Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train (Part I)

I decided to get away from the heat and noise of Bangkok and head up to Chiang Mai by train for a few days. I had never taken this trip by train before having gone up to Chiang Mai from Bangkok in the early 1990s by air, so this was to be another experience.

A great article about Chiang Mai's old city.

Another great article about taking a boat trip down the Mekong River in the Golden Triangle.

As I started taking notes for my journal on the way up, I just couldn't help but be amazed at the quality, comfort and beauty of the day train (08:25 Express) that I was on. I thought to myself things have sure changed in recent years. until I took the night train back.

It seems that even though there are several trains during the day and at night in both directions, the quality of trains, even though the price is the same, is radically different. Even the steward on the night train back admitted the difference is great.

I guess one really had no right to 'complain' which I am not, it just shocked me to have had such a comfortable, relaxing and quiet experience on the way up and than to turn around and experience what I refer to as the 'night train from hell'. The story begins

20 June, Bangkok to Chiang Mai Journal Notes

Express - Day Train to Chiang Mai - I awoke this AM with the new day's light coming into the bedroom from the balcony door witnessing once again another beautiful day's sunrise. Seemed like a perfect day for a train trip.

As I packed a simple bag and got some research materials together, I checked my e-mail. It seems hotmail is terribly slow again which has been the case for the past three days. Yahoo was offline last week and since the other web sites are responding in a normal fashion, it must be an issue specific to these email services.

On the way to the train station, I stopped off at my favorite cafe at the base of the Soi Ari BTS station, had a couple cups of coffee and read the Bangkok Post. As I didn't want to be late for the train and not knowing exactly where or how long it would take to get there on a weekday morning, I headed out on the Skytrain at little past 07:30 with a ticket stating an 08:25 departure time.

The travel agency I am using now is near the Asoke BTS station and they have been more than helpful in my recent flight to Amsterdam and with the purchase of this 540 baht, air con/second class, train ticket. They have a separate ticketing department for train travel upstairs and the woman was nice enough to write out a note in Thai telling where and when I needed to be at the train station that I could hand to the Taxi driver. She also indicated to me that the Siam Center Station was the closest BTS station to the train station and as it turned out, from the time I left the Siam BTS station to the front of the train was only 18 minutes and 41 baht. I keep using the word 'amazing' when I refer to getting around Bangkok anymore as the Skytrain allows you to do things and go places and have flexibility no even dreamed of only a few years ago.

08:28 Train Departures the Railway Station
State Railway of Thailand - call (02)225-0300

As the train pulls out and moves from the yard, I am immediately struck with the sea of humanity living within inches of the both the moving train and the tracks. Everyplace your eyes gaze there is something, either in, around, under or on top of an object, whether manmade or nature.

It appears that leaving Bangkok is a series of starts and stop, similar to driving. They don't appear to coordinate the train crossing signal with the road signals and it does not appear to have priority as we are constantly stopping and waiting for the signals to change, a gate to go down and than we proceed forward.

As we pass into an area where the tracks are paralleling a 'ditch' places between the tracks and the road, it is once again a sight of contrast and contradictions. The area itself is trimmed and trees, plants and flowers have been planted to obviously make an attempt to hide the putrid mess that lies and is flowing in the ditch. I don't even think the word 'pollution' can be used as you have to have something to pollute, this is just an open cesspool.

08:42 Ticket Checked

Right before our first stop at the Samsen Station, my ticket is checked by a very official looking man. Prior to this I have been watching the 5 'stewardesses' directly in front of me chatter away, put on their makeup and the start of preparing snacks for later on. I am also wondering at this point what "express" is being defined as and how many actual stops we will make over the next 11 ours.

NOTE: As it turned out, this train provides four snacks/meals along the 11 hour trip for free. NOTHING on the night train was free and I was shocked later on to learn that I had to pay for the orange drink that was free before. Same class ticket on the same train system, just going the opposite direction.

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