques, but thats just the introduction to that ancient capital’s story.

History in this riverine region runs deep and long. The landscape offers little vertical relief, so you will at times be peering and barely glimpsing these objects and places with fascinating stories, but they’re there. Sunrises and sunsets will offer a little slice of serenity.

Ancient Khmer stupas visible from the train at Lop Buri
Lopburi <> Phichit <> Pitsanulok <> Uttaradit:

This is a great time to get some shut-eye or catch up on reading. For about a third of the journey, you will be passing paddy and scrub that looks a lot like that closer to Bangkok, but getting drier, and more sparsely peopled, and away from the main economic and historic sights of Thailand. But you will still cross rivers, see some small towns, and observe the agricultural heartland of the world’s largest rice exporter, but wondrous sights and intriguing stories are few and far between. Its flat, straight, unending, and repetitive. The towns of Phichit, Phitsanulok, and Uttaradit have some interesting stories, but few artefacts of these stories will be visible to you on the train. Less noticeable and more interesting stories include Thailand’s largest airforce base, and the bird-laden wetlands of Lake Boraphet.

The Nan River at Uttaradit
Uttaradit <> Lampang <> Chiangmai:

From the floodplains, the train is suddenly surrounded into verdant hills — the beginning of the Himalayas. Its a part of the country that needed to be tamed by the southern rulers, and you’ll be on a train which helped to do that. The foliage of vine-laden bush, bamboo, and trees is usually higher than your eyes, but there are plenty of chances to glimpse through. The tumbling and sometimes vertical hills can’t be farmed, so they’re left to grow wildly forested. Occasionally the view opens up to fertile and productive valleys. And out of nowhere, a volcano.

The train is supported by cutaways, bridges, and tunnels, but still chugs lethargically up, or squeaks cautiously down. The slow speeds also improve the WindowSeating too, but you will wish you were there already if coming from Bangkok.

Eventually, you pierce the highest hill through the Khun Tan tunnel, and as you roll down to Chiangmai you feel like you’re back in the semi-urban floodplains of Bangkok. Then suddenly you’re unceremoniously and gingerly stepping off the carriage just far enough from Chiangmai to not make out the city’s features, and looking for ways to get to a decent meal or a soft bed.

Chiang Mai Railway Station

Click here for a few ideas about how you can make the journey more comfortable.

If you have any ideas about how we can make this Trip Summary more useful, please let us know in the comments!

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