I love that even moderately-priced hotels have idiosyncrasies galore in Asia. When going to the hawng nam (toilet) in the lobby of our hotel, I had to physically pick up the sliding door and heft it across the doorway before locking it with one of those safety chains that are often used on people’s front doors. In the breakfast room, they have a fascinating toaster that looks like it’s out of a mad inventor’s workshop. Your bread goes up a conveyor belt, is toasted under hot elements, then the toaster spits your toast back out the bottom. Unless it doesn’t, in which case you are required to perform delicate surgery with a pair of long metal tongs, potentially receiving a free new hairstyle courtesy of the hotel. Service plus around here…
We checked out after breakfast, but our train wasn’t for a few hours yet. The hotel is kind about letting you stow your luggage and lounge around on their nice long couches under swathes of material and Moroccan lanterns Being the slow packer that I am, I caught up with Peter down in the lounging room, where he was lying on the floor taking photos of a lizard he had discovered under the table. Now there’s a man after my own heart! It was the first lizard we’d seen on our trip so far, so it was all very exciting.
I’ll try to describe the heat and humidity here. Imagine a whole lot of very hot molecules crowding around you, then trying to ooze via osmosis and a steaming process through your skin to broil you with your own blood. It feels something like that. Or fifteen Great Danes trying to snuggle with you in your bed on a hot summer’s night. At least we have an air-conditioned room while we’re becoming acclimatized. On the other hand, because we keep popping in and out, and the power goes off in our room while we’re not in there, it doesn’t really get to do its job properly and pretty much runs at half mast until we’re in there for the night. During which time it builds up a full head of steam and you’re woken up at 3 am by the sound of your own teeth chattering with the cold. Knees knocking, you pull the blanket up to your chin and sleep quite well until you wake up to another day steaming half to death in the sauna of another Bangkok day. Gotta love the tropics!
Our train to Chiang Mai was departing at 6.15 pm, so we caught a taxi to the Hua Lamphong train station at 4.30pm. This turned out to be a cunning plan, as we were in full on Bangkok rush hour traffic for over an hour, all the time hoping that our taxi driver, who had as much English as we have Swahili, was taking us to the right station, as there are more than one. We amused ourselves by watching the locals weave in and out of cars on their scooters, two, three or four people up, shorts and sandals on and a noticeable lack of helmets.
We did make it to the right station and on time, where uniformed men showed us to our carriage and heaved our luggage up, veins popping out in their foreheads. We totally filled one of our seats with our luggage, which was a little embarrassing. Never mind, all for a good cause. At Elephant Nature Park we’d be able to alleviate ourselves of nearly half of it and travel a little more lightly. No wait, then there’d be shopping…
Right on time our train pulled away, driving us slowly past suburbs and khlongs (canals), broken down sheds, kids who waved at us from trackside benches, then past shacks so close to our windows we could see right through the walls and into people’s living spaces. At one stage we went slowly past a woman having a snooze on a random couch sitting beside the tracks. As one does. We also went past a long street whose trees dripped with strung lights, apparently a welcoming gesture to the visiting royalty of Malaysia.
We dug into our bags and filled our table with Twisties and Pocky Sticks, Dunkin’ Donuts and peanuts, Pringles and juice. Nothing quite like making yourself at home in your present surroundings, I say. Besides, what you hear about train food is pretty much true, so add to our cluster of cunning plans the ability to not starve under extenuating circumstances. We were a captive audience, after all.
All was trundling along rather nicely and we ate and socialised and looked out the window while we wound our way towards Chiang Mai, approximately a 12 hour trip. At about 9.30 a man came along and made up our beds with ruthless efficiency, into which we climbed and happily drifted off to sleep to the rumble and clickety-clack of the train wheels. But our serenity was not to last. Oh no! God forbid things should go so very smoothly!
At 3 am I came to, to the sounds of shouting and mayhem. Well, sort of came to. For a while there I thought it was part of my dream, and waffled about in my own head wondering what I had come up with now. Alas, it was reality and we were actually being told to wake up and get off the train. Another train using the track ahead of us had derailed, pulling seven of its carriages off the track. So we were now to be stuffed into buses and taken to Chiang Mai that way. And were we given enough seats for all of us? No, that would be asking far too much of the gods of fortune (good or otherwise). Those of us not quick enough to grab one were stuffed into a small lounge-type area and made to sit upright in a circle, looking at each other dozily, still rubbing the sleep out of our eyes. And so we continued our journey like sausages in a packet on wheels, trying to sleep by crooking our necks sideways into our own shoulders. NOT the romantic train journey I had been describing with great joy and ecstacy to Peter. Oh well, at least we got an outside-the-square experience and a story to tell, courtesy of Thailand Railways, and more importantly, we weren’t on the train that derailed. We were glad to hear later that nobody was killed. One person had moderate to serious injuries and several others had minor injuries. Bless their hearts, I hope they have all recovered well.
That’s the end of this post. Catch you again soon.