Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Sleeper Train Review

If your heading for Thailand, one thing for the to do list is a trip on their excellent train network.

If your heading for Thailand, one thing for the to do list is a trip on their excellent train network. One of the most popular routes is up to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, the sleeper train gives you the best of both worlds , experiencing life on the rails, whilst saving the price of a hotel room and no pesky baggage limits, it’s a win win all round. The route has undergone an upgrade in 2016 with fancy new electric powered rolling stock from China added on this route, which makes for a much smoother ride.

Its best to book as early as possible, seats are released up to 3 months in advance. I recommend using a booking agent who can secure your chosen seats for a relatively small booking fee. I used 12gotoAsia, and was able to pick up my tickets from their offices across the road from the station the day before departure, with minimal hassle, and well worth the modest booking fee. If you want to make the most of your time in Chiang Mai, I recommend booking your seats on train number nine , this is one of the upgraded train, which gets into Chiang Mai around 7am.

This is my Thailand Railways on board experience …..

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All aboard to Chaing Mai

Route Hualamphong Station, Bangkok to Chiang Mai ( Train 9 )

Duration: 12 hours Dep 18.10 Arr 7.10

Class : 2nd Class with Air Con

Seat Lower bunk 25 / Upper Bunk 26

Fare : 941 Baht ( £25 gbp / $ 30 ) – upper bunk 1041 Baht ( £27 gbp / $33 ) – lower bunk ( plus agent booking fee 250 baht / £6.50 / $8 per ticket )

At The Station

Hualamphong train station is adjoined to Hua Lamphong metro station on the blue line, you access the train station via an approx 10 minute in a thankfully air conditioned underground walkway. Due to the notoriously bad Bangkok traffic, this is the best way to travel to the station if your travelling light.

On the platform there is a food centre with vendors selling hot food as well as a coffee house , dunkin donuts stall and a small supermarket, perfect for loading up with snacks & drinks for the journey, though its worth noting alcohol is strictly forbidden on the train, along with smoking.

Boarding

Passengers are advised to be on the platform approx 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, as soon as the train pulled into the platform, staff went to work loading clean linen and food supplies and cleaning down the cars ready for the next journey.

After approx 20 minutes the train was ready to go again, and passengers were allowed to board. All the seating on the sleeper is allocated, you are assigned your carriage and seat number when booking, there’s a choice between an upper or lower bunk, the lower bunk is slightly wider and longer than the top bunk and a 100 baht more.

In the Carriage

Upon boarding, I noticed that everything was spotlessly clean, which for the time they had to clean, was pretty impressive. When I booked approx 6 weeks in advance, I was unable to secure a first class cabin, and I was very dubious about what the second class experience was going to be like , thankfully all my doubts were squashed when we boarded.

Each carriage has 40 seats / bunks , 20 on each side arranged over 10 bays of an upper and lower bunk. each bunk has its own reading light and more importantly a plug / usb socket , though sadly  there was no wifi onboard this service.

Upon boarding the upper bunk was locked , At roughly 8pm the steward came into the carriage and started making up everyones bunks ready for bed.

All the linens ( sheets and pillow cases ) were sealed in plastic bags straight from the laundry, a blanket is left on your bunk still sealed.

Settling down for the night I was quite surprised as to how spacious the lower bunk was, at 5ft 7 I’m hardly tall, but there was bags of room at the end of the bed .

Shortly after the steward had finished setting up all the beds , people started drawing their curtains and retiring for the evening. The curtains gave total privacy, but one thing to note is the carriage lights are on all night, so if your a light sleeper, I’d recommend bringing an eye mask. The air con is also pretty fierce, so long trousers and a fleece are necessary so you don’t wake up freezing.

One of the main concerns I had about travelling 2nd class was the shared facilities, each carriage had three toilets, and they were kept scrupulously clean throughout the journey, as well as a separate double sink.

After a solid six hours of sleep, the steward came thru the carriage at around 6.30am gently waking everyone, and began changing the beds back to seats ready for our arrival into Chiang Mai.

Whilst waking up at 6.30am whilst on holiday is not my idea of fun , it gives you a chance to catch a glimpse of rural Thailand from the train.

Food & Drink

I was expecting great things in regards to food offerings on this journey, but I was sadly disappointed. As I boarded the train, a staff member came through the train offering orange juice and fruit plates, be warned this is NOT FREE , someone will come back and charge you 50 baht for each item , which for Thailand is grossly overpriced, so you have been warned.

After we settled in, someone came round with menu and was taking food orders. There was a choice of just four set menus. There were no other food options available, so as we hadn’t eaten before boarded the train and had anticipated a better selection, we were forced to go with the set menu. Sadly the quality was very disappointing , I went for Menu B , the duck was very fatty, the chicken sauce was very gloopy and there were more nuts than chicken plus the jasmine rice was rock solid, I barely touched it, a waste of 210 baht.

I’d advise checking out the food options at the food centre in the station before you board the train, as there will more choice and probably a lot cheaper than eating on the train, there seemed to be any issue with people bringing their own food on to the train.

Small bottles of water were also handed out by the steward free of charge , though i’d would advise to bring at least a 2 litre bottle each as the carriage gets very dry due to the air con, as none of the windows open.

In My Opinion …..

If your looking for side trip out of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great place to escape to for a few days out of the hustle, bustle and heat of Bangkok, where the temperature is cooler and the hotel rates are cheaper. The sleeper train is great to do with kids, as there’s loads more space on the train for them to stretch their legs than being trapped in a plane seat , and for a sleeper service its bargain, especially as you save on a nights accommodation.

Second class was perfectly fine, and much better than I expected, the carriage was a mixed of locals and tourists and as soon as the bunks were made up, people drew their curtains and went to sleep. I would advise bringing something to chain your luggage to your seat for extra piece of mind , but your carriage is looked after by a dedicated steward so it would be pretty difficult for someone to make off with your luggage without being noticed , but you can never be too careful. I slept with my valuables ie phones passports and money in a backpack in my bunk, with my luggage stowed under the seats.

When you arrive at Chiang Mai , you will be met by a sea of taxi drivers all fighting for your business , a tip, when choosing a taxi, I was reliably informed that it should cost more than 200 baht to get anywhere in the city.

For further info regarding routes and schedules, please got to Thailand state railway website here . For information regarding other routes in Thailand, and around Asia , check out Man in Seat 61 a worldwide rail travel website.

Emirates A380 Business Class Dubai to London Gatwick Flight Review

The Emirates story began in 1985 when the airline launched operations with just two aircrafts, Today, they fly the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s .

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Flying to more than 155 destinations in more than 80 countries around the world, more than 1,500 Emirates flights depart Dubai each week on their way to destinations on six continents from their dedicated terminal in Dubai Airport.

This is my business class experience flying from Dubai to London Gatwick….

Flight : EK009 14:35

Route: Dubai (DXB) to London Gatwick (LGW)

Seat : Allocated 10D (aisle) then switched to 8B (partial window)

Cabin : 76 Business class seats / 1-2-1 Configuration

Flight Duration: 8 hours

Plane Type : Airbus A380-800 (3 Class)

Check-in

The best way to travel to the airport is by metro, which comes straight into the Emirates-dedicated terminal 3 at Dubai airport. It was then a short walk over to the raft of check-in terminals.

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Emirates check in

There is a dedicated Business Class check-in desk, and due to the sheer number of desks available, there was no passengers waiting. When I checked in, I was informed that there were no window seats left, which was disappointing, so I was allocated one of the dreaded middle seats. Thankfully, there are two types of middle seats on the A380: one suited for couples (no console between the seats—nice and cosy) and one for solo travellers who failed to nab one of the single window or partial window seats. These have the consoles in the middle as well as a privacy screen, and I had a promise from the agent of the possibility of a move once I had boarded. After getting this squared away, I headed for the lounge.

Emirates Business Class Lounge

As a semi-regular Business Class traveller, I’m partial to a nice lounge. It’s a nice addition to the whole Business Class travel experience, but Emirates take lounges to a whole new level. Located a short walk from security via a lift to concourse A, the Business Class lounge at Dubai Terminal Three is HUGE. It literally stretches the whole of the concourse. A word of warning: if you want to try everything on offer, you’ll need to arrive in plenty of time.

There thankfully is a map just past the lounge reception area to help you plan your visit.

Emirates Dubai lounges is so big your gonna need a map

There are two fine dining areas, which are both buffet style, as well as a number of snack and coffee areas. You’re never going to be searching for somewhere to sit even on the busiest of days as there’s loads (if not way too much) seating, with desk space to catch up on work as well as loungers for taking a quick nap. There is also a kids contained play area with PlayStation consoles, a pay spa, and showers. To be honest, it didn’t feel like a lounge but instead like a massive posh terminal—just without the crowds, which is always nice. I wouldn’t mind being delayed here for a few hours.

Dubai business lounge

Boarding

Boarding for Business and First Class passengers is straight from the lounges onto the walk bridge, which saves passengers from dragging themselves out of the lounge and trying to find their gate—a definite plus.

Boarding is done simultaneously for the Business Class and Economy passengers as they are on different decks, which cuts down the boarding time, and with only 14 First Class passengers who are boarded first, I was able to enter the cabin with no delays.

As expected, I was greeted by name and shown to my seat, which they had been able to switch as requested to 8B, a semi-window seat.

Cabin & Seat

The Business Class cabin on this three-class A380-800 has a whopping 76 seats split over two cabins located in the middle of the upper deck. The very front of the deck is taken up by the First Class suites, and the rear of the cabin has the famous Emirates in-flight bar.

The front cabin has 58 seats, and the smaller rear cabin has 18 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. All seats have direct aisle access without having to climb over your seatmate, which is a plus. If you are travelling as a couple and are not worried about a window, the best seats are E and F.

If you’re a solo traveller who prefers a window or wants to get some shut-eye, you need to go for seats A and J, as these have the console on the aisle side so it’s best for privacy.

Seat map courtsey of seatguru.com

If you miss out on these, try for seats B and K. You will still get a window, you just have to lean over your console to check out the view. I ended up in this seat and it was perfectly fine, I still managed to film the take off as usual.

And then there’s seats D and G. If there can be such a thing as a “bad” seat in Business Class, these would be it. They’re out on the aisle so constantly disturbed by people moving up and down, and you’ll be too far away from your adjacent seat mate to hold a conversation.

I was surprised to note that the Business Class seat was only half an inch wider than the economy seat at 18.5 inches, but to be fair (being on the slightly chubby side myself), I didn’t feel squeezed in, and with a pitch of 48 inches there was plenty of room to stretch out on the fully lie-flat bed at the press of a button.

Emirates Business Class Seat 8B

On the seat was an almost full-size comfortable pillow with a lightweight blanket and a pair of noise cancelling headphones with the kleptomaniac-proof two-pin plug just in case you were tempted to take them home. I was disappointed to note that there were no amenity kits available on this flight, there was a packet with socks and an eye shade in the console.

There were also toothbrushes in the Business Class toilet, but I felt this was a bit of a cut too far. I know there are amenity kits given on Emirates Business Class, so I can only presume they are given just on certain routes or on flights over a certain flight time.

The well-publicised seat console had an array of goodies to play with during the flight: there was a central panel containing a single reading light, a multi-charging point for two USB points, a 110-volt power point, and the headphone jack. There’s also a mini soft drinks “bar” containing a bottle of water, juice, and two soft drinks.

Emirates business class seat console

There was also a tablet which acts as a controller for the excellent ICE entertainment system—if only I could have gotten it out of its docking station. Not wanting to break anything, I enlisted the help of the cabin crew, but it was firmly wedged in, so sadly, I didn’t get to try it out.

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Also there’s the option if you tire of your seat, you can take a short walk to the rear of the plane and hang out with the other passengers in the bar area, which the A380’s have recently been fitted with new a table area , which is a good place to socialise.

Emirates new A380  business class bar area seating
Emirates new A380 business class bar area seating

Entertainment

Emirates’ on board entertainment system, ICE, is as good as in-flight entertainment can get with over 4,000 channels of movies, box sets and music. There’s plenty to keep you entertained. If you’re a sports fan, you won’t even miss the game whilst you’re in the air; Emirates streams live sport straight to the plane, where you can watch it on your in-seat screen. There’s also a large screen in the bar area if you’re feeling sociable.

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Watch the match on the big screen whilst at the bar

As well as the entertainment channels, you can follow your flight’s progress on the moving map or see the world from 40,000 feet on the plane’s external cameras.

Whilst the plane was wifi-enabled, sadly, I was unable to connect as the system was not accepting my Emirates Skywards number despite a number of attempts, so I’m unable to provide any feedback on this.

Food & Drink Service

Upon boarding, crew were offering a pre take-off drink of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label champagne, which was offered along with water and juice. A drinks and food menu was handed out by the crew before take-off and orders taken. All meals served on Emirates are Halal. This is not something that concerns me personally, but it’s worth noting. With a mid-afternoon take off, the food service started approximately 90 minutes in.

Having a scan through the menu, I went for the lamb shank, sadly the presentation was poor, and apart from the lamb looking wholly unappetizing, the gravy was slopped all over the edges of the plate and the vegetables looked soggy and overcooked, so I sent it back untouched.

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The crew did ask if I wanted to try something else, but luckily, I’d already eaten in the lounge, so I wasn’t particularly hungry. I had great expectations for the Emirates onboard food service, but sadly it fell well short of a Business Class standard on this flight.

In my opinion….

Emirates was the last of the big three Middle East carriers I had to fly, and I was not disappointed. Emirates works hard on providing an all-round experience rather than just the flight.

This experience was excellent, from arriving at the enormous lounge at DXB with two fine dining restaurants and a spa as well as a fully-equipped kids gaming room and being able to walk straight from the lounge onto the plane, to hanging out at the on-board bar at the rear of the plane where the crew are happy to snap a souvenir photo of you behind the bar to take home.

As far as downsides, there were a couple I noted: firstly, the onboard food service was not up to scratch on this particular flight, which was disappointing, especially flying from their home airport. The second was the lack of an amenity kit, which I had expected.

In conclusion, Emirates go out of their way to make your flight memorable, though the experience doesn’t come cheap. A return Business Class fare on this route averages around £3,000, but there’s definitely above-average bang for your buck flying with Emirates.

For more information on Emirates’ latest routes, and fares check their website at http://www.emirates.com.

Please note, a complimentary upgrade into the Business Cabin was kindly provided by Emirates, but as usual, all opinions are my own.