Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bangkok to Chiang Mai: car No. 7, seat 39

The train ride to Chiang Mai is not for the meek.

Hualamphong station in Bangkok is packed with travelers – most of the Westerners are sprawled with their backpacks on the station floor – and outside on the platforms the smell is overwhelmingly of diesel, diesel and more diesel. To use the bathroom at the station I hand 2 baht (about 7 cents) to a girl at the entrance counter, struggle with my bags through a crude turnstile and realize I now know what the worst job in the world is: cashier at the men's bathroom in the Bangkok train station.

Accommodations on the train are pretty rugged – even by Amtrak standards. There are about 30 people in narrow car No. 7, and I am assigned when it comes time to sleep to an upper berth – a simple drop-down bunk with a pillow and a blanket. Luggage racks line the aisle and simple curtains afford the bunks a modicum of privacy.

The train pulls out a little before 8 p.m., creaking and clacking and listing its way north.

The train's bathrooms are grubby stainless steel-plated cubicles with noodle colored walls. Above a low six-inch steel foot pedal-operated washbasin, a barred open-air window allows a glimpse of the dark countryside rushing by. The floor urinal evacuates directly onto the passing tracks below.

In the morning the air coming in from outside the car is bracing. Thatched huts, motorcycles, chickens and cows drift by. In the dining car I down a small cup of sweet coffee, while outside thick vegetation encroaches on the tracks, a thin mist rises from the fields and hills like painted shadows roll away in the distance.

1 comment:

  1. Ohhhh, Mr. Wollerman, my eyes glaze over with envy as I read the much anticipated tales from the other side of the world.

    Still working on your Header image, eh I will find it.

    I hope you are having fun, sounds like the best money ever spent.