An overnight train ride in Asia is certainly an experience and one that often gives rise to many stories! Here I will highlight what to expect and what to bring with you to help you enjoy your journey. Research is always the best preparation, especially if you are travelling solo or are not a fan of surprises! I would also suggest opting for nothing bigger than a 4 person cabin. Even these are often pretty cramped when it comes to space!
The first step is navigating the train station. This will likely be a somewhat chaotic experience! people juggle backpacks and attempt to connect to a final bit of Wi-Fi before their adventure begins. Remember, if you are travelling in one country for a longer duration you will benefit from buying a local sim card. You can read more about that here. However, once it is time to board the train, locate your compartment. It is always a good idea to shut and lock your compartment door even when you are inside it. Additionally, keep valuables like your passport and money with you at all times! One of the best pieces of advice I can give is not to eat the food from the train trolley. While it may be absolutely fine, it is a much safer idea to bring snacks and a drink with you. Who wants to chance the train toilets six hours into the journey with an upset stomach!? Another piece of advice – claim a lower bunk! The motion of the train can often be felt more from the top bunk. You’ll also probably be less disturbed by the main ceiling light on a lower bunk. If you are travelling solo, be prepared for new people to be coming in and out of your bunk room during the journey. It is always worth chatting to them to learn more about your bunk mates. And you never know – you might make a new friend!
Next let us tackle what you should bring with you. I’d recommend eating a substantial meal prior to your train ride. Most of what you eat on route will be snack-like, so this will help sustain you! You should definitely bring some of your own easily transportable snacks with you. Many trains also have boiling water available, so instant noodles can be prepared.
If you are travelling with friends or in a group, a pack of cards is often fun. A good book will also certainly help to pass the time. Perhaps the most important things to bring with you however, are items to help you survive the train toilets! Toilet paper, wet wipes & hand sanitizer are all essentials, and do not consider making a trip to the toilet without wearing shoes! There are usually two types of toilet on these trains, one of which will likely be a western style one, so go for a walk to locate that. An air freshener or a clothes peg for your nose may not go amiss either, and try to minimize the amount of toilet trips by cutting out excessive drinking! Another good thing to bring is a silk sheet or liner for your bed and a clean pillowcase; these are cheap, light and good for your peace of mind to know that they are clean. Finally, even in the hottest of Asian countries, air conditioning on trains can be chilly so ensure you have layers that are easily accessible in your bag. Then if you feel comfortable enough to attempt a nap, it might be an idea to have a chain or bicycle lock with you so you can secure your main bag to your bed frame if needed.
So with all this being said, you may be wondering why you would even want to travel on an overnight train! While it most certainly will not be luxurious, or even that comfortable, it is a great experience! It is also one which many other locals and tourists do. Tickets are usually very cheap, will save you one night’s worth of accommodation and get you from A to B. You will also get to see things that you otherwise might not. For example, it is worth getting up as the sun rises to watch the landscapes whizzing by and the locals going about their days in the fields and villages. Whether you are travelling alone or as part of a group, you may even make friends along the way or gain some local insight! If you come prepared and with an open mind, an overnight train ride in Asia may even be one of the most memorable moments from your trip!