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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.