I'm very new to this travel caper and have priced a trip to Thailand with accommodation, tours and travel included. Then I thought about taking a train from Bangkok to Chaing Mai instead of flying...You know, see a bit of the country as we go rather than just fly all over the place. In this particular case which is better? I know that a lot of people just roll up in a country and look for accommodation when they arrive. Isn't that scary? Any experiences or suggestions welcome.
In this case the Bangkok to Chiang Mai ioption, whilst lots do go by train (and i'df recomend it), bear inmind that virtually all trains go overnight, so whilst you save a nights accom, and gain sightseeing time in the day, you don't actually see much of teh country.
If I know that I absolutely will be somewhere on a certain date, i'll book ahead, or if i know i'm going to be somewhere for a specific event which is popular (i.e. world cup in germany, running of bulls etc) i'll book ahead. The rest of the time I make it up as I go along and find accom as and when i get there. Booking online a day or two beforehand still gives you flexibility and gives you a bit of security, but most of the time i don't even bother doing that
I would agree with Gelli, wing it. You do not need to book everything ahead of time unless you have walking problems. If you were over 70, then I would agree on a packaged trip. If you hit Khao San Road area of BKK, you will have plenty of fellow travellers telling you where they stayed, how they got there, where to eat etc. You may find other ladies heading the same way you are and join up for that leg. Or head off in another direction with people you meet/like. There are so many travellers in Thailand you won't be alone for long unless you want to stay by yourself. Almost everyone you meet is winging it. Get to the next place and find a room. That won't be a challenge I assure you. Someone is always touting where to stay as soon as you get off the bus/train/minivan.
I would compare train/bus prices on your Chiang Mai leg. Both go overnight, so you won't see much. Coming back from CM, why don't you do it in stages and take day buses to cities between CM & BKK? Stop in Ayuthaya & Sukhothai for temples, ruins, and Kanchanaburi for the River Kwai & Death Railroad. Pretty area that is worth a few days. That way you get to see something, if your schedule allows. PM me if you have any questions.
I have often taken the morning train (leaves Bangkok at about 7am) to Chiangmai. It's an all-day ride but gets quite scenic the further north you go. One option is taking the train about halfway and stop off in Phitsanulok. Nice riverside town with a couple of noteworthy temples and some good cheap restaurants. From there it's also only a short bus ride over to Sukhothai, one of the ancient Thai capitals where there are bunches of old ruins. From P-Lok to Chiangmai you can hop on the afternoon train or take a faster bus ride the rest of the way north. Other interesting towns along the train route include Lopburi (much closer to Bangkok) and Uttaradit.
We did the Bangkok to Chaing Mai night train trip in summer earlier this year and found it quiet comfortable in the sleepers and the view was nice in the morning. I booked online for the sleeper and paid when I arrived without any hastles, it pays to print a copy of the reservation and hand it to the station attendent. There are not many of the AC sleepers so this saves missing out and having to travel in a hot seat overnight. As the others said this gives you the option of getting off at a scenic place if you plan you ticket that way.