If I could pick a mode of transport when in Asia, train travel would pretty much win hands down every time.
And for intrepid travellers across the continent, overnight train travel is one of the most popular modes of transport. Tickets are usually cheap, it saves paying for a night’s accommodation, and gets you from A to B with (relatively) little hassle.
However, there are a few key things to keep in mind to ensure you enjoy the time on board. Here are a few tips to help you plan it right!
Book a second class sleeper
Self-acclaimed ‘hard-core travellers’ will wax lyrical about only ever booking the 3rd class seats. But for long haul journeys, your butt is probably not going to appreciate it. Unless you’re planning to spend the whole trip in the dining cart (which may have a curfew), it’s better to spend a few extra dollars for a sleeper and arrive at your destination rested and ready to explore.
2nd class sleepers are typically 4 or 6 berth bunk rooms, which means you’ll get to bond with your fellow travellers. You’ll have to choose between upper/lower berths when booking your tickets.
Remember that a lot of overnight trains can book out quickly and should be reserved in advance (particularly in peak tourist season). Watch out for scammers at train stations too!
Being hangry is not fun – for you or your travel buddies. To be your best and brightest self, bring plenty of snacks and water to last the journey. This will be a godsend, especially if your train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai breaks down in the middle of the night and takes 6 hours longer to reach its destination (learning from experience!). Bonus points if you can stash some beer for the journey too.
That said, don’t be afraid to try the food on offer from vendors who pass down the aisles or sell at train stations en route. On a regional train ride in India, I ate like a king (naan, kalmi vada, peanuts, chai) and spent roughly $1AUD in the process.
Overnight trains and buses with A/C are notoriously freezing. Layers are your best defence. Carry a thick scarf which can be used as a shawl or extra blanket. Pack some socks too, they’ll be way cosier than your sandals once you go to sleep.
Protect your valuables
Unless you’re a super flexible sleeping ninja, it’s neither wise nor comfortable to share your bunk with your backpack. It’s most likely going to end up under your bunk or on a rack with many others further away. A cable lock and bag protector will give you some peace of mind. Meanwhile, keep your valuables, money and passport in a satchel that never leaves your side.
Talk to strangers
Train travel is one of the easiest ways to make friends on the road, with fellow travellers and locals alike. Turns out, being stuck together for 10 or so hours with minimal entertainment is a great bonding session!
Introduce yourself to those around you. Particularly if you’re travelling alone, it helps to know that new friends can look out for you and your safety.
The Entertainment Factor
While lengthy train rides are useful to catch up on much needed zzz’s, ensure you have some basic entertainment to help pass the time. A good book and a music source are a must. Having a deck of cards on hand is always a good ice breaker to connect with your fellow travellers.
Bring along a sleep sheet and your own clean pillowcase for the best night’s sleep. Light sleepers should have ear plugs handy to combat noisy passengers and middle-of-the-night train announcements. Sleep masks can help block out flickering lights and early morning wake up calls.
Keep it clean
No matter the country, train toilets can sometimes become pretty gross. If travelling where the squat toilet reigns, your own stash of tissues and hand sanitiser make the experience a lot less stressful.
Don’t forget to pack your sense of adventure, and enjoy the ride!
What are your best train travel tips?
PS: Seat 61 is a great resource if you need more info – it provides details for train travel across the world!