Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How to Survive an Overnight Train

I'm not sure why but I've always wanted to ride on an overnight train. Something about it seems so nostalgic, so classy, so old school. Nope, not at all. But it was an experience, that's for sure.
There are three options to get from one end of Thailand to the other. Bus, plane or train. Not being in any sort of time crunch but wanting something more comfortable than a bus, we opted for the overnight train that would take us from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Boarding at 6:10 pm and arriving at 8:30 am we were in for a long night. But the experience of an overnight train and the price tag of around $30 each trumped any discomfort in our mind. But being on a train for that long can be...well, long. Here are some things that kept me from losing my mind.
1. As always with traveling, have a sense of humor. Sure, it's not fun to try and get dressed on a moving train inside of a claustrophobic bathroom with a pee stained floor. Or to sleep on the top bunk where the only thing keeping you from falling onto the floor is two vertically strapped seat belts. But these just add to your stories to tell when you arrive back home. Or it adds to your reasons for never doing it again. Up to you.
The bathroom. Aka changing area. Notice the hole goes straight to the tracks.
2. Get to know your neighbors. This is by far one of my favorite parts about traveling. You are constantly surrounded by people from all over the world. On this trip alone we met people from Germany, China, and England to name a few. (one guy even offered us his apartment if we're ever in Germany, hopefully the offer still stands when we make it over to that part of the world!) Start a conversation, get to know those traveling around you. It not only makes the time go by faster but you also get to know so much more about so many different cultures.
Also, on a safety note, getting to know who's around you can help you judge how safe your belongings are if you decide to leave them in order to walk around. Of course, use your best judgment and precautions but this worked for us.
TIP: if you're traveling alone, these are great for protecting your bag while you're sleeping or away from your pack.

3. Dress in layers. We paid a few extra dollars for the air conditioned cabin and I can tell you with certainty that they used those dollars well. When we got on, we were scrambling to put on all the layers we could find. But as soon as the beds were set up and the curtain was closed, we were roasting.
The seats rearranged to make top and bottom bunks. Please notice the seat belts that acted as guard rails. I feel safe...
4. Bring snacks. There is a food car on the train but as you can imagine, it's way overpriced for what you get. We ended up getting snacks before we boarded then split one meal from the dining car which ended up being the perfect amount.

5. Bring ear plugs and an eye mask. Trains are noisy. Duh. And when you don't have a cabin to yourself, you fall victim to hearing everyone's conversations around you in addition to all the expected noise and clatter of the train itself. Also, the main lights of the train stay on all night. And while there are curtains blocking off your bed, the top bunk still gets a steady stream of light in, making it look like daytime.
Our bottom bunk where hubs slept
All in all, the trip seemed to go by faster than we anticipated (thank God) and we were kept occupied by card games and books when we weren't sleeping. After trying it once, I would definitely do it again (first class private cabin please! and at still under $50 a person, I say it would be well worth it) as it's a cheap, safe and comfortable way to see the county.

TIP: book early! It may have been since it was around Lunar New Year and still in peak season but we tried to book tickets for this train months in advance and the first class private cabins were already sold out. Luckily, we were able to get tickets in second class but those were close to being sold out as well.

Any tips to surviving long trips?

Linking up with Shanna, Rolled up Pretty