Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thailand by train

I love train travel. Even a mundane trip such as that from Sligo to Dublin coaxes a barely hidden nostalgia in me whilst more epic trips such as the Trans-Siberian offer more thrilling vindications of travel by rail instead of road or sky. I currently sit on Train 109 - hurtling - no, bullshit, it isn’t hurtling, it’s edging its way toward Chiang Mai, the last leg of a reasonably epic trip by train from Bangkok. What would have been a truly epic trip would have been to take a train from Singapore all the way to Chiang Mai, but time constraints meant air time somewhere along the way.
This entire trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai - some 700km in length - has cost me the grand total of €8.70 and that’s no misprint. Stage I from Bangkok to Ayutthaya cost a mere 50c and for that I was stuck in 3rd Class standing for most of the way - a one and a half hour trip memorable only for the hangover which accompanied it. Stage II from Ayutthaya to Phitsanulok cost €1.20 and again I was in a 3rd Class carriage, the difference being once you’d found a seat on this train it was yours to keep.
On this my 3rd and final leg I’ve paid €6.50 to bring me from P’lok to Chiang Mai and for that hefty sum I’ve bagged a seat in a fan-cooled 2nd Class carriage with only the remotest opportunity of sleep. 99% of my fellow travellers on these trips have been Thais which is wonderful as you’re guaranteed smiling faces, frequent offers to share food even if conversation is limited to nods, smiles, and endless thank yous.
Another incomparable advantage of train travel is that it offers vistas which lurch quickly from the bizarre - a Thai town literally overrun by monkeys - to the beautiful - a sodden farmer seemingly walking on water whilst leading his herd of water buffaloes along a submerged dirt track.
Each train I’ve travelled on sees and endless stream of Thai women bearing a dizzying variety of food and drink down through the carriages, speaking in that wonderful way where when they talk the letter ‘a‘ almost complete drowns out every other vowel and consonant. It’s customary for Thai males to end sentences with the word ‘cap’ and for females to say ‘ka’ and these ladies are take it to the extreme, their word endings left in the carriage long after they’ve moved on to the next one.

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