Posted by: Heather | March 29, 2009

New Train Service Between Thanaleng, Laos and Bangkok, Thailand

The new train service connecting Bangkok and Vientiane (using the Thanaleng Station) is now open as of March 5, 2009. To clarify the misinformation on blogs and websites, we decided to take this journey on March 26, 2009 and report our findings to Seat61.com

train-thanaleng-station-photo-low

The new Thanaleng station is 20km outside Vientiane, near the Friendship Bridge that connects to Nong Khai. The new track allows you to cross the border between Laos and Thailand without using the Friendship Bridge by Nong Khai. Here is what you need to know:

TRAIN SERVICE and PRICES (Updated March 2009)
One train runs daily each way at night.
#69  Bangkok THROUGH Nong Khai, Thailand TO Thanaleng, Laos (outside Vientiane).
#70  Thanaleng, Laos (outside Vientiane) THROUGH Nong Khai, Thailand TO Bangkok.

Prices for the Thanaleng – Bangkok route are:  (in Thai Baht)
1st Class Aircon Sleeper       1167B Upper     1367B Lower       about $72 per room
2nd Class Aircon Sleeper      738B Upper      808B Lower       about $44 per room
2nd Class Fan Sleeper           538B Upper      588B Lower
2nd Class Fan Soft Seat                                     438B  (soft seat)
3rd Class Seat    (open windows)                     303B  (hard seat)

NOTE: This is the same price schedule as the Bangkok-Nong Khai route but 50 Baht per person is added for the 13-minute connection between Nong Khai and Thanaleng. You will receive two tickets. One for the Bangkok-Nong Khai segment and one for the Nong Khai-Thanaleng segment. They may have different train numbers on the ticket but it is the same train.

ADVANTAGES
The old route terminating in Nong Khai, Thailand requires multiple ‘legs’ through the Friendship Bridge hopping on and off tuk-tuks, busses and customs lines. The new route allows you to jump off the train, “stamp out” or “stamp in” and get right back on the train without leaving the station.

train-thanaleng-waiting-area-low

Thanaleng, Laos (Vientiane) Local Transport
DEPARTING: Arrange your own transport for the 20km from central Vientiane, Laos to the new train station at Thanaleng. The station is in the middle of nowhere so don’t expect bus services to drop you there (yet). If you are dropped on the main highway, you are still several kilometers from the station. Tuk-tuks will start negotiations at around 180,000 kip (about $21) one-way but we finally agreed to 50,000 kip (just under $6) for two people and 4 large bags in our own tuk-tuk.

ARRIVING: Best bet is to make prior arrangements for transportation to pick you up in Thanaleng upon arrival. You are 20km from central Vientiane. On two different days at the end of March 2009, we never saw a tuk-tuk, bus or songethew ready for passengers, only random drop offs. You might arrive stranded without a ride to town or have to pay a hefty fee for a ride into Vientiane.

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BOOKING TICKETS in Bangkok
As of March 27th, 2009, ticketing in Bangkok has not changed. You can only purchase the Bangkok-Nong Khai route. On arrival at the Nong Khai station, simply purchase an onward ticket to Thanaleng for 50 baht per person. You will have about 2 hours delay waiting for that departure.

BOOKING TICKETS From Vientiane
As of March 26, 2009, no travel agents in Laos could sell tickets on the newly opened segment connecting these two countries. Most didn’t know it was open. Those who know about it revealed that they do not have a commission structure negotiated yet and therefore cannot sell the tickets. They continue to push the old Nong Khai to Bangkok “inclusive” packages which include bus and Tuk-Tuk transfers across the friendship bridge. It’s a longer and more involved journey and travel agents make more money this way. Most in Vientiane sell this old travel method for 1650 baht per person booking the 1st Class sleeper or 2950-3250 baht for the room.  Actual cost is 2434 baht.

train-ticket-low

To originate your travel from the new Thanaleng, Laos station (Vientiane), you must make arrangements yourself, in person at the Thanaleng station. Best we could arrange was 80,000 kip for a round trip tuk-tuk to and from the Thanaleng station to purchase tickets.  (about $9.50 for 40+ km roundtrip)

TICKETING OBSTACLES ON THE LAOS SIDE
The Thanaleng, Laos station opened March 5, 2009 but services and procedures are still being developed. They had no equipment or capability to print hard tickets at this office yet but hope to around May 2009. You must buy your tickets in Thai Baht only, in cash in advance at the Thanaleng station. THERE IS NO CURRENCY EXCHANGE THERE. You will not get a printed receipt, as this cannot be done either. They will have your tickets printed in Nong Khai and sent on the next day’s train to be held at the ticket window for you in Thanaleng so plan ahead at least 1-2 days. This feels a little scary with no receipt but we found the process to be straight forward and honest. Two other daring couples also did the same thing and had no problems. In May 2009 they hope to have these issues resolved.

train-ticket-window-low

ADVANTAGE: You will get your tickets at actual face value without paying the commission markups from agents. You will also save time and money on the transfers across the Friendship Bridge and the slower customs procedure.
DISADVANTAGE: You will spend most of what you saved on a separate round trip tuk-tuk to the Thanaleng station to buy your tickets in advance. You will have a 2 hour layover in Nong Khai until continuing to Bangkok but there are places to eat and drink.

THANALENG to NONG KHAI JOURNEY

This is supposed to depart at 3:45pm daily (not 4:15pm as often noted) but nothing is guaranteed so arrive a little early to be sure. You will “stamp out” at the customs window in Thanaleng, Laos in about 1-2 minutes. When the train arrives, board a 1st or 2nd class SEAT for the 13-15 minute ride to Nong Khai, Thailand. NO SLEEPER CARS WILL BE ON THE TRAIN YET.

train-thanaleng-customs-low

In Nong Khai, disembark the train, go to the customs window and ‘stamp in’ for your Visa On Arrival in Thailand. You have about 2 hours to wait while they load cargo, transfer passenger cars and add the sleeper cars to the same train you arrived on. Smile and toast the other passengers arriving from their 90+ minute bus / tuk-tuk / Friendship Bridge Customs journey who didn’t know about this option.

CONNECTION WORRIES IN NONG KHAI

A couple times each week, the train runs late from Nong Khai or they have locomotive problems. If you originate in Thanlang, do not worry about making the connection in Nong Khai to Bangkok. The same locomotive is used for the whole trip so you will not be “stuck” in Thanaleng. On our journey originating from Thanaleng, the locomotive was stuck in Nong Khai and would not start. The train could not come up to Thanaleng to pick us up and begin heading back through Nong Khai to Bangkok. After a 4 hour delay, the Thanaleng supervisor was instructed to drive the six passengers the Nong Khai station in his car! You can’t imagine how quick and easy it is to pass through the Friendship bridge and the Thai-Laos customs when you have a railroad supervisor AND customs officers riding with you! They escorted us through the process in expedited fashion and directly to the train platform in Nong Khai, then refunded the 50Baht per person cost for the Thanaleng-Nong Khai segment with smiles and apologies.

NONG KHAI to BANGKOK TRACKS
Coming from Nong Khai, go to bed as early as possible. The first half of the ride is very smooth so take advantage of this to sleep if possible. The second half of the tracks are in need of repair and it is a very bumpy ride in some places. It will feel as though a jack hammer is drilling the underside of your bunk for about two hours. You will not sleep soundly at that section but it is still better than 14 hours on a bus.

Copyright: All info on this site is copyright protected and may not be copied or duplicated without written permission from jumpAmonkey. All Rights Reserved.

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Responses

  1. Dear Heather:

    Thank you very much for your on-site searches, for sharing interesting photos with us and for posting a detailed and revealing report!

    I still have two questions. Let’s assume that someone travels by train from Nong Khai to Thanaleng.

    Question one is: When and where does he or she get the Thai border formalities cleared? When I was on Nong Khai railways station on 12 March 2009, I discovered nothing which reminded me of clearing border formalities. I must admit, however, that I’m slightly short-sighted in both eyes.

    Question two is: Does he or she already get a visa upon arrival at Thanaleng railway station? The information about that is very contradictory at present.

    Thank you very much again for all your efforts!

    Take care!

    Fred

    • Fred,

      If you travel from Nong Khai to Thanaleng, you will “exit” Thailand at Nong Khai. There are simply windows there (like you would purchase tickets at). It’s not very formal. When you get off the train at Thanaleng, they will usher you to the windows to enter into Laos. I don’t know if visas on arrival are available or not. We came across the border into Laos at a different border crossing where we got visa on arrival. If I can find the piece of paper with the phone number for the train station at Thanaleng on it, I’ll give you the number to call to verify. The train station manager speaks English.

      • Fred,

        Ted, my husband who did most of this research, told me that visas on arrival ARE available according to the train station manager he spoke to at Thanaleng station. Ted also said there was a sign posted at the Laos entry customs desk saying $1 surcharge for visas on weekends. Just in case that doesn’t ease your mind, here are the phone numbers for the train station in Thanaleng: (Mr. Phouthavanh the English-speaking manager: 020 546 6126) and (Train station itself: 021 820228, 020 591 9593). I’d call the station first, since the number for Mr. Phouthavanh is his personal cell phone.

  2. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  3. Dear Heather:

    Thank you very much for answering my questions!

    I really appreciate all your efforts, yours and your husband’s!

    It’s great that you share your knowledge with us, that you arrange and present it in such an appealing way, and that you are also willing to answer further questions!

    Thank you very much again – and take good care of yourself!

    Fred

  4. thanks, your article is very informative.

  5. We don’t book tickets, we just posted the information to share. Until the train stations are able to book the tickets the whole way, you’ll have to book half the ticket in Bangkok and the remaining leg once you get to the station at the border. I don’t know if Bangkok takes credit cards or not or if you can book the tickets by internet. Check with a travel agent in Bangkok.

  6. I have done the trip, March 29th, but slightly different to you, took the overnight train from Bkk, and arrived at about 9.20am NK. Walked to the ticket office, bought the ticket to Laos, had to wait till 9.30 for the Immi office to open, then went thru in minutes, and waited for the 10 am service. They did not use the same train, a two carrage Thai train came from Laos, and I boarded, and 10 minutes later was at Thanaleng.
    Again mere minutes to go thru Laos Immi, and there is a sign in both Laos, and English saying that buses are there fto meet every train arrival to take you to Vientianne, with the times. They use the Laos/Thai friendship buses, just 40 B. A quick trip and I was in the city about 10.45am.
    Amazingly quick and easy, but I guess this will change when it becomes popular. Did the same to return, a few days later, got the bus from the bus station, back to Thanaleng, and caught the train across, and changed to the NK/Bkk train 1 hour later. Fantastic !!

  7. I believe the ride is only 15 minutes. After you go, let me know if I’m wrong.

    • The train ride from Vientiane to Thanaleng is only 15 minutes.

  8. Sorry Carron. I just went back in the comments and found that I never answered your original question. I don’t remember how long the train ride is between Thanaleng and Bangkok, but this website should have the information: http://www.seat61.com

  9. I think it useful for everyone.thanks for your topic.

  10. thanks so much for all the useful information. I know that you can obtain visas as you go into Laos by this route. However, if we are getting the overnight train, will the ticket office still be open for buying visas. many thanks, carole

    • If you are coming from Bangkok, you will stamp out of Thailand at Nong Khai when you arrive in the morning. Buy a ticket to Vientienne and when you arrive at the station 20 minutes later, you will “stamp in” to Laos. We are repeating the trip this weekend and will let you know if anything has changed.

  11. please help me. your site is fantatic. i leave in a few hours from koh tao to bangkok. i want to go directly to laos. so this train looks great. where in bangkok does it leave from???

    thank you

    zara


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