Information in English can be found at the State Railway of Thailand SRT web site at http://www.srt.motc.go.th/httpEng/ While the main page has a quick & easy timetable you can print, and a search feature, most English users might first want to click on the Services button to get familiar with the train system, a complete map of the rail lines, the schedules, the classes of coach, the fares, and some suggested routes for tourists. This is a very well done web site.
Below, I give a brief overview and cover a few things to consider in particular.
The main train center is in the center of Bangkok at Hua Lumpong, which is on Rama 4 Rd. a little more than a kilometer west of Silom. Every taxi driver knows it.
You should book tickets in advance for seats in high class coaches, such as the air conditioned sleeper coaches, and then send a messenger out to get the tickets. You can usually get onto ordinary coach (no air con, wooden seats, free for all) same day, OK for short trips. The advance booking counter is separate from the same day ticket counter, and has a separate phone number, 02-223-3762 or 02-223-7788, open during business hours (approx. 8:30-16:00 M-F, 8:30-12:00 on weekends and holidays). The ordinary information numbers are 02-223-7010 and 02-223-7020. You'd better let a Thai talk.
Travellers can get a Thailand Rail Pass, but don't expect significant savings unless you do little more than ride the train, nor should you expect first class coaches.
As well covered on the abovelinked SRT website, there are four main passenger lines which leave from Hua Lumpong, the Northern Line going to Chaing Mai, the Northeastern Line going to Nong Khai on the Lao border near the Lao capital of Vientiane, the Eastern Line going east to Ubon Ratchathani (near Lao-Cambodia-Thai junction) and passes close to many Khmer ruins from 800+ years ago, and one going west and then south down the isthmus into Malaysia. There are many small line branches whereby you can transfer to another train. As regards the southeast (Pattaya, Rayong, Trat), there is very limited passenger service within this region, and I don't know any foreigners who have ever used any passenger service around there.
In addition to the Hua Lumpong central train station, minor train stations also exist in the greater Bangkok metropolitan area but are usually not used by foreigners and have much more limited service. The Bangkok Noi train station is notable because it's reachable by river boat on the Thonburi side, and is useful for going to the popular western tourist destinations of Nakhon Pathom, Hua Hin and Kanchanaburi (the nearmost part of the Southern Line), as well as a zillion stops in between. Tel.: 411-3102. But for an express train, better go to Hua Lumpong instead.
It's recommended that travellers check out the weekend excursions offered by the SRT for tourists, as covered on the SRT website.
The trains are very safe, but are limited in scope. Buses go everywhere are are a little bit faster, but bus accidents hit the news sometimes. I find the ordinary train to be a more charming Thai experience. The train is also more comfortable (except the lowest class section) because you have more space, you can get up and walk around, and you have a toilet.
If you like to see the Thai countryside, you'll be pleased to find that the train tracks cut right thru the countryside, as in most countries. In comparison, buses taking the main highways spend a lot of their time in commercial zones, which I find quite interesting as well, and you can see considerable countryside in between towns.
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