Rocking The Rails

By Stephen Ewashkiw | May 15, 2014

14,074 km so far.

Oh how I love OPP. Yeah, you know me. Staying at our temporary home in Bangkok has been such a special treat, and one of the benefits has been OPP.

Yup, I am talking about Other People’s Pools.

The ability to jump into a clean, cooling pool whenever we want is amazing. This morning we set aside time to just relax at the pool, before we had to pack up and get ready to leave Bangkok.

Bombs Away

Yesterday, we heard that there had been a bombing on the train line we are meant to take today. The region in the very south of the country, as you approach the Malaysian border, has been the scene of an insurgency for years.

Strangely, it seems no one is sure who is behind the violence, with Muslims, America, and Communists all being blamed, depending on who you ask. Yesterday, two small bombs destroyed the train track just south of where we are going. This shouldn’t affect our train journey, but it is a reminder that things aren’t only messy in Bangkok.

This morning we awoke to news of more violence in Bangkok, with two grenades having been launched at the yellow shirt protest site we stumbled upon two days ago. Two people were killed, and scores injured by shrapnel. This sort of violence has been commonplace in Bangkok for quite some time, and nothing much comes of it. One of these days though, it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and all hell will break loose.

We rode our bikes through the city, past the immaculate park that the US Embassy occupies, and to the old school train station.

It was opened in 1916, and built in an Italian Neo-Renaissance style, with decorated wooden roofs and stained glass windows. Apart from the air conditioning in the main hall, and a few shops selling overpriced water, snacks, and fast food, it doesn’t appear to have changed much since then.

This includes the trains, which, although they are not steam trains, look as though they are from a different era.

Sitting on the platform, Bangkok Railway Station.

Sitting on the platform, Bangkok Railway Station.

Just as efficiently as we bought tickets yesterday, we got our bikes checked into the cargo car at the front of the train, and made our way on board.

Instead of couchettes, the train car is open, but the seats fold down into bunk beds, separated from the aisle by curtains.

Sleeper car ready for the night, on the rails to Hat Yai.

Sleeper car ready for the night, on the rails to Hat Yai.

It is quite a nice set-up and much less claustrophobic than the couchette design.

People Watching

As we waited for the train to leave, we watched the people on the platform.

Not far away, two monks adjusted their saffron robes, trying to move the parts soaked with sweat to a spot where a breeze could catch them to dry them out. One of them then walked out onto the tracks with a silver bowl, turned on a tap normally used for refilling the train’s holding tank, and filled his bowl. He then came back so the two of them could rinse off before their got on their train.

woman on a train in thailand

Comfy on the train. The woman behind me had an awful cold and was spreading her germs everywhere.

We pulled out of the station right on time, and began our bumpy journey south. We will cover roughly 1000 km in 16 hours, which would take us almost 3 weeks to ride. Yes, we’re going to miss out on a huge section of Thailand, but having already spent six weeks in the country, we are ready to leave. We really want the time to explore Malaysia and Indonesia properly, and our trip clock is ticking.

My yoga workshop schedule begins in less than three months.

The ride out of Bangkok began as most train rides out of cities do: past the homes and lives of the citizens who can’t afford the new shiny homes in the central city. In stark contrast, we then passed the King’s residence, with its huge fence and police guards on horseback.

After an hour or so, the city finally gave way to fields and forests.

As the sun started to set, I saw sunlight reflecting off the tiles of a wat across a field, and a monk tending to the burning of pruned branches. A short while later tropical rain fell in sheets outside the window, and people raced past on scooters through the downpour. In true tropical rain style it was over almost before it began, and before long the roads were dry again.

Watching all this from behind the window of the train car was very different from riding our bikes through it. Things passed by much more quickly, and we had a better view of the overall scene. Plus, when the rain began to fall, we stayed dry, squeezed onto one seat as we watched the season finale of House Of Cards. There are some advantages to both forms of travel, but today I am happy to be inside, rolling effortlessly through the countryside, even if the train ride is anything but smooth.

Rocking And Rolling Stock

The rolling stock we find ourselves in tonight is rocking its way south. It seems highly unlikely that we will manage much sleep. The train is shifting from side to side, bumping along at a frenetic pace. Brian, who we stayed with in Bangkok, vaguely warned us the ride might be bumpy. We now feel certain he was being kind, as we had already purchased our train tickets.

Hang on Jane, this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Hang on Jane, this is going to be a bumpy ride.

The jolting, lurching, and bumping makes me happy to be on the bottom bunk. I hope Jane doesn’t come tumbling down in the middle of the night.

Soundtrack: Jeff Tweedy, Live At Largo 19/12/2013  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.

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