I like to travel by train in Southeast Asia if it’s a reasonable alternative to flying. For the trip from Bangkok to Vientiane, getting the train is a comfortable and economic way to go.
First off I will say that the train doesn’t actually go to Vientiane; it stops at a station about 16km away. Thai Railways will sell you connecting minivan tickets for the last part of the journey, so that is close enough to qualify as a train to Vientiane.
I had an exact date I wanted to travel on so I booked my ticket in advance with 12go. Trains can book out well in advance during the high season so I didn’t want to leave that to chance. 12go is a more user-friendly booking option than the official Thai Railway website.
The train to Vientiane is via the Bangkok – Nong Khai service. Nong Khai is on the Mekong River on the Thai-Laos border. Get the train to Nong Khai, and from Nong Khai, there is a connecting shuttle train to Thanaleng in Laos. I booked the #25 overnight train from Bangkok to Nong Khai.
This train leaves Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal at 8:25 pm, and if everything goes to plan you can be in Vientiane by around 8.30 am.
It turned out that I had good timing with this trip as I got to experience the new train carriages which had just come into service the week before.
The new carriages come with the number one most desired amenity for the modern traveller; a personal power outlet for every seat.
Another improvement from the old train is the airline-style western toilets. The bum gun has been retained so it’s like the best of both worlds.
There are public sinks outside the toilets.
There is a dining carriage with food and drinks available onboard. I had dinner before I left so I didn’t feel the need to eat, apart from some instant noodles.
The offer of “crapmeat” didn’t awaken my appetite.
When booking tickets there is a price difference between the upper and lower bunks, with the upper bunks being cheaper. It’s cheaper because the bed is narrower and there is no window.
When you board the train the seats are still out and you sit at your assigned seat, which becomes your bunk number.
Not long after the train departs the seats are converted into beds. It’s an efficient operation and the railway staff make it look so easy. Here is a video of my seat being turned into a bed.
[YouTube: Converting seats into a bed.]
I have travelled on overnight trains in Thailand before and I remembered that the top bed was smaller, so I booked the lower bed. While the mattress was comfortable, the compartment is shorter than me (I’m 6’1″/185cm) so I had to lie at an angle and have my legs bent to fit in.
Another thing I remembered about the trains is that the air conditioning is set to a level to make you shiver your arse off all night. I wear jeans and a long shirt when I travel, just in case. Fortunately, the temperature was set to a reasonable 22c. I know this because the new carriages have travel information screens.
One difference between the old sleeper trains compared to the new ones I noticed is that there are no bunk ladders in the new train. There are no ceiling fans either and it feels a bit more sterile compared to the old trains.
I also recall that they turned off the lights at some point on the old trains, but on this one, they left them on all night. I’m a light sleeper (so to speak) so I found this irritating. I think I did nod off eventually even though I planned to use the night as reading trip.
The train is scheduled to arrive at Nong Khai at 6.45 AM so I was surprised to see that we arrived early, even with a late departure. A lot of the rail network in Thailand runs on a single track, so throughout the night, the train stops at sidings while waiting for opposing trains to pass. Time can be made up or lost depending on the wait for other trains to pass. There are plans to double-track the railways of Thailand, so this will one day be a thing of the past.
Once you arrive at Nong Khai you then buy the ticket for the train from Nong Khai to Thanaleng (they don’t sell this ticket in Bangkok). The ticket is only 20 baht (.56c USD), and they will sell you a train/minivan combo ticket for 300 baht. This is quite an expensive minivan ride given that it’s only 16 km from Thanaleng to Vientiane. For the purpose of this review, I took this option.
The cheaper option is to walk outside the train station and look for the Friendship Bridge shuttle. This will take you to the Thai-Laos border, and once you clear immigration and cross into Laos you can take local transport to Vientiane.
I stayed in Nong Khai for the day and continued this journey the next day. If you plan to stay in Nong Khai then getting the train would be more hassle.
The one good thing about getting the train to Laos is the easy border crossing experience. The Thai immigration checkpoint is at the end of the platform that the train from Bangkok arrives on.
The connecting train to Laos is timed to depart after the Bangkok train arrives. There is a 45-minute space between trains so there is plenty of time to get your ticket and clear immigration. When I got the train the Bangkok train was running late, so the Laos train was also an hour late.
There are two third-class carriages for this shuttle train, operated by Thai State Railways (Laos currently has no railway of its own).
The train crosses the Mekong over the Friendship Bridge, which is closed to traffic when the train is on the bridge.
Welcome to Laos!
The total journey takes 8 minutes for the 4km journey.
Like at Nong Khai, there is an immigration gate at Thanaleng, and it’s also an easy border crossing experience. Visa on arrival is available here ($ 30 USD for Australians – check for your country before you go).
At the station, the minivan was waiting for those with a pre-purchased ticket. There was one other minivan there looking for business, though I didn’t get to ask what the price was.
One of the passengers was hoping to get the local bus to Vientiane but there were no other transport options at the station. Thanaleng is not near anything and there was no throng of tuk-tuk or taxi drivers here. There are only two train services a day, and the day I went there were about 20 passengers on the train. Perhaps it is not worth the taxi drivers time to wait here.
The minivan dropped us off on Quai Fa Ngum, which is the main road closest to the river in Vientiane. If you have booked a hotel in central Vientiane you can walk from here (it’s a small city!)
Here is a map of Dong Khai – Thanaleng (Dongphosy) – Vientiane.
This cross-border railway opened in 2009, and the original plan was going to extend it all the way to Vientiane. This plan has since been shelved as there is a bigger and better plan in the works. As part of the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link there will be a new railway that travels from Kunming through Laos, connecting Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. This will then continue through Thailand to Bangkok.
Work has started on this line, though the exact alignment is not publicly known. I have read that there will be a new railway bridge closer to Vientiane and that Thanaleng will become a freight terminal.
The exact location of the future Vientiane railway station hasn’t been made public, which I was hoping to find out. I did find this plan of what the station might look like.
[Found via skyscrapercity.com, original author not known.]
I have been following the developments of proposed Laos railways as part of my future Southeast Asia railway map, so follow this site for developments as they become known.
With more low-cost airlines servicing Laos it is now easier to get to. AirAsia has a flight from Bangkok to Vientiane which has made flights much cheaper. The train is an economical and comfortable way to travel, especially when you consider that you are saving a night’s accommodation by sleeping on the train (and in a bed, not just on a seat). In the future, there will also be a Bangkok–Nong Khai high-speed railway. This will join the Vientiane-Boten railway, making it possible to get a high-speed train from Bangkok to Vientiane.
Book trains in Thailand and other destinations in Southeast Asia with 12Go Asia.
If you prefer to fly, compare all flight options from Bangkok to Vientiane with Skyscanner.
This is part of the Nomadic Notes train travel guide.
Such a pity this route only started a week ago because I would definitely have taken it. I only left Bangkok for Europe a month ago. Before I left, I was looking for the best possible route to Vientiane in Loas and this would have been the best option. I see that a ticket only costs 760 to 1500 Baht plus an extra 500 baht for buses etc. So you can get to there for under 2,000 baht. Was there any messing at the border crossing? You said to was an “easy” crossing but I’m sceptical of that. If it really was an “easy” crossing then that’s great. Did the Loa border officials not try to extort more than the $30 for your visa? I will be back in Bangkok in Oct 2017 and I’ll be taking that route to Vientiane.
James Clark says
It really was easy. There is a visa window on the platform at Thanaleng station and there was no issues. I usually hate land border crossings so this was a welcome change of pace.
Aster Ceniza says
Thank you for the nice and detailed information ..it will be a great help to our future backpacking adveture to Thailand-Lao-Cambodia and Vietnam.
Hi! Thanks so much for this post. I’m actually needing to head to Laos on the 24th January from Bangkok. How much was the train ticket?
James Clark says
Cool! From Bangkok to Nong Khai The lower bunk was 1088 THB (around $30USD).
John James says
Absolutely love this series, thank you for all of the great info.
Thank you for this informative information! We are planning a family trip to Laos sometimes in June in 2017…..this seem like a good alternative to get to Vientiane.
I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this website.
Major thanks for the blog. Keep writing.
Hi, Please let me know that , Re-entry permit at Nong Khai border is available and where ? As I will plan to come there on visitor visa from Thailand. I have a single entry tourist visa of Thailand.
James Clark says
Depends on your nationality. If you are eligible for visa on arrival then you will get a new visa when you return. If you need to get a visa before coming to Thailand, then you will end your single-entry visa once you leave have have to get a new one.
Alexander Wayne IV says
I was actually scanning through and trying to checkout the prices for 2 persons leaving bangkok for nong khai. i tried selecting 2nd Class AC seats worth ฿ 1,496 . Upon checking out,it gave me a higher amount, THB 7606. I understand that there are surcharge, but paying an amount of 7606 for 2 is just crazy. I hope you can help me sorting out the booking process. Many thanks in advance.
James Clark says
Wow that has to be an error as there is no way it would be that high!
17th of oktober
I just tried to book a train ticket Bangkok to Nong Khai in train 25 second class sleeper for one person. During my booking, 12go.asia mentioned a ticket price of 1248 Baht but at the end the price was even 2150 Baht (1996 Baht for the ticket, 70 Baht trip insurance and 84 Baht systeem fee)
Did the price go up so much?
James Clark says
It would be unlikely that the price went up so much, so I don’t know what happened there.
Hi there, James.
Firstly, thank you so much for this. Just reading this has cleared most of my nerves for my visa run.
Just a few questions, how would I go about this if I have to book an overnight train at Bang Sue station?
Did you directly get your Laos visa by the train station?
Again, thank you so much.
I’m looking forward to hearing back from you.
James Clark says
you can depart from Bang Sue as the train usually stops there. It’s just a matter of buying your ticket either online or at the station.
The visa I got was visa on arrival, which they had a visa desk at the station ready for when the train arrives.
cho cho says
first of all thank you so much for your useful information.
we have to rush for catching our coach on 9:30am at vientiane so we don’t want to take train for crossing friendship river to save our time.So just want to know Friendship Bridge shuttle is located at the outside of Nong Khai station and any schedule for the shuttle bus?
James Clark says
Hello, yes you will find a shuttle bus is waiting for the train so it wont leave until the train from Bangkok arrives. I didn’t see the schedule but it leaves shortly after the train has arrived.
Thank you so much for the all informations which I was looking for.
I got only one question, is there a designated smoking area in the train?
James Clark says
There is no smoking on public transport in Thailand. You might see people smoking between the carriages though, depending on the type of train.
Jim Kwan says
Thank you for the information. it is very helpful as we are planning a trip to Laos from Bangkok in Feb, 2019 by train. We are trying to hit the three major stops; Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang. How are the transportation like getting from one place to another and what would be your recommendations?
Thanks in advance,
James Clark says
Hi Jim, that’s the main route in the country so there are plenty of bus and minivan options that will be advertised everywhere. I went with a bus. It’s slower but roomier than a minivan. And if you go in 2022 you will be able to do the whole trip by train.
Regz RD says
I read your Blog, and this very informative as I will be going to visit Bangkok-Laos this January 25, 2020. Thank you for the detailed information.