Checkout was at noon, so I bade goodbye to my room , which happened to be Number 747, a truly relevant number for someone having just stepped off a plane. I walked down a few alleyways and caught my first tuktuk of this trip to Hua Lamphong train station to pick up my ticket for the overnight train to Chiang Mai. The driver dropped me at the wrong place, so I had to bring back to mind the trick for crossing the road in Bangkok traffic – wait for the locals to cross and get in amongst them. The midday sun beat down on my head mercilessly as I meandered about looking for the agency that held my train ticket. I finally discovered them craftily hidden in an abandoned-looking building and got things sorted. Another tuktuk back and I arrived at the guesthouse prepared to do the waiting game until my train left. This entailed busking with my ukulele for drinking water – a deal I set up with the reception lady who thankfully seemed to enjoy my plunking and wailing. I also managed to spend a bit of time up in the rooftop restaurant, whose cooking was somewhat average and grease-laden, but they rustled up a pretty mean mango shake and the breeze up there was worth the extra money. I asked for the meal to arrive in half an hour, while I enjoyed my mango shake – a cunning plan to stretch out the time I could linger up there rather than out on the street – and it arrived more rapidly than any meal I have ever ordered in my life. Dammit! Guess my Thai speaking is not quite up to standard yet. At 5pm I gathered my luggage and started walking back down the alleyways to catch another tuktuk to the train station, aaaaaaand the heavens opened up big time!!! I managed to grab a space under a wee roof and stood there waiting the rain out and watching the locals rushing to and fro trying to keep dry also. The downpour lasted about ten minutes, and I felt a frantic relief over my habit of always leave early for catching trains, planes and automobiles.
At the station my blondeness struck again and I walked the length of the train and back looking for my car. I had been reading the wrong numbers! I finally reached my doorway and a young guy intercepted me, wanting me to take photos of he and his mates. Guess he didn’t notice all the luggage I was struggling with! So I did him a trade – I took his pics and he lifted my waaaaay too heavy suitcase onto the train for me. Funny, I don’t remember packing rocks in there…
Finally, I plonked down onto my seat on the train in the ladies and children’s car and flopped around enjoying the air conditioning. I’m not usually a big fan of it (pardon the pun) but there are times when I enjoy it. Mainly when I’m between guesthouses and knackered from carting all my stuff around in the heat. I was handed a menu with Bogie Gourmet Restaurant printed on it. Bogie? Really? How tempting… Also written on there was “Selling over price or ungently call 086 – – – – – – – – – -.” Love it!
There were some lovely ladies on the train and only half the seats were taken, so we all had plenty of room to spread out. I was pleased to see I wasn’t the only one who had overpacked – large puffed-up suitcases abounded and were stuffed into corners and gaps all over the place. The stewards and stewardesses were dressed in a very dapper manner with waistcoats, and were both friendly and funny. As per on previous Thai train trips, I watched with fascination as the ‘make the bed lady’ did her thing in a competent and snappy manner, lowering bunks and making up the beds with crisp white sheets and – Gasp!! – real pillows! For anyone planning an overnight train trip through Thailand in the future, I recommend booking a bottom bunk. They are much larger than the top bunks and you still have a view out the window. Once you are tucked away in your bed with the curtains closed behind you, you feel like a kid in a Wendy house, or a wee hut of your own. Lovely!
I went to bed at 8.30 and caught up on a long-needed sleep, waking occasionally when the train made alarming clunking noises. Guess I’m still slightly nervy from the last trip in 2013 when the train ahead of us – which I had booked onto and then changed to a later train because it would arrive too early in the morning – derailed.
Breakfast arrived at 6a.m. and I berated myself for not listening to my own instructions on never ordering a train meal again. Let’s just say it wasn’t worth the money and leave it at that. A nice Thai girl sitting across from me told me she was getting off at the next station – Lampoon. I wonder if she was having me on…
At last we arrived at Chiang Mai and ran the gauntlet of hawkers wanting us to be in THEIR taxi. Instead I found a quiet guy at the back who had a songthaew – a red ute with long benches in the back and a much cheaper option than a taxi. I waited while he went to find other passengers to make his trip financially worthwhile, and meantime amused myself by photobombing a group of elderly Chinese people who were taking pics in every direction. Delighted, they had me posing for many more photos, wherein I acted like a famous movie star, and they taught me how to say “Good Morning” in Chinese. It was rather nice to start the day with a few laughs all round.
My poor driver returned with nobody else in tow, and pulled out his folder full of tourist attractions, trying to sell me some of them. I felt for him as I explained this was my fourth time in Chiang Mai and I’m just getting a bit too old for ziplining, do not want to ride an elephant and have already met the local snakes. I followed this up by telling him he should put an Elephant Nature Park brochure in there instead of the elephant riding and show outfits, as it’s much better for the elephants.I’m not sure, but there may have been a glint of tears in his eyes as he came to realize that he just wasn’t going to get rich off me. And so, off we set with my very own passenger vehicle into Old Chiang Mai.
On arrival I gave the driver a few extra baht to ease his troubles, poor guy. But to top the whole situation off, due to me not being quite clear enough, or possibly him not listening quite well enough, he took me to the Top North Hotel (very posh), rather than the guesthouse (not very posh) situated elsewhere, and confusion reigned at reception while we all figured out I was in the wrong place. We finally realized what the story was, and the guesthouse owner and I jumped into a van to rectify the situation. On the way out, the reception lady slipped me a business card depicting her own guesthouse, saying “You come stay with meeeee. Don’t tell owner. Shhhh.” Lol. Been here five minutes and I’m already embroiled in the local politics. I’d probably consider it, but Top North is placed very conveniently close to the dentist that I go to – this being one of the main reasons for this trip – just around the corner. So Top North shall probably remain the accommodation of choice for me.
Eventually I landed at Top North Guesthouse, where I signed in and promptly spotted my first gecko of this trip, finally. Thankfully the staff allowed me to go straight to my room, rather than wait for the proper check in time. As one does, I scanned the room for idiosyncrasies and found plenty. This includes one source of light only, a fluorescent tube that flickers on and off for just long enough to traumatize one’s eyesight before staying on and becoming garishly blinding instead, a very dubious and quite frankly mostly ineffective bolt on the door, and one power point hidden behind the table with the mirror on it that you have to place on an awkward angle to be able to plug anything in. All other power points have been pulled out and plastered over, or indeed not, leaving a hole in the wall surrounded by char marks instead. I am so glad I forked out several FlyBuys points and scored an international plug device that handles any power surge that can be thrown at it. The piece de resistance is the wee balcony, or rather cage, attached to the room through whose bars can be seen the very pretty building next door if one looks up high enough, and a large pile of abandoned junk directly at eye level. But wait, that can be, and is indeed, topped by the mandatory Asian construction site happening two doors over, from which sounds of hammering, drilling and grinding can be heard, along with that special sound made by large chains being used on a metal pulley.
Thus my stay in Chiang Mai begins and I feel right at home already. Breakfast calls. Coffee Calls. Cold shower calls. I will return.