Travelling by plane is usually the quickest way to reach your holiday destination, but it’s not necessarily the most economical and definitely not the most relaxing! Finding overland options to get from Beijing to Bangkok is super easy, so you can plan your route ahead of time and enjoy your travelling journey.
Choosing not to fly to your holiday destination is a great way to travel more sustainably and cheaply. Travelling overland is also the perfect way to discover a new country. Getting from Beijing to Bangkok via Cambodia and Vietnam requires a couple of different transport methods, but it’s all part of the adventure.
To travel the 4000 miles from Beijing to Bangkok without flying, you’ll need to take trains, buses, taxis and tuk-tuks. Luckily, the route between China and Thailand is pretty simple to follow, and you can organise yourself beforehand too. However, if you are taking a long round trip through southeast Asia, you might find that you’ll want to return from Bangkok to Beijing by plane as it’s quicker and not many people have the time for too many overnight trains!
1. Taking the Beijing to Xi’an Train is Fun!
You can’t get a direct Beijing to Bangkok train, but you can choose between an overnight sleeper and a bullet train for your first transport method! We don’t recommend getting the bus – more on that below.
The distance between Beijing and Xi’an is roughly around 1100km. You’ll start your journey in at Beijing West subway station (take Line 7 or line 9 to get there) and you’ll end up in Xi’an Railway Station, which is connected to line 2 of the Xi’an metro.
Take a look at the information we’ve put together to help you make you decision when considering the two train options.
The train takes between 12 and 15 hours, depending on the time you depart. The trains have different numbers, and we recommend the Z19, as it travels overnight and also is one of the quickest sleepers. It leaves Beijing at 20:40 and takes 11 hours 51 minutes, which means that you can eat and wind down, then sleep for most of the journey.
Choose your beds wisely. You have 3 options:
- Hard Sleeper: These compartments consist of 2 bunks, each with 3 beds above each other. There isn’t a door – only walls separating each section. The beds themselves are quite thin (6cm) but they’re fine for an overnight trip, especially if they’re the last tickets left. You’ll have a shared washroom and toilet in the carriage, and the lower bunks have more sitting up space than the higher ones.Cost: 272.50 RMB/ $40 / £32 per person
- *Recommended* Soft Sleeper: These are the beds that we recommend as we used them and had a very comfortable journey. In the compartment (which has a lockable door) there are 4 beds with thicker mattresses than the hard sleepers (15cm). There is also a plug socket (only one though!), a light and you’ll again find shared washrooms and a toilet in the carriages. There is also an LCD screen in each compartment, but we didn’t see anything showing on ours when we travelled so don’t count on this!Cost: 415.50 RMB/ $60 / £48 per person
- Deluxe/Superior Soft Sleeper: If you want a bit of a fancier journey, book one of these, but be quick about it because they’re likely to sell out. The compartments include a sofa/chair and a private bathroom, which is gold to some travellers. They only sleep 2 people so perfect for friends or couples – remember that these beds are also separate bunks though.Cost: 765.50 RMB / $111 / £88 per person
In each cabin, there is plenty of space under the beds, as well as above the doorway, but it might be a good idea to sleep with your valuables on your bed so that you can be sure they’re safe. You’re also provided with plastic slippers to use whilst your’re on the train, walking to and from the bathroom etc.
There are hot water tanks where you can fill up your flask if you’re a tea/coffee drinker. Most people use the water to cook their instant noodles, which are an ideal snack for this journey. Refreshments trolleys do visit each compartment with snacks but not proper meals, so either stick to the noodles or bring food that can be eaten cold. Bottled water and drinks are also sold but it’s just as easy to bring your own in a reusable bottle to save some money, as well as being environmentally friendly!
Be prepared for delays – with or without reason. Our train actually stopped a few times during the night at certain stations, and we didn’t reach Xi’an until around 11am (2 and a half hours later than scheduled). You might want to consider not making too many concrete plans for the day that you arrive Xi’an just in case this happens and you miss a connecting transfer or tour.
If you want to travel during the day, then consider taking a ‘T’ train. The trains are not quite as new as the ‘Z’ class ones, but the seating system is the same (with two extra options) and the costs are similar.
On a a ‘T’ class train, as well as the sleeper options, you can buy the extra following tickets:
Standing: Exactly what it says on the tin. Our advice? Don’t buy one! The journey is around 13 hours on this train, and you are literally squeezed in the aisles of the hard seats for the whole journey. They cost 152 RMB/ $22 / £18, which is literally the worst deal I’ve ever heard of.
Hard seat: Again, not an ideal situation as you’ll be sat upright for the duration of your trip. The people with the standing tickets will also be rubbing up against you and I can’t imagine anyone would pay for that. It actually costs around the same price as a standing ticket so obviously choose this one between the two, but ideally get a bed!
If you haven’t got the time or patience to travel on a sleeper train on your way from Beijing to Bangkok, then a bullet train is your other option. A huge pro with this is obviously the speed and time it takes to get from one city to another. However, the massive downside is that the seats cost a lot more.
- Second Class Ticket: 524 RMB / $76 / £60
- First Class Ticket: 834 RMB / $121 / £96
- Superior Class Ticket: 1000 RMB / $145 / £115
- Business Class Ticket: 1648 RMB /$239 / £189
The duration of the journey spans from between around 4 hours 20 mins to about 6 hours, depending on which train you take. The second class seats are fine, especially as it isn’t a really long journey. If you’re happy to splash out then there is a lot more room in first, superior and business class. In first and superior, there is a sightseeing area, and in business there are flat bed seats (although if you’re sleeping then you may as well get on the sleeper train and save yourself a bit of cash!). You also get a complimentary meal but considering the high price, it’s not really free!
2. The Xi’an to Guilin Train Can Be Over 24 Hours Long
Depending on the train you take, the journey from Xi’an to Guilin takes more than a day and can be very tiresome. However, you can make the most of it by chatting to your fellow bunk-mates, bringing a laptop/tablet/phone loaded up with films, listening to a podcast or reading a book. It’s also so important to stretch out over the day – you wouldn’t sit in your bed at home for over 24 hours straight so you shouldn’t do it whilst travelling!
There is a daytime train which takes only around 11 hours – this is the D1709. The prices are as follows:
- Second Class Seat: 570 RMB / $83 / £67
- First Class Seat: 914 RMB / $133 / £106
- Business Class Seat: 1710 RMB / $248 / £199
I wouldn’t actually recommend travelling on this train because unless you fork out for a business seat, you’ll be sat upright for 11 hours. Having the option of lying down in a bed for longer is much more appealing to me!
If you are okay with travelling on another sleeper train, then here are your cost options:
- Standing Ticket: 207 RMB / $30 / £24 (Don’t do it to yourself unless you have NO OTHER OPTIONS!
- Hard Seat Ticket: 207 RMB / $30 / £24 (Again, not recommended for this amount of time travelling!)
- Hard Sleeper Ticket: 407 RMB / $59 / £47 (If you’re fine with sharing with 5 others then this option is okay)
- Soft Sleeper Tickets: 628 RMB / $91 / £72 (The best but also the most expensive and most likely to sell out quickly)
3. You Might End Up Flying From Xian to Guilin
This route can also get very busy at certain times of the year – Chinese New Year especially. We booked this train in early December for February but the tickets were gone by the time we we ready to travel, which unfortunately meant that we had to take a short flight from Xi’an to Guilin instead.
In China, train tickets are usually released around 30 days before the date of travel, meaning you can’t book very far in advance. The best way to ensure that you are likely to get a ticket is to go through an agency like China Highlights or Travel China Guide. They accept reservations months before the tickets are released and can purchase them more easily than you can as an individual.
Buying tickets at the station isn’t smart unless you’re pretty good at Chinese – the staff don’t necessarily speak English. Not only that, but the self-service machines only accept Chinese ID and the booths only accept cash.
If you use an agency, they can either send you your tickets (they can also send them onto a hotel if you are doing a long trip) or you can collect them at the train station. Don’t forget your passport! Don’t wait until the last minute to collect your tickets either – Chinese train stations can get very busy so we’d advise giving yourself at least two hours before your train leaves to pick them up.
4. There Is No Direct Train From Guilin to Hanoi
There isn’t actually a direct train travelling across the border from Guilin to Hanoi, so you’ll have to split it up into two journeys.
You can choose to take a short bullet train (less than 3 hours) or a longer sleeper train that takes up to 7 hours. This train will have come all the way from Beijing – that’s why there are beds for such a short journey.
The ‘D’ class train is our recommendation. It’s only a two and a half hour trip on a VERY high speed bullet train from Guilin to Nanning. It’s quite a fancy train, especially compared to the ones previously used on this journey. You’ll quickly be served hot tray meal, and the time goes super quickly, especially if you have a film to watch. This train is the closet you’ll get to being on a plane, with the staff even looking like air stewards!
The ‘D’ class trains cost:
Second Class Seat: 128.50 RMB / $19 / £15
First Class Seat: 205 RMB / $30 / £24
From Nanning to Hanoi it’s yet another sleeper.
This time it was a bit more rickety we must admit! Unlike when we arrived in Xi’an, we needed to catch another train shortly after so luckily this one was on time. We had plenty of time to get between stations at Nanning (Nanning and Nanning East!). Again, we enjoyed our noodles using the hot water taps provided!
We arrived at around 5am and we were able to get a taxi. However, we had to haggle HARD for the price. They know that you need them at that time of the morning (coming out of the station, it’s very dark and dingy!). Our driver tried to rip us off and even threatened to call the police when we refused to pay! It was an extortionate amount for travelling for 10 minutes so we didn’t budge.
Eventually he backed down as he realised we knew the correct price of about 50,000VND/£2 to our hotel. For reference, we stayed in the Golden Spring Hotel which is basically in the Old Quarter.
You do have to get off the train at the Chinese/Vietnamese crossing. This happened at about 11pm for us, about 4 hours into the journey. You have to get your visa, unless you’re from certain countries like the UK where you don’t need one!
You’ll have to give them your passport for about half an hour whilst they check everything. They’ll call your name to give it back and you can settle down on the train.
- Guliin to Nanning: 276RMB/£33
- Nanning to Hanoi: 840RMB/£101
5. The Views Are Prettiest Between Hanoi and Nha Trang
This was our first super long sleeper train and we weren’t really looking forward to it! Unfortunately, we spent another extra hour and a half travelling on it – 29 and a half in total! We only had to share our carriage for around half of that though. We chatted to a Vietnamese guy travelling for New Year who told us interesting stories about his country.
The views to Nha Trang were also the nicest we had in our whole trip. It’s a coastal town so we spent many hours looking out to the rice paddies eventually turn into open sea.
6. You Can Save On A Hotel On The Way From Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
The last long train of our journey took around 8 and a half hours. It was perfectly timed overnight so we saved on a hotel and didn’t lose any time. We were even given a snack and a bottle of water when we arrived which was nice as we had been waiting in the station for a while and the little shop there was overpriced so we held out!
This was the most rickety of the trains we used – when turning slightly it often felt like we would just overturn! However, I haven’t heard of that happening and we got through the night without a hitch. There are plenty of taxis waiting outside the train station so make sure you have the hotel address ready.
7. There Is No Train From Vietnam To Cambodia
We took a bus to cross over the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. We used Giant Ibis which is not to be confused with the hotel chain – the Giant Ibis is the national bird of Cambodia so that’s where they get their name. The bus pick up point was smaller than we imagined – literally a little shop on the streets of Saigon so make sure you keep your eyes peeled if there aren’t any buses waiting outside.
The bus was a large coach, with WiFi but no plug sockets as promised, so that sucked. We had planned a lot of computer time into our journey but as my laptop only lasts for two hours on a full charge, this idea went out the window! It took 6 and a half hours, including a lunch stop at the border, as well as the time it took for everyone to get stamped in.
8. Getting From Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville Is Incredibly Easy
Another journey, another bus! This time the journey was only around 4 and a half hours, and it left on time too. We didn’t encounter any problems travelling on this bus and there were tuk-tuks waiting outside the drop-off point to take you to your hotel for a fair price.
9. You Can Take A Short Trip From Sihanoukville to Koh Ta Kiev
Okay, this one isn’t technically travelling overland but we thought we’d include it anyway! We hadn’t booked a boat to the island because we basically forgot to, but it worked out perfectly because our hotel offered to do it for us.
They organized a tuk-tuk to pick us up in the morning and then for us to get a return journey on the boat. What we didn’t realise was that the boat they put us on was actually a day trip boat – not the one specifically from the island resort we were staying at.
This meant it took longer to get there and back, but it was because we stopped off to snorkel and cliff-dive for a while! It was great fun and I’d recommend it! Another tip – we stayed at Coral Beach and a group just asked if they could jump onto the boat that went to the mainland every other day to collect supplies. As the boat was doing a trip, they let them on for free so if you’re feeling brave about potentially being stuck on a beautiful island, then don’t book your return journey and see what happens!
10. You Must Go Via Phnom Penh To Reach Siem Reap
As Sihanoukville is all the way down the bottom of Cambodia along the coast, you have to make your way back up to the capital to get anywhere else really. However, it was easy because we just booked a ticket from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap (it’s a popular route) and Giant Ibis has just split the journey up, organizing their buses to arrive and depart in time for you to make the connection.
There was about 15 minutes between the time we arrived and the time the next bus left, but it was enough to use the bathroom and buy a quick snack before setting off. Also, most people were doing the same journey so people were happy to wait.
This time, however, there wasn’t even any WiFi on either bus which made it pretty boring – don’t get us wrong, the Cambodian countryside is beautiful but a distraction would have been nice whilst being on a bus for 11 and a half hours! The second bus was also more of a minibus, which meant our luggage was tied up at the front – very precariously might I add – and there was even less space to fit our long legs.
We stopped around half way through on the second bus to buy some lunch and use the bathroom – we had snacks so we didn’t buy anything but you could buy a full rice meal, fruit, drinks and evens souvenirs here.
- Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh: $11/£9
- Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: $15/£12
11. You Can Easily Avoid Scams Getting From Siem Reap to Bangkok
If you’re reading this part, then the chances are that you’ll have read the horror stories we did when planning this leg of the trip. However, we couldn’t believe how easy it was! Again, it’s a popular journey so your hotel/hostel is more than happy to help you with it. We stayed at Boutique Dormitory Kochi-Ke and the day we arrived, we asked them about the bus across to Thailand. There were two options to leave at either 8 or 9am. We decided to leave early, and our hostel booked us a tuk tuk to take us to the pick-up point.
On the bus we got, and drove all the way to the border with absolutely no scammers and no trouble. Be wary though because scams do happen – it’s best to be prepared and refuse to pay any extra that anyone demands! Once there, we had to take our luggage off the bus to be scanned and then we had to be stamped out of Cambodia. We then walked past the scanners but they weren’t working….so crossed into Thailand and waited to be stamped in. We did wait a fair while but the bus gave us plenty of time.
There was a group of us with a member of staff from the bus company waiting with us, and once we got back on the bus with everyone, we set off and drove into Bangkok! It couldn’t have been easier, and it was cheap too.
There you have it! Our journeys were all simple and straightforward, and we weren’t approached once by scammers offering quick-access to by-pass the queues, or trying to take our money. The trains and buses we took were all clean and there was enough space (just) for us so if you’re shorter than 6 feet 2, you’ll be fine! Taller than that…well, good luck!
Here’s a full list of the websites and travel companies we used for our journeys:
Did we answer all of your questions about overland travel from Beijing to Bangkok? Have you travelled on these trains and buses before? Let us know in the comments below!