03 May 2012

Train to Chiang Mai : May 2-3

We gathered back at the hotel at 4:00 to walk to the train station. Lora, Virginia and I had walked it the day before so that we'd know where it was and how long it took to get there.
 it was maybe 8 blocks.

 We must have made quite a parade of farang (foreigners) with 23 of us walking single file down the sidewalk (where there was sidewalk) or in the street, all toting luggage and backpacks.

It wasn't exactly a walk in the park for us. The part of Bangkok we were in was older. The sidewalks, where there were sidewalks, tended to be broken or missing in spots, narrow and dotted with trees or garbage cans or parked motor scooters. The motor scooters also tend to use the sidewalks instead of the street because traffic is so crazy. So in addition to the obstacles, you also have to dodge scooters and people.

 It was an adventure and sometimes we gave up the sidewalk all together and just walked in the streets. Lora kept saying, "Just walk, they'll drive around you." Easy for her to say...

 Lora recommended that we either eat supper before getting on the train or buy something to take along. I got some snacks at the 7-11 earlier and at the train station bought fresh fruit (a bag each of rose apple, pineapple and guava) and some chicken satay that I ate while waiting for boarding along with a can of pop and a big bottle of water. All that was 94 baht (about $3)

 Around 5 I decided I'd rather just get on the train than stand around the station so I got my ticket from Lora and boarded.

I stopped at the first car and showed my ticket to the uniformed guy. He told me I was the next car so I went to the porter for that car. He took my ticket and my suitcase and led me to my seat then put my suitcase under it. Then he trotted back out to the entrance, ready and eager to help the next person.

 The car consisted of maybe 20 sets of seats. Each set is a pair of facing seats on either side of the aisle...so 4 people per set. The seats are bench-style with padded seat and back, a row of cup holders in front of the window and arm rests on both sides. There is space under the seats where you put your luggage, sliding it in endwise from the aisle. There is a space under your feet (as your sitting) that stores a table top you can put up between the seats if you want to write or play cards with your seatmate or something. 

Another guy came through periodically to sell orange juice ("Fresh. No water. No sugar.") or fruit plates. He came through one time with a menu of items for dinner and breakfast. I didn't need dinner but since the porter told us we'd be arriving in Chiang Mai between 9 and 10 (instead of 7:45 as our tickets said) I thought I'd order something. I ordered the rice porridge with shrimp, fruit, juice and tea (100 baht).

 It took about an hour to get out of Bangkok. And by then it was dark so we didn't really get to see much for most of the journey.

The kids were in 'high spirits' and partying in the set of seats next to mine. I can't blame them and it didn't bother me (they shared...) but I couldn't help but think it must be annoying for the people in our car who weren't part of our group...probably 4 of the sets of seats. 

The toilets were at the engine end of the car...one western style, one Thai style. The Thai style one is common in Asia. It's basically a squat toilet. There are platforms for your feet on either side of a hole and you squat over it, facing the wall. There is a hand rail on the wall in front, which comes in handy if the train happens to lurch while you're squatting. Whether western or Thai style, they both are literally holes. They go straight to the tracks below. And they both have a sprayer hose nearby so you can "flush". I assume the water from the sinks where you can wash your hands or brush your teeth do the same.

 Around 8:00 the porter started making up the beds for people who wanted that then. He was vey fast and efficient about it. The top bunk folded down from the wall/ceiling, sort of like a murphy bed. In it were all the parts needed to make up the 2 beds...pads, sheets, blankets, pillows and curtains. The two facing seat bottoms slide together and the back rests slide down to form the bottom bunk. He put a foam pad on top of that and wrapped it in a sheet then put a pillow and a plastic bagged blanket on it. The curtains hang on the outside of each bunk so that you have a little privacy.

 I had a bottom bunk. It was just long enough for me to stretch out on. It had to be pretty cramped for the boys. But then, the seats are designed for Thai-sized people, not great hulks like us.

 When the beds were made up, the party kids moved it down to the dining car so people who wanted to could sleep. I think I went to bed around 9. I pulled the curtains, changed out of street clothes, put in ear plugs and went to sleep.

I woke up a few times in the night, mostly when we would pull into a station somewhere. It was kind of funny...it was the lack of motion and noise that woke me up. Sometimes, it wasn't a station stop...just a change in the track sound or motion. At one point, I woke up and thought, "We're climbing..." but I don't know why I thought that.

 Somewhere along the way I woke up and looked out the window and saw the sky was getting a little lighter so I knew we were on the dawn side of the night. By 6, I was awake but just laying there resting. By full light, I was sipping hot tea in bed and watching Thailand roll by.

 I saw lots of rice paddies...large areas that were pancake flat and had smaller areas bordered by low earthen berms. It's on the cusp between the hot season and the rainy season. The paddy fields are dry now but I assume the rains will fill them in the coming weeks. 

Some of the areas we rode through looked reasonably prosperous with neat and tidy painted houses. Others looked desperately poor with tin or wood shacks. In both cases, a lot of them were raised up off the ground on stilts (poorer houses) or pillars (better houses). All the livestock I saw out the window was either Brahma cattle or water buffalo...and there weren't lots of either.

 After the rice paddies, there were some bamboo forests, some rocky mountainy areas and some rolling hills.

At one point, I saw a guy riding a bicycle down a dirt road. There was a little platform over the back wheel where a dog was sitting, along for the ride.

All over, Bangkok and out in the country, there are LOTS of small motorcycles and scooters. Once out of Bangkok, there are more motorcycles than cars.

 We arrived in Chiang Mai around 9:00 and were met by Ken, our contact and guide for Chiang Mai and were welcomed with jasmine leis.

We loaded up in micro-buses for the 10-minute trip to the Eco Resort...our home away from home for the next week or so.