A travel guide by Window Seater
About this trip
An epic line through the many hearts of Thailand – economical, environmental and historical. And an audacious nation-building attempt by one of Thailand’s greatest kings.
In this trip
Welcome to Hua Lumphong Station - the beginning or end of all great Thai rail journeys.
Its not a thrilling sight, but Bang Sue junction is about to become rather important place for Thai rail travel, and its an interesting case study on how Thai's like to build things.
The train lines diverge between North and South here. The Northern and Eastern Lines go up to Ayutthaya before separating. The Southern and Western (the infamous "Death Railway") head West to Nakhon Pathom before separating. Singapore is a couple of days reach of here by rail for the price of a cheap hotel room, or there's a luxury option taking 3 days.
This is perhaps a strange place for an artistic hub. It is home to one of the region's largest contemporary art museums, and a university founded to bring the silk industry to Thailand.
Don Mueang is Asia's oldest continually operating international airports. Its actually owned and run by the Royal Thai Air Force, who have a golf course in between the airstrips.
Bangkok is a force. Its the centre of the Thai universe, and is the sort of city that takes a lifetime to really know. Unfortunately, visitors walk into and out of this rich and vibrant city with the wrong ideas.
Thammasat is Thailand's second oldest university, is probably the country's most prestigious, and has been the hotbed of Thailand's most game-changing politics.
As we pass an industrial zone on the outskirts of Bangkok, lets talk about Thailand's economy.
The Ban Pa-In Royal Residence has a strange assortment of architectural styles, even by Thai standards.
Chao Phraya translates to "the Chief", such is the importance of this River to the Thai nation.
Ayutthaya was the second capital city of Siam after Sukhothai. The city helped harbour in the golden age of Thai culture.
Thailand is not a very green country. Electricity generation could be 100% renewable by 2050 if they really wanted it to be, but it doesn't seem to be a priority.
The Chao Phraya floodplain, which is where most of Thailand lives, is probably Thailand's most important geological feature.
Ban Pachin junction is a crossroads famous for it's coconut ice-cream. If you're well prepared, and bold, you might be able to get some as the train stops.
The Pa Sak is one of the main sources of flooding in downstream Bangkok, so in 1998, the Thai government built an epic dam on this river.
Hang on... Why are they growing a poisonous, Brazilian plant in central Thailand?
Seismically, Thailand isn't the most thrilling of countries, but there's enough going on to talk about.
The history of Lopburi is AWESOME! You'll see some from the train station, but get off and digging deeper if you can. We have an intro for you.
The traditional style of home architecture in Thailand is a breezy, stilted, and social arrangement that perfectly fits Thailand's climate and culture.
You're not likely to raise an eyebrow when you pass Chan Sen on the train, but we noticed it, and found an ancient city!
There's an odd looking object at the top of the hill West of the rail line in the middle of nowhere. Its the radar of an airforce base that has seen a lot of action.
A solar farm in the middle of Thailand is a good start to making Southeast Asia greener.
Nakhon Sawan - the "Heavenly City" - is where most of Northern Thailand's rivers converge to make the Chao Phraya.
Lake Boraphet is a large freshwater wetlands - originally a swamp that was flooded in 1930 to improve fishing. It is the only known habitat for the White-Eyed River Martin, which hasn't been seen since 1980.
Buddhist temples in Thailand are known as "wats", meaning an enclosure, and generally contain 7 or 8 types of buildings, each of which have their own symbolic, ceremonial, or practical importance.
With more than half of Thai voters involved in rice agriculture, rice is always central to Thailand's politics. For example, in 2011, an elaborate rice scheme initiated by a political party changed Thailand's politics fundamentally, and for the worse.
If you're travelling through Thailand, you'll definitely see rice being produced. So depending on when you're travelling, you should be able to see rice production at one of a few stages.
Phichit is a great place to go for Pomello. You might be able to buy some from the station if you're speedy.
Into houseboats? Then this is your river!
Phitsanulok is a one-time ancient capital of Siam, and the birthplace of one of Thailand's liberator King.
Phichai is a tiny town, but its not to be messed with.
The Porramin Bridge over the Nan river, is one of Thailand's longest, and is a truss bridge - typical to Thailand.
Uttaradit is the "Port of the North" - as far as you're likely to get a boat before heading into the Northern hills. It has a strange affinity with dinosaurs, and has reportedly great durian, if such a thing exists.
North of Uttaradit is the point where the floodplains give way to the first mountain range. This proved a particularly challenging part of the line to build.
Den Chai is a turning point for the railway line, and it might have to do with a rebellion that happened here which left an impression on Thailand's Southern rulers.
The Yom river is the largest tributary of the Nan river, and meets it a long way downstream in the central floodplains.
There was a nasty rail accident on this Northern Line in 1989 near Nakhon Lampang due to some dodgy brakes. Lets hope its not repeated.
From a relatively verdent and natural surrounding, the Mae Chang River Valley, with no major towns nearby, is surprisingly industrious, and a bit of a pity to be honest.
There's a volcano up here alongside the Northern Line. Granted its a rather little one.
Lampang was founded in the 7th century as an important centre of the Lan Na Kingdom. It has a really nice train station!
The Khun Tan mountain range is pretty special - rich in ecological, human, and scenic treasures. Definitely worth a visit if you can.
Historically, the Kun Tan range was a formidable barrier, and required a tunnel that was, at the time, an engineering feat.
Lamphun is a small town, but it was once called Hariphunchai, and was the capital of a mighty kingdom of the same name.
If you've come here from Bangkok, you've come 751 kilometres. Its an ancient city, but its name means "New City".