Trip to Chiang Mai - Day 1
I wrote these posts on the trip to Chiang Mai, but just never got around to posting them. Part lazy, part shy, and part not totally how to approach the trip. I'm just trying out different styles of writing right now so hopefully I'm not too tedious :). There are two more yet to come covering my trip to northern Thailand.
My alarm clock was buzzing in my ear, I rolled over and shut it off. It was 6:30am and I needed to head out to catch the 8:30 train to Chiang Mai. Had a shower and packed my things and 15 minutes later I was on a tuk-tuk to the nearest metro station. I love the metro system in Bangkok, it's fast, clean, and efficient, more so than the metro systems in many other more "western" cities I've been to. I'm sure the fact that the "skytrain" was modeled after the bombardier version used in Vancouver gives me an unconscious comfort helps.
I checked my watch as I walked into the railway station.. 7:24, damn, could have slept for another half hour. I've been trying to speak a lot more Thai, so I'd already made the decision not to speak any English today. I walked up to the ticket station and asked "koh too-ah chee-ang mai pai" (can I have a ticket to Chiang Mai), he responded with a confused look and "Chiang Mai? Morning train? Six hundred eleven baht. Platform Ten. Car three.". I've gotten use to people responding in English, though most people seem to appreciate my attempts regardless.
After getting some snacks for the ride I found a seat on platform 10 and read a book while waiting for the train. The station was quiet. Midday Bangkok is a constant wall of heat, noise, and smells so this was actually quite refreshing. At 8 o'clock the speakers above my head started belting out a ridiculous high pitched racket, I soon realized it was synthesized church bells. Eight rings. After the bells finished the man next to me coughed, tossed his cigarette on the tracks and stood up. I noticed everyone had stood up.. there was a song playing, must be the Thai national anthem. I followed suit and stood as well. I was reminded of elementary school when we sang the national anthem every morning, though no one was singing here, most just looked a bit bored.
The train pulled in. It was bizarrely short. Three cars (including the engine). Well, who travels on a 12h train on a Thursday morning anyhow? There had been mass flooding in the north last week and these trains had been cancelled so I had some concern I wouldn't be able to get a ticket now that things had cleared. The train ended up being mostly empty. I found my seat and got comfortable. There were only Thai's with the exception of myself and a backpacker. The backpacker promptly passed out in her seat.
I had been looking forward to this trip for some time, getting to see another part of the country. I'd heard the north is suppose to be even more beautiful than the south. The train was nice. My armrest was broken and the seatback table in front of me had a piece of ribbon tied to it to prevent it from falling apart. The plastic on the arm rests had began deteriorating and my seat didn't appear to be screwed to the ground on one side. It was old, but it was more or less clean and still quite nice. The seat was comfy enough and reclined. So I got snuggled into my window seat with my eyes and camera ready for whatever may pass by.
Someone was shaking my knee... I abruptly woke to a stewardess offering me drinks. There were free drinks and snacks on this ride, hard to believe. So hard that I quickly grabbed my wallet to pay for the coke, at which she signalled at me to put it back away. I looked out and we were passing mostly "jungle" and bright green rice paddies. But the further north we went, the more water seemed to appear. We were maybe 200km north of bangkok, 500km south of chiang mai. These people had not been spared the flood water that ran down towards the ocean after the chiang mai flooding last week. We were driving through a lake, dotted with half drowned power lines and trees. Some houses were on stilts, but all that was left of many were corrugated steel roofs. I'd seen flooding like this on TV, but never in person. Many people paddled around in home made kayaks, their hands as their oars. Lots simply waded through the water. The railway tracks were like a magnet for everything living, people, shacks, ducks, cattle, boats, all moored up against the tracks which appeared to be the only dry land for miles. A few km's later the tracks themselves began to dip under water creating a small wake behind us. I picked my bag up off the floor, assuming that water would come pouring in at any moment :).
The scene repeated itself for the next several hundred km, slightly drying up the further north we drove. At noon the stewardess came through with our meal. It was some meat product, a bit of curried chili oil, and something battered on the middle of a dish of rice. I didn't know what it was, but it was good. Duane was probably eating his airplane meal at the same time on his flight up there. I'd be meeting him tonight, but I didn't think he'd be too keen on my no English policy ;).
At about 17:30 or so the sun began to set, we were going through a mountain pass. I noticed something move on the wall next to me... a cockroach had just climbed out of the wall, and a second was following it. As the night progressed more kept appearing, scurrying across the floor and walls. No one else in the car seemed to take notice or mind, I suppose they're just a part of life.
I exited the station expecting to be mauled by touts, but it was surprisingly quiet, the fact that all I had was a small laptop shoulder bag probably helped disguise me from the other tourists. I found a friendly tuk-tuk driver and heading into Chiang Mai. The driver had been living in Chiang Mai driving tuk-tuk's for 10 years.
I caught up with Duane and we headed out for some Thai food and beer and to plot our next few days in and around the city.