Day 16: The Train to Surreal

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October 30th 2009
Published: November 6th 2009
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Looks ok from the outside
Neither one of us had ever taken an overnight train so we knew that that our 13-hour journey north to Chiang Mai would be memorable, one way or another.

But our train didn't leave until 6pm so we made the most of our last day in Bangkok - which really meant staying indoors, in AC, as much as possible.

Have we mentioned how much we like our hotel? We got in another workout at the gym this morning and then picked up some lattes and banana muffins at Starbucks and came back to watch TV and pack. We checked out at 11am and stored our luggage at the Westin. Next stop was the internet cafe across the street for more blogging, email checking, photo uploading and general surfing.

Along with kickboxing, shopping seems to be the national sport of Thailand. Today we joined in the fun, although we're both lightweights in this area - neither one of us particularly likes to shop or malls in general (unless, of course, it's 95F and the malls are air conditioned, then it seems like a brilliant way to immerse oneself in the culture). So we took the light rail down to

Not exactly luxurious
Siam Square and wandered a bit. Angelique wanted to get another shirt or two (some variety would be nice - we have another eight weeks until our big box of stuff meets us in New Zealand) and maybe even a dress. However, shopping in Asia, for the average sized American woman, is pretty grim. Unless you're a size zero or two (even a four might be pushing it), you're going to come away with few clothes and a lot of body image issues. Still, it was fun wandering around and watching the Thais in action.

At 4:30pm we collected our luggage from the Westin and wheeled our bags over several blocks of narrow, cracked sidewalks ("No, thank you, no Viagra today") to the subway. It was our first time using it (we'd been using the light rail for the past two days) and it is really nice. It seems new, wasn't crowded (even on the early side of a Friday rush hour) and delivered us directly to the train station in central Bangkok.

The station was packed with people, some sitting on plastic chairs, others on the floor - all waiting for their trains. There are a few

Pricey food that is pretty awful.
food shops nearby but we decided to take our chances on the train having food (it was, after all, a 13-hour trip) and didn't buy anything. We had a bunch of bottles of water from our hotel.

The train looks, on the outside, very much like the Hogwartz Express in the Harry Potter lore. We had booked first class berths and they actually weren't as bad as we thought they might be. A bit institutional (small - about 6 ft x 4 ft, cramped, grey, a bit dirty) but at least we had our own little compartment to ourselves - and it was air conditioned. And a lovely gentleman in uniform explained that we'd be having dinner at 7pm and that he'd make up our compartment around 9pm. He then asked if we'd like a beer now. Very nice.

The train left the station only about 10 minutes late. There is only one first class car and our neighbors were a chain-smoking couple from Denmark (after about 30 minutes, our beer guy asked them to smoke in the areas connecting the cars, not in their compartment). There's a monk a few compartments away with tons of luggage and

At least we had a sink. The lavatories were filthy.
large plants. Most of the other compartments all contain either American or Euro couples.

The train experience got a bit worse after the beer. The food was pretty bad (and expensive). The toilet is downright grotty and we're both rationing water to limit our amount of contact with it. And we saw a roach or two scuttling across the floor of our compartment.

At 9pm our attendant shooed us out of the compartment and converted it into a set of bunkbeds, with clean sheets and blankets, and we settled down to get some sleep. It's interesting to reflect that the Shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan could cover this distance in 2-3 hours. Around 2 or 3am, we were really missing Japan.


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