The Myth of the Overnight Sleeper Train

Here at Vegan Food Quest, not only are we bringing you news of tasty vegan treats we find on our travels, but we can now also bust some of the travel myths that are out there for you.

Our first act of myth busting is devoted to lifting the lid on the overnight sleeper train (in South East Asia as that’s where we’ve been travelling all year).

Now we love train travel, it has to be our favourite form of transport because its generally safer than a bus, scooter, taxi or tuk tuk.

There’s also a lot of life on trains, you can get up and wander around which is always nice and the views can be amazing.

Vegan satay for dinner on the overnight train in Vietnam.

Vegan satay for dinner on the overnight train in Thailand

The best view is often hanging out the watching the world go by....

The best view is often hanging out the door watching the world go by….

It’s because of this love of trains that we often book an overnight sleeper train to take us to our next destination if we have a long way to go, which is also a great budget travel tip because it gives you a bed for the night and your ongoing travel all in one easy go. Bonus.

Vegan snacks make the journey more fun also!

Vegan treats also make the journey more fun too!

The only thing that you’ll miss on an overnight sleeper train is sleep

Why they’re called sleeper trains is beyond us. There is no sleep to be found on these noisy, rattly, people filled trains. Not a wink.

Preparing to board the overnight train from Bangkok to Trang.

Preparing to board the overnight train from Bangkok to Trang

Some of them have really quite comfy beds (Thai second class sleeper) but the blaring flourescent lights and polar bear friendly air con temperature combines to ensure no sleep is ever possible.

Our bed for the night en route from Bangkok to Trang.

Our bed for the night en route from Bangkok to Trang – comfortable but freezing

Other’s might not actually have a bed (Sri Lankan Trinco-Colombo second class sleeper) and the promise that the ‘reclining seat’ is a perfect alternative is nothing short of a lie.

We’ve had office chairs that reclined more and were more conducive for a nap (not that we’re admitting to sleeping in the office in our pre-travelling days of course).

Some take their duty of informing the public very seriously (Vietnamese Saigon-Danang first class sleeper), giving useful travel information about the history of each destination and other interesting facts about Vietnam through the night, in Vietnamese, very loudly.

At the station in Nha Trang preparing for another night on a train.

Some Vietnamese trains love to give you interesting tourist information ALL through the night

Then there’s train wobble which at best keeps you awake as you’re swung from side to side with quite a vigorous force and at worst makes you fear for your wellbeing with thoughts of being swung right out of your upper berth bunk as the train brakes are slammed on and you find yourself being swung dangerously close to the edge.

Did i say i don't ever want to travel on a a (no) sleeper truing again?

One woman who is dangerously close to the edge after a  sleepless night from train wobbling

There’s also noise from other people too, which is to be expected as people get on and off the train at their stops through the night.

But what a lot of people fail to realise is that those material curtains that create your own little private space in the communal cabin aren’t actually soundproof.

So people, when you put your head through the curtain to speak to your travelling partner(s) and talk loudly at 3 am to them, you may be surprised that the rest of your fellow passengers can actually hear every word you are saying.

Who knew eh?


Dear fellow passengers, we can actually hear everything you are saying behind those curtains you know…

There is one thing that all South East Asian sleeper trains have in common though (apart from being the perfect place to not sleep that is) and that’s approximately 4 to 6 loudly snoring men in each carriage.

There’s one half of the Vegan Food Quest who finds this noise excruciating, so much so that it’s impossible to zone out of the noise and attempt sleeping – there should be separate trains for people who sleep in this anti-social fashion, it’s like the passive smoking of the sleep world.

A picture of us actually enjoying train travel!

Guess which one of us didn’t sleep all night?

We’ve recently experienced a 9.5 hour overnight (non) sleeper train journey, that deposited us in Colombo train station at the ungodly hour of 4.30 a.m.

Where it started...

Where it started…

We were literally like the waking dead from a night of no sleep in a mosquito and cockroach infested train cabin which although had it’s full complement of snoring men (of course), did not seem to have any alternative lighting other than glowing white fluorescent light.

...and where it all ended.

…and where it all ended

It was possibly the worst overnight train that we’ve ever taken (add the overflowing toilet sloshing wee all through the cabin to the mix and you start to realise why we have awarded that title to this train journey).

But the strange thing is, we have another overnight sleeper booked later in the year and it probably won’t be our last, and we’d still recommend that people go ahead and adopt this torturous form of transport too.

Why? Because it’s strangely fun

In between wanting to kill each other in a crotchety, sleep deprived state, we actually have quite a lot of fun on these sorts of journeys.

All night with no sleep en route to Colombo was tough to say the least.

This is us weirdly having fun and being sleep deprived

Which makes us realise that all this travelling may have made us go a little crazy…

Check out a selection of other vegan travel blog posts…


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  1. will December 9, 2014 at 5:51 am - Reply

    Our longest train journey was in India, Mumbai to Kerela, 26 hours. Deb was amazed at how I can sleep pretty much anywhere, whether it is with my head pressed up against the window of a mountain bus in Munar or on a sleeper train. I carried an eye mask (or face curtains as I call them) and ear plugs.

    I think my worst journey was a 12 hour sleeper bus, again in India. It actually had beds but we had the one at the back. This was great apart from when we went through a town that had speed bumps. As we were at the back, we’d be launched several inches into the air about every 30 seconds!

    • Paul December 9, 2014 at 1:21 pm - Reply

      26 hours sounds tough, I can normally sleep without a problem but Caryl struggles…I keep forgetting my ‘face curtains’ though, must pack them in my hand luggage next time instead of at the bottom of my pack!

      coach travel is not for me, I avoid it whenever I can as the drivers seem to have little understanding of slowing down and to be honest I feel very unsafe 🙂

  2. Jean Perkins December 11, 2014 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    Hi Paul and Caryl,

    Intending to book the overnight train from Kota Bharu to KL, reading your comments l remembered our journey from Trang to Bangkok, l have never been so cold and didn’t sleep a wink despite travelling first class.

    Having second thoughts but it would save us a nights accommodation having splurged out a bit in Georgetown.


    • Caryl December 12, 2014 at 10:47 am - Reply

      quick reply as we are just about to try and get another train (in sri lanka this time) we tried to buy tickets yesterday but all 5 trains in all classes sold out apparently – wish us luck!

      the malaysian trains are the best, book in advance and get the best tickets available and you’ll be fine 🙂

      see you both soon in Hat Yai !

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