Bangkok to Vientiane by train, how does that work then?

Taking the train(s) from Bangkok to Vientiane was one of my favourite experiences from my mini tour of Laos and Cambodia.  It was pretty much the first thing I did on said tour, stepping off the plane and almost straight into our little cabin that was heading north towards the Laos boarder.  Before I get into too much detail however let me point you in the direction of the man in seat 61.  Our safe journey and this post owes a lot to Mark and the information he provides on his site.  If you’re planning on train travel any time soon, his site is well worth a visit!

Right so Bangkok to Vientiane by train.  Well our journey starts at Bangkok airport where along with my girlfriend I touch down after 12 hours of movies and beer (you know how these flights work).   After collecting our backpacks and sorting out our local sim card we made our way down the floors of the terminal to the airports Skytrain station.

The Skytrain into town and MRT on to Hua Lamphong

Last time I was in Bangkok the Skytrain link into the city centre from the airport wasn’t finished and so I had to play ‘the game’ with the beloved Bangkok metered taxi’s who wont turn on their meters for love nor money.  The new (ish) Skytrain link into town was a welcome relief to both my wallet and rage levels.  I hate being taken advantage of just because I’m not local, and I generally hate taxi’s.

The Skytrain into town was brilliant and linked easily with the MRT so that we could make it to Hua Lamphong train station with minimal fuss.  Here’s how it goes …

Step 1.  Skytrain from  Suvarnabhtumi (airport) to Makkasan station

– 35 baht each

– 30 mins

Step 2.  Walk from Makkasan Skytrain station to to Phetchaburi MRT station

Step 3.  MRT from Phetchaburi to Hua Lamphong

– 29 baht each

– 30 mins

 Step 4.  Exit Hua Lamphong MRT station at Exit 4 and walk around the corner to Hua Lamphong train station.

Honestly, its so very easy.  All the ticket machines have an English option and are very simple to use.  The maps are also extremely easy to understand.  If you have every been on the London underground or a similar train system you’ll have no worries.

–  Total time:  About an hour

–  Total cost:  64 baht per person

Bangkok transit map

Getting tickets from Hua Lamphong to Nongkhai train station

So we’d made it from the airport to the train station via the Skytrain and MRT, but now we had to get our tickets for the train north.  The train to Vientiane is actually two trains … and a bus … but we’ll get to the second train and the bus later (or see the map below).  The first ticket we needed was from Hua Lamphong (Bangkok) to a place called NongKhai, in the north of Thailand.

Owing to the date of our arrival being dangerously close to a national holiday, I had sought to book our tickets in advance … the only problem with such an attempt was that the official ticket site was taken down in Jan 2013.  Not an ideal situation and I was left with just a couple of options.

1.  Chance it and try buy the tickets on the day

2.  Delay our journey to Laos by a day or so and spend a night or two in Bangkok until tickets are secured

3.  Use a ticketing agency

Option 1 was risky, as was option 3.  Option 2 didn’t appeal to me in the slightest.  In the end I went with option 3 thinking that if the agent I chose turned out to be bogus I could then try my luck with option 1.  If that failed we have to look into buses maybe.  I was determined not to have to spend the night in Bangkok.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, I’d used the website the man in seat 61 a lot for searching our train journey, and based upon reports from that site I settled on as the ticketing agent I would use for securing our journey north.  I paid for my tickets online and got a couple of confirmation type emails.  I printed them all, added them to my travelling file and prayed that they were legit.

Upon booking our tickets through the agent I also selected the option that would allow me to collect my tickets at Hua Lamphong for a small additional fee.  I was nervous selecting this option but felt I had little other choice.  Upon arriving at Hua Lamphong some 3 months after booking the tickets, I was somewhat surprised to see the agent representative standing where they said he would be, with my tickets, a full hour before he was due to be there.  I felt guilty for not believing in the agent, but they did exactly what they said they would.  Big thumbs up.

Bangkok to Vientiane by train

Tickets in hand, we set off to find our platform and begin our journey from Bangkok to Vientiane by train.

hua lamphong, From Bangkok to Vientiane by train

The night train from Bangkok to Nongkhai

Our cabin for the journey was small but functional and safe.  My previous experience of train travel in Thailand was fun, but difficult.  Travelling from Bangkok up to Chang Mai, a friend and I had chosen to go 2nd class and spent the night trying to block out the noises coming from the bunk above me – a Thai fella totally off his face on large quantities of beer.  I didn’t fancy a repeat this time around and also thought it might be a tad safer for the Mrs if we book our own little cabin with a door we could lock i.e 1st class.  It was only £10 more each to move up from 2nd to 1st class, and as it was my birthday the day we travelled I thought why not treat myself.

1st class sleeper, From Bangkok to Vientiane by train

Before boarding we had stocked up on snacks, water and a few birthday beers.  Once we’d settled in the cabin was actually pretty comfy.  The darkening world outside rushed by our window once we had lurched out of Hua Lamphong and gathered speed.  Our Bangkok to Vientiane journey had begun.

Around 9pm we were offered menu’s in case we fancied dinner on board.  I wasn’t hungry, but my better half selected a nice cashew chicken number for a reasonable fee.

About an hour after that it was time to make the beds.  Although the below video was not filmed in a cabin like ours, the bed systems worked in a very similar way.  Basically watch the below and you’ll get the idea.

Our cabin was located right near the very back of the train.  This allowed us to be both near the toilets (1 squatter, 1 western), and a great view of northern Thailand disappearing behind us … once it was morning obviously.

Bangkok to Vientaine by train

Reaching Laos – Visas and transfers into town

A mere 14 hours after leaving a sweaty Bangkok our train pulled into NongKahi station in northern Thailand.  From here it was just another short train ride over the river separating Thailand and Laos via the Friendship Bridge.  First though we had to fight off the hoards of tuk tuk drivers wanting to take our bags and drive us to the boarder.  One told me that the next train across the Freedom Bridge and into Laos was 2 hours away … 20 minutes later I was sat on said train crossing the bridge.  Lies!

Your tickets for the small transit train across the Freedom Bridge and into Laos from Nongkahi cannot be purchased in advance, you simply buy the tickets, which are 3rd class only (photo below), at the ticket office at Nongkhai.  My girlfriend and I chose to also purchase a minibus transfer from Thanaleng station (the station the transit train will drop you at) into Vientiane.

Once the ticket sets were purchased, we simply walked through boarder control at Nongkahi station (you cant miss it) and boarded the transit train.  We would buy our visa’s for Laos upon arriving at Thanaleng station.

-300 bht combined for the transit train and tuk tuk/mini bus into town.

-Visa $36 per person

Train over the friendship bridge in Laos

From there it was the prepaid minibus to town and then the task of finding our hostel.  All in all though, as long as this post may be, the getting from Bangkok to Vientiane by train is very very simple and a lot of fun.  I thoroughly recommend this journey!

Laos and Cambodia Video

There’s actually a fair bit of footage from the From Bangkok to Vientiane by train journey included in this short video I made. Just press play and you’ll be watching the relevant footage within seconds … or you could make me do big happy faces by watching the whole thing.

Example of big happy face … :D

Bangkok to Vientiane by train