Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Journey from Hell Part II

Our original plan had been to arrive in Bangkok early on the 9th April and then take an overnight train straight through to Chiang Mai in the North of the country. Upon arriving at Hualamphong Train Station in Bangkok it became very obvious that this was not going to happen. Alas, owing to the New Year festivities of Songkran the first train that we could get out of Bangkok was on the 13th, so we had four days to kill in Bangkok. In itself this was no problem, Bangkok is a town that neither of us are that familiar with and as such it gave a chance to explore the city, albeit with the Red Shirts in town running amok and burning buses and generally antagonising the police in all manner of ways (for my own part I imagine that I would react rather unkindly towards anyone throwing a fire bomb in my direction). But being what Morrissey would have referred to as the “Lazy Sunbathers” in his heyday (which for me was Vauxhall and I), we were fairly oblivious to the disquiet downtown more or less up until the time that we were meant to start heading out towards the station.

Our train was scheduled to depart from Hualamphong Station in Bangkok at 1800, however as we arrived back at out Guest House we were told to check if this was still the case by a couple of people. I legged it across the road to the station (only to have a bucket of water thrown at me by the cleaning lady and her companions, Happy New Year to you too) to be told that the train had been cancelled and would not be going anywhere, whilst the next available train would be in three days time. I pleaded. The bored ticket sales man looked on, wholeheartedly unsympathetic. After all it was a bank holiday, he had to work and I was clearly being a difficult customer asking stupid questions. “The train is full hombre, get lost,” his expressionless face said. He flicked through pages of trains on the screen, all with no availability. And then he had a brain wave. If we did not take the sleeper option and went for a reclining chair then could leave the same evening at 2230 and save money too. We would have to leave from Bang Sue at the other side of the metro as no trains were leaving from Hualamphong due the red shirts, but other than that, happy days. Why we not offered this option from the outset was a murky, swampy, pestilence ridden topic that I did not want to go in. We did the refund, got the new tickets and I went back to the lodge to explain the news.

At 9 o’clock we found ourselves at Bang Sue Station in eager anticipation of our 2230 train, which was now leaving at 2300. The station was rammed with people all congregated on the open platforms beneath the stars and sharing the balmy evening with the mosquitoes. This was no glamorous, modern station by any means. It was functional spit and sawdust stuff. At 2300 our train was said to be leaving at midnight. And then I got talking to some of the other people on the platform. It was now 1100pm. Many of the people I spoke to had been at the station since 1900. At midnight very little had happened but apparently (sun?)light was at the end of the tunnel and we would be on our way by 0100. People were now sleeping on the tarmac platforms all around us. Soon Nipun joined them for a brief nap. At 0200 there was still no train and by three I was losing the will to live. By four I was hopeful that I may see the sun come up over Bangkok, by five though the predawn light showed me in sufficient detail that whilst I might get to photograph dawn, there was not much of interest to take a picture of. We were in Bangkok’s ugliest corner. It has to be said that the occasional train did show up and depart, infrequently, late and after sitting at the respective platform for an hour. And by about 0500 I had really kind of lost all interest.

The sun came up at just before six and we were still on hand to shoot it. Like the station, I can say that I was there and it was ugly. But at least I have some proof that I have been up for sunrise in Bangkok. At about seven that morning we finally pulled out of Bang Sue and were on our way to Chiang Mai. I must admit that doing the train during the day offered some really stunning views that we would have missed on a sleeper train. We passed through paddy fields of rice and other grain crops, lakes and rivers all of which we would not have seen by night. But again part of me has to admit that we were too tired to do anything other than recline in our semi-reclining chairs and hope that the journey would be relatively painless and quick which it mostly was. About one hundred kilometers outside Chiang Mai we had to leave the train for a bus as our train was required back in Bangkok again. The bus was AC though and to be fair it was probably quicker. We are now in Chiang Mai and ready to take to the streets for Songkran tomorrow. But for now Goodnight, we are off to sleep!

Final Result: Red shirts 1 / Lazy Sunbathers 0 Referee: BKK Police

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