Getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a fairly easy task. In fact, there are as many options as you can imagine to convey you from point A to point B: planes, trains, and automobiles. For us, the largest limiting factor we have is time; we want to maximize our waking hours in every place we are going to be. However, the number one thing we did NOT account for in our itinerary was the time it would take to get from one place to the next. Given that we were used to catching a non-stop flight to Boston from Pittsburgh whenever we wanted, factoring in older and, especially, slower modes of transit was not even a consideration.
When presented with the myriad options for traveling to northern Thailand, we naturally chose the one that allowed us to enjoy a full day of sightseeing in Bangkok AND a full day in Chiang Mai: the night train. The night train is something of a backpacker standard. Everyone we talked to at the hostel in Bangkok had either ridden the night train to Bangkok or was headed to Chiang Mai on the next one. The train leaves Bangkok at 7:30PM and arrives in Chiang Mai at 9:45AM the next morning. We booked our tickets in the 2nd-class sleeper car, so that we could hit the ground running in Chiang Mai.
The sleeper car is divided into upper and lower bunks. The lower bunks are formed by two seats facing each other, and these tend to be more desirable. The upper bunks flip down from the roof of the car like the overhead baggage compartments on an airplane. Unfortunately, Lizzi and I weren't able to book a matching upper and lower bunk, but we managed adjacent uppers. What's most surprising is how comfortable the bunks are. After spending four days sleeping on plywood covered in styrofoam at the hostel, these train beds seemed the height of luxury.
In our car, there were several couples traveling together, a few pairs of friends, some singles, and an entire family of eight! Mom, dad, four kids, grandma, and grandpa! When it was time for bed (a time strictly enforced by the night train's staff), the car was a complete circus. People were climbing up the tiny ladders to the upper bunks. Kids were dashing about in pajamas, brushing their teeth and washing their faces. Hilarity and insanity. It felt like a weird mobile slumber party of complete strangers. In fact, Lizzi and I joked that the whole scene reminded us of the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, and we were waiting for Stan Shunpike (pre-Death Eater days) to come by to collect our fares.
The night train was a blast. And it ended up being some of the best sleep that we'd had since landing in Bangkok. I hope we get the opportunity for more night train experiences throughout the rest of our trip.