A travel blog by Window Seater
IMPORTANT: This post was last updated 1 June 2018. Always check how to buy tickets before you travel.
How to take the Death Railway (Thai-Burma Railway)
Regular scheduled trains still run from Bangkok along the Thai-Burma Railway up to Nam Tok, via Kanchanaburi (home of the Bridge on the River Kwai), and Nakhon Pathom).
It is not possible to go further than Nam Tok on train, and you will face some significant challenges on foot (part of the original railway line is underwater now, and crossing into Myanmar along the original line is illegal and ill-advised).
IMPORTANT: There are two types of scheduled trains, with two different departure points, depending on the day of the week.
The weekend tourist trains depart very early on Saturday or Sunday from Hua Lumpong station. Hua Lumphong will soon be replaced as the railhead by Bang Sue station, a new transport mega-hub a few kilometres away on the Northern side of Bangkok.
The weekend trains make lengthy stops at Nakhon Pathom to give passengers time to see Phra Pathom Chedi, and twice at Kanchanaburi to allow passengers to visit the Kanchanaburi Commonwealth War Memorial and the Bridge on the River Kwai, before heading to Nam Tok via the Whampo Viaduct (which it crosses slowly but doesn’t stop at).
The regular weekday commuter train currently departs from Thonburi Station (or Bangkok Noi Station) which is on the Western bank of the Chao Phraya river, quite a distance from Hua Lumphong or Bang Sue.
It’s rolling stock is, more or less, the same as the weekend tourist train, but without a first class train. It doesn’t do a long stops at Nakhon Pathom or Kanchanaburi. If you’ve made the mistake of arriving at Hua Lumphong, you
Does the Eastern & Orient Express travel on the Thai-Burma (Death) Railway?
Yes. The E&OE is a luxury train operated by the Belmond Group, and also travels along the line to Nam Tok along the Death Railway from time to time, but probably doesn’t allow travellers to only go on the Death Railway.
How do you get a ticket for the Thai-Burma (Death) Railway?
If you can, the easiest way is to get a ticket is at a ticketing kiosk at a State Railways of Thailand station (generally, you can get tickets for anywhere in the SRT network from any SRT station). You will need to show identification.
However, the weekend trains often get booked out in advanced. This is particularly the case in peak tourist seasons, but it’s a popular trip for locals too, so expect to have difficulties getting tickets around Thai holidays.
Only 3rd party services offer advanced online booking. 12Go.Asia is a trustworthy provider of train (and other transport) ticketing in Thailand and across Asia, but when last we checked, the Thai-Burma railway tickets were not available on their platform.
The other downside is that you will need to collect your tickets from 12Go.asia in advance, or arrange to have them sent to you. Regardless, if you do need to book in advance, best check 12Go.asia, call them if you can’t find a way to book it, or go with another online tour service provider.
How long does it take to take the Thai-Burma (Death) Railway?
It takes about 3 hours from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, and another hour or so to Nam Tok after The Bridge.
You can get out to Nam Tok and back in a day, but the regular commuter trains won’t make it easy to stop at all the great sites along the way unless you stayed at least a night. The tourist train does take the time to make the stops, and so it is a bit longer – leaving before sunrise and coming back after sunset.
How comfortable is the train on the Thai-Burma (Death) Railway?
Not very comfortable! The carriages aren’t air-conditioned, and the 90-degree angled vinyl seats can get very sticky and uncomfortable, especially in the hot season. Be sure to wear some loose-fitting clothing and try to get a position out of the sunshine and with a bit of breeze from the windows or fan. Hydrate!
There seems to be a luxury carriage attached to the weekend train, but we so far haven’t figured out how to get onto it!
Is food and drink available on the Thai-Burma (Death) Railway?
Food and drinks are frequently sold on the train by vendors that jump on and off at stations. Be sure not to buy bottles of water that have had their seals cracked. The food choices can be hit-and-miss, but is always cheap enough to just experiment.
If you’re departing from Hua Lumphong, there is a strangely overlooked canteen on the Eastern side of the main hall. There are also convenience stores and basic restaurants in and around the station.
If you’re departing from Thonburi (Bangkok Noi) Station, there is a large wet market right near the station which can offer some fresh fruits and vegetables.
On the tourist train, the stop at Nakhon Pathom is a great time and place to discover some street foods, and the city is renowned for its fruits.
Is it safe to take the Thai-Burma (Death) Railway?
Yes. Although train accidents have occurred in Thailand, it isn’t especially common. Personal safety is helped by the presence of a uniformed conductor.
Still, the usual precautions should be followed – don’t leave valuables unattended, don’t stick bits of your body out the window, and be very careful around tracks and moving trains. The areas nearby the train stations can be somewhat dark and seedy places at night too.
Where to catch the train
At the time of writing, this train departs from different stations depending on the day of the week (see below).
Saturdays & Sundays: The Tourist Train
Departure is from the main Hua Lumphong Station. This is a “tourist train”, (which often sells out well in advance) and stops off at a few interesting sites along the way that are well worth a visit. It is a full and exhausting day, and although the 6.30am departure time is accurate, the rest of the schedule is approximate, so don’t arrange a tight connection upon return.
- 6.30am: Depart from Hua Lumphong (not Thonburi)
- 7.40am: A 40 minute stop at Nakhon Pathom
- 9.00am: Possible stop at the Kanchanaburi war cemetery (via a pickup truck), you might instead visit on the way back.
- 9.30am: Stop at the River Kwai Bridge 30 minutes
- 11.00am: Cross the Whampo Viaduct (the train might stop)
- 11.30am: Arrive at Nam Tok (the end of the line) and head to the nearby Sai Yok Noi Waterfall
- 2.20pm: Departing Nam Tok
- 4.00pm: Possible stop at Kanchanaburi war cemetery, if you didn’t go on the way there
- 7.30pm: Back in Bangkok Hualamphong station (probably late)
Note: There won’t be any tour guide or even an English-speaking conductor provided as part of the ticket, but the Window Seater app will show you around for free.
Monday to Friday:
Departure is from Thonburi Station, on the Western side of the Chao Phraya river, behind Siraraj Hospital. From most of Bangkok, getting there can be tricky and you need to leave some time. Your options are:
- By train, you might be able to connect from Hua Lumphong Station (or Bang Sue Station) to Tailing Chan Station, which is on the Nam Tok and Southern Lines. Leave at least an hour for the ride as trains can be slow through the city, and be sure to confirm the departure time at Thonburi.
- By taxi from most of Bangkok will cost 150 to 200 THB. Its probably the best option if you’re pressed for time, but its still going to be at least 30 minutes, probably 45, +/- Bangkok’s notorious traffic fudge factor.
- River ferries plying the Chao Phraya stop at Thonburi Railway Station Pier. Its a small walk from there: You should be able to see the Old Thonburi Station building (now a medical museum), which is the old railhead. The new railhead is about 800 metres West (perpendicular from the main Chao Phraya river), and is much less grand. This is probably your best bet if you’re coming from along the river, or the Khao San and Grand Palace areas.