What boy didn’t want to grow up and drive trains? I met a guy once who was a train driver in Melbourne who claimed railway stations were “human shit attractors.” So much for the romance of the rail.
At Hua Lamphong, the main railway station in Bangkok, a mixed crowd had gathered for the evening regional and international trains. Those that couldn’t find a seat, sat in small groups along the concourse; families, couples, European backpackers and a sprinkling of orange robed Buddhist monks, a couple of whom were smoking cigarettes!
A massive television screen screamed out a Thai version of X factor, except for added humiliation of the contestants, they had the overweight female singer step onto a set of scales. Lots of ooh’s and aaahh’s as the scales hit the 95k mark!
The television show ended somewhat abruptly to be replaced with a fluttering Thai flag and accompanying Thai National anthem. Everybody, Europeans included, stood up and quietly faced the giant screen only sitting back down again when normal programming resumed. I was touched and surprised by this unexpected respectful show of national unity.
Thailand has one of the best rail systems in Asia. It’s cheap, safe, comfortable and more environmentally friendly than flying. The experience was to be as much about the journey as the destination which was to be the island of Koh Phangan via a train, ferry and bus combo.
We took the packed 2nd class overnight sleeper train. It was economical and rustic with lots of officials in various uniforms of differing colours checking our tickets, ensuring we were in the right carriage and the right seats. We had booked bottom bunks opposite one another. The fold out seats became a bed with a pull across screen. The Americans above us couldn’t sit up for fear of banging their heads. We could see out the window, which was an added bonus.
The beds were comfortable but sleep didn’t come easy. The rhythmic clickety clack of the swaying train, raucous German backpackers, intermittent stops, whistles and occasional hawkers selling drinks and sweets, allowed for only short snatches of sleep.
Peering out the windows, through the darkness I caught glimpses of the countryside: Palm plantations, limestone mountains, mist and smoke, shanty towns and well kept train stations.
In the early morning light, I could see birds sitting on the electrical wires that ran parallel to the tracks. I noted them to look up later: A kookaburra like white-throated Kingfisher, the sharp featured brilliant ocean blue Indian Roller and the Black Drongo, with its two long tail feathers looking like a Bird of Paradise. Also common were black shouldered kites and cattle egrets, white birds that live close to cattle and feed on the insects that the cattle disturb when they move.
The high speed catamaran disgorged most of the passengers on Koh Samui. We arrived to warm brilliant sunshine on Koh Phangan for a week’s R and R in a cheap beach bungalow at the low key Longtail Resort. Over the week we swam, ate fresh fish, & fruit, drank refreshing ginger tea, walked everyday along the beach, through the town and into the nearby jungle and read more than I have in a long time (Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob and Bryce Courtney’s The Potato Factory all 837 pages!)
The weather was mostly warm and fine but smoke from the terrible Indonesian forest fires descended on us for a couple of days before the winds and tropical thunderstorms cleared the air.
You could call me repressed, but I’m none too comfortable with the touch of strangers. The very idea of a massage is likely to bring me out in a cold sweat, however Lu came highly recommended by staff member at Longtail Saffy, as an excellent exponent of traditional Thai therapeutic massage. After being pounded for my own good over 3 bruising sessions, my injured arm and shoulder is feeling a whole lot better.
It’s tIme to get the hell off the island and head back to Bangkok before the young people arrive on mass for the next full moon party on the 27th.