Longtime readers of the blog will recall that back in June, Adam and I rode AmTrak almost all the way across the US. It was an exciting and enlightening experience and I still encourage anyone with time and money to waste to give it a shot. This month, I am thrilled to write about overnight trains again because Adam and I experienced the joy of sleeping across Vietnam and Thailand. With two sleeper-car nights in each of these three countries, I think it’s time we started keeping score.
On a related note, if you are thinking about taking a train anywhere, I highly recommend the man in seat 61. His site has a lot of great information about trains all over the world.
I couldn’t come up with a National Park style OGRES Score for trains, but we found four key factors we were most concerned about. These are based only on one route each for Vietnam and Thailand but if I can’t generalize and criticize, I just wouldn’t know what to do with myself.
The three trains under consideration are the second class AmTrack sleeper bunk cabin for two people, the second class air conditioned Thai sleeper bunk car for you and about forty of your friends, and the Vietnam sleeper cars with all have a cabin for four.
The Ogre Train Score
Comfort – Overnight trains are theoretically designed for sleeping. For Adam, who is 6’4″, it’s hard to sleep when you can’t quite fit in the bunk. Of the three trains, AmTrak was the best for sleeping. The bunks are 6’6″. The sleepers in Thailand were the next roomiest and were almost 6’4″, so Adam could sleep while gently wedged between both ends of the cabin. The Vietnamese bunks were the smallest, and at only 6’1″ or 6’2″, Adam really struggled. These bunks were also narrowest by slight margin, and the most thinly padded.
The other consideration for getting some sleep for me is having cool, dark and quiet. All these trains had adequate air conditioning, and the Thai train was downright chilly. None of the trains were quiet. Cars towards the back of the train seemed to have less engine and horn noise, though I have no idea how to book one of those. For darkness, the US and Vietnamese trains were best, as you could close the cabin door and turn off all the lights. On the Thai train, you pull your brightly colored curtain closed, but it doesn’t get very dark and they don’t dim the lights in the cabin. I don’t have room for a sleeping mask in my small pack but that might be a good pickup if you were really concerned about your beauty rest.
Slightly unrelated to comfort, AmTrak also had the most robust safety belt for the upper bunk. This hasn’t been an issue for me or anyone I’ve seen, but Asia trains both had small and flimsy looking rails.
Comfort Scores: US – 5 out of 5, Vietnam – 3, Thailand – 2
Theft Avoidance – Adam and I are each packing just one small bag with our whole lives inside, so we are very paranoid about getting our stuff stolen. There are varying degrees of “stuff safety” that we saw. I give AmTrak the full 5 points for safety since we could close and lock our two person cabin door while we were sleeping.
The Vietnamese Trains get 3 points, since we could also close and lock the door. However, you might still worry about your bunk-mates, and a conductor came by and told our bunk mate not to leave his iPhone charging in full sight on the table. The doors and locks looked pretty flimsy.
Thai trains only get 1 point in this category, since you have to leave your luggage on a rack outside your bunk or pull it into your space. There were small hooks inside the bunk. I hung and clipped my bag on the wall over my head, hoping it wouldn’t come crashing down on me during the night. (It didn’t.)
Adam and I invested in a few inexpensive clipping carabiners that use to clip our bags closed. On the train, we usually also attach our bags to something in hopes that it would either slow down a thief or wake us up.
Anti-Theft Scores: US – 5 of 5, Vietnam – 3 of 5, Thailand – 1 of 5
Price and Value – I am always trying to keep our travel relatively cheap, so compared with other modes of transportation like buses and planes, I considered how the train stacked up on cost. As I mentioned in my post, I found AmTrak to be very expensive, or a score of 1 out of 5 on value. Both the Thai and Vietnam trains ran us $30-40 for each one-way overnight route, which was the cheapest available mode of transportation when I booked about a week out.
We weren’t on the Thailand and Vietnam trains long enough to need food. I heard there was a dining car on the Thai train and someone came by on the Vietnam train to offer salty snacks and beer, but that’s not quite enough data for a score. I still feel safe recommending that you eat ahead of time but maybe pack a small snack.
Price Value Score: Thai: 5 of 5, Vietnam: 4 of 5, Amtrak: 1 of 5
Convenience – The final criteria I considered for our trip was convenience. As I’ve already mentioned, I found AmTrak to be very inefficient. Both our trains were late, and while they drop you in the city center in most spots, it’s slow and expensive. Vietnam and Thailand were very different, as the overnight timing was convenient and it seemed more efficient to lose a night of sleep traveling than to lose a big chunk of the day shuttling to and from the airports for a short flight. We still had to take a short bus and ferry ride to get to our final destinations, but the trains got us quite close.
In addition to the nice location, all the trains had minimal security so you could show up twenty or thirty minutes before the train left. Boarding was always quick and unloading was easy as well. The conductors on all trains knew who was getting off when and made sure we were awake.
Convenience Score: Thai: 4 of 5, Vietnam: 4 of 5, Amtrak: 2 of 5
So, if you’ve made it this far in the post, I bet you are thinking, “I really wish we had a sweet graph to show the total scores.” (What, you aren’t?! Who are you?)
All in, I found the trains in Vietnam to be the best based on the four part ogres Train Score, and I can only hope we continue to have opportunities to ride more overnight trains in our travels to come. Unlike our travels in the US, I would recommend the trains in SE Asia if you’re visiting. Anyone know other great ones we should check out?