It’s almost 8:00 pm on my second day in the 25 year anniversary Thai party and I’m on the overnight express train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
Back in 1983 this train ride was the start of a new section of our trip through Asia. After travelling through Japan, Hong Kong, China, and Bangkok, and spending a month at Soochow University in Taipei studying Chinese art, we were going to actually go somewhere and stay for a while.Â Our trip to Chiang Mai would set us down at Chiang Mai University for three months where we would study Buddhism, history and Thai language, but more importantly live with Thai families and be teamed up with a group of Thai students.Â And the train to Chiang Mai, where we were greeted by this Thai team (ooh! That one looks cute!) marked the beginning of this venture.
And it’s the same train as it was back then. The seats have been recovered, and its in good shape, but it’s the same vehicle, and it still takes 14 hours from station to station. In that same twenty five years, the train ride from Shanghai to Beijing (which we also did in 1983) has decreased from somewhere over 24 hours to less than 12. I’m not sure if that tells us more about how bad the trains were in China, or how little the trains have changed in Thailand.
Going through the Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok is still amazing. The mixture of foreign tourists, farmers headed home to their villages and middle-class Thais on holiday is frosting for the experience of transiting through this 100 year-old Italian-style structure. Even the bathrooms were pretty clean.
The train pulls out of the station around 7:40 pm, only five minutes late and not too bad considering that few folks started boarding before 7:30. On the train on this Thursday night nearly everyone (except me) is a student. There’s a group of American students in a group at the head of the cabin. â€œYou mean the seats fold down into beds?â€ â€œThis is the first time I’ve rode on a train.â€ There’s a flock of Thai university students at the other end of the cabin gossiping about their friends and giggling about clothes and cars. In the middle of the car, surrounded by a few empty seats is one middle-aged farang with gray hair who keeps taking pictures of everything â€“ but it’s not his first time on a train.
Vendors are passing through selling overpriced beer and snacks. Eighty baht for a Singha beer. And it’s not even the large bottle! The next car up is the dining car, but you can have your meal brought to you too. They’ll set up a little table between the seats, bring out the food and you’re good to go. Just be careful spooning out the curry as you pass through the curves.
We’ll be pulling into Chiang Mai around 9:30 am tomorrow so there should be some good chances to check out the northern Thai countryside in Lamphun and Lampang under the early morning light.
I’ll give you the run-down on my one day in Bangkok, but there’s not that much to tell.Â (Anyway, I think we only spent about three days there back in 1983. After a late night of beers with my brother and his wife at the Bamboo Bar at the Oriental Hotel, my major accomplishment of the day was to make it downstairs for the complementary breakfast before the restaurant closed at 10:00 am.
Compared to 25 years ago, there is not much to recognise in Bangkok other than the temples. The city has sprouted skyscrapers and more traffic jams. And the little Chinese corner stores are being rapidly replaced with 7-Elevens â€“ there’s one about every other block on Sukhumvit Road.
Having taken many friends on the Bangkok tour over the years, I gave a miss to the sightseeing at Wat Phra Keo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Po and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), and decided to have a three beer lunch with one of my former staff and go for a two-hour massage. This vacation stuff can be so stressful!
I have some photos of the fun so far and will upload those to my flickr page and put in a photo gallery with this post.
Hope you enjoy this trip through time and space and see you again soon here on Mingtiandi.