5 frames on the Thailand Northern Railway with Nikon SLRs – By Sukrit Chomsawat

Trains can be an incredibly rewarding way to travel, especially if you’re not in too much of a hurry to reach your destination. I love travel, and for me, time spent on trains is truly special. I enjoy the scenery along the way, the unique atmosphere of the railways – the whole experience, really. And I always carry my film camera with me, to capture impressions and moments from this experience.

When I got into photography around five years ago, I started out with film cameras to give myself a solid and accurate basis for photography. My first film camera was a Nikon FE2 (black body), pictured above. It’s a semi-electronic SLR film camera made in the 1980s, whose basic functions are similar to the Nikon FM or FM2. The next camera I used was a Nikon F100 produced in 1999 – another SLR film camera but with more advanced functionality. I enjoy both these cameras, and I use them regularly to record the stories of my travels.

In this post, I want to share some pictures from my travels on the Thailand Northern Railway. The Northern Railway of Thailand is unique, and quite unlike other regional routes in the country. The North has a different topography – a higher-altitude area with lots of forests. The railway runs through mountains, tunnels and forests, fields and farms, rivers and villages. In winter, from November to February, the forest is full of changing colours. And in the rainy season, the railway is lined on both sides with lush, green forest. White mist drifts along the mountain ranges.

Communities and villages change, according to the culture of each area. We meet, see, learn, experience and get to know – and in this way, I feel that our experience of travel becomes more meaningful and complete.

There are many types of trains on the Northern Railway, including fast trains and even a special express train. But if you want to experience the atmosphere I described above, my recommendation would be to try Train 51 from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Nikon FE2 with Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, Fuji C200 film

Train 51 (Bangkok–Chiang Mai) on a winter morning. The train has halted at a station on the Northern Railway. The countryside is shrouded in thick fog, but you can still see the sun – just about.

Nikon FE2 with Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, Fuji C200 film

The train is passing through a water bend in the Kaeng Luang region. In my photo I tried to capture the soft golden sunshine blending beautifully with the thin morning mist.

Nikon FE2 with Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, Fuji C200 film

One reason I love train travel is because it brings us closer to nature. To get the picture above, I leaned out of a window as the train approached a curve.

Nikon F100 with Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, Fuji C200 film

And in this photo, my friend is doing the same – leaning out of the train window one early winter morning, as the train skirts the edge of the forest.

Nikon FE2 with Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, Fuji C200 film

This last photo is from the rainy season, the route between Denchai and Kaeng Luang. The train runs alongside the Yom River on the right-hand side. Up ahead are the mountain peaks shrouded in thin mist – a truly beautiful view, which I tried my best to capture on camera.

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my photos. If you’d like to see more, you’re welcome to check out and follow my Facebook page.

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23 thoughts on “5 frames on the Thailand Northern Railway with Nikon SLRs – By Sukrit Chomsawat”

  1. Hi Sukrit,
    What a wonderful journey you’ve shared with us. The first shot perfectly captures that magical time before we start. Having spent all my life working on the railways I always used to love that time of day whether it was the end of a night shift or the start of an early one, you’ve caught it perfectly.
    Thank you.

  2. Beautiful photos, Sukrit! I like the first one with the train in the fog and the last one with the fog covered hills the most.

    Thanks a lot for sharing your photos!

  3. Great post and photos Khun Sukrit! I am living in Chiang Mai and hope to ride this train someday. This also makes me want to buy a 35mm SLR. 🙂

  4. Fabulous! I’ve got great memories of travelling Thailand by train, and also of taking some nice film shots (esp with my Yashica TLR). It’s been a long time since I took the Bangkok Chiang Mai line, but I hope to be able to do so again.

  5. Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne

    I have spent a (long) lifetime seeking out train trips to enjoy – going anywhere by rail is truly Slow Travel at its finest! Time to sit back, relax, read, doze, people-watch, gaze at the passing landscapes and, most important to me, observe local people as they go about their daily activities. This is the true essence of travel, not the luxury hotels with their zombie staff muttering “have a good day” platitudes, the cookie-cutter room decor or the same-same breakfasts, lunches and dinners of soulless dishes and bad drinks. Being on a slow train with camera in hand, trying to snatch elusive images as the scenes flash past out the windows (or open doors on Asian trains), is truly living and being alive in the finest way…

    I lived and worked in Bangkok for a year (as a journalist-photographer) in 1975 and I had the great pleasure of doing this same rail trip three times. Unforgettable. I had a well-worn Nikkormat FTN, two lenses (35/2.8 and 85/2.0) and 20 rolls of Kodachrome 64, and a dozen 120 Ektachrome 64 and Tri-X for my ancient Rolleiflex Auomat – film was difficult to source and too expensive for my budget in Bangkok camera shops back then, until I lucked into a black-market vendor with a limited)but cheaper supply of ‘foraged’ Kodak films sneaked out of Vietnam after the fall. I still have all my original images, the Ektachromes have faded a bit (poor processing from el cheapo Bangkok labs) – I really must scan them all one day soon, maybe a future travel opus for 35mmc here…

    Going by rail with as little camera gear as you can get away with carrying, is one of the true minimalist joys of life – it removes you from playing with gear and viewing the world through a viewfinder and lets you enjoy the moment, the journey and the adventure – all of which comes in droves on those obscure Asian rail trips!!

    When Covid-19 eventually gets tamed and we leave behind these dismal pandemic lockdowns, I plan to go back to Asia and indulge in a few more journeys – across Java by rail for one – with my standard kit of either a Nikkormat FT2 (my two FTNs gave up the ghost years ago) or a Contax G1, depending on whether I want precise SLR views or chancy rangefinder images. My lens choices will be the same – a 28/2.8 and a 90/2.8 in either case. And a big lot of B&W film to try to escape the tyranny of airport scanners.

    A great article, and I enjoyed it. My apologies that it has taken me so long to get to this compliment to you!!

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