The Sun had risen and was shining through the train window, opposite of which my face was pressed against the glass.
We were just over an hour from reaching Chiang Mai, and the train attendant woman was using her special method to get people awake for breakfast.
It was around 8:05am, I had been awake since around 7:30am staring out into the rural rolling green hills of Northern Thailand.
“SawadeeeKAHH!!!! Goooood Morniiingg! BIIIIING BOOONG BINGBONGBINGBONG!”
Yes, she was running up and down the train doing her best impression of an airplane seatbelt bingbong bell, at maximum possible volume.
Tourism Overload Express
I would estimate that at least 60% of the people (that I saw) on board the train were other tourists. Oh shit, I’m a tourist. Please no.
I had woken up at least three different times throughout the night. Each time I made sure to stick my eyeballs to the dirty glass like a small child. I wanted to see as much of the Thai countryside as possible during this astoningishly slow journey.
After departing the station around 30 minutes late, it only took us an additional three hours to get outside of the Bangkok area.
Yes, three hours. I could have flown to Chiang Mai three times already, and for only a few dollars more (and in some cases less!) However, this was all about the experience…
During our slow journey out of Bangkok, I was noticing how incomprehensibly close people’s homes were to the railroad track. There were buildings that seemed to be rubbing up against the train!
Can you imagine being that close? I mean these buildings appeared to be constructed out of scrap sheet metal. It seemed the train was going to plow through them as we passed by. When the train passed by a group of buildings much slower, I could tell how close we really were.
Not more than a foot from the train window, there was what appeared to be a family’s outdoor wash area. There was a young kid playing outside, and we made eye contact for a second.
I just couldn’t believe how these people’s “back porch” were literally the railroad. Of course, I’ve seen plenty of homes and towns built around the railroads in the USA, but never something to this extent.
When I woke up around 2:00am, the all but full moon was shining right through my window. I was laying in the old, yet quite nice, train bunk bed in the private car listening to the occasional clink of the wheels.
It was quite a different feeling, watching the Thai countryside roll by in the moonlight. We were just over half way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
I noticed all of the streetlights I was seeing now were made out of long fluorescent tube bulbs. The same kind you would see on the ceiling in Walmart or similar place. How bizarre…
Mind Blown by Meal Costs
The entire journey ended up being 13 hours, on what would have been a 55 minute flight. We were served dinner right at departure and ‘breakfast’ right before arrival. In addition, I was given orange juice before the train had departed, as well as a can of pringles.
Holy shit. I did not expect to be presented a bill for 780 Baht before getting off of the train. I knew it was going to be a ripoff. However, I did not expect to get full on f’d in the ass.
The breakfast, on that note, consisted of 1/3 of a very soggy and thin ham and cheese sandwich. It wasn’t even worth me taking a photo to complain about.
780 Baht. That’s $24.90 USD. I’m pretty sure I was mildly scammed. I’m surprised that I did not see anything about this online prior to the journey.
In comparison, I bought 2 big kebab sticks of *squid, pineapple, and vegetables cooked fresh* from a street vendor. Cost? 80 baht or $2.55 USD.
So….Do NOT eat on the Thai Trains!!
We arrived at the train station just after 9:40am…a little over an hour late. One thing of note is how incredibly easy it is to board a train. I’ve flown hundreds of times but have never been on a long train. So, it was refreshing to instantaneously get on and then off again without waiting on everyone, or waiting on this or that group to be called.
Thus far in the trip, I had used Uber for all of my around-town taxi needs. However, there was no Wi-Fi available anywhere around this train station.
So, I decided to take the first taxi driver who flagged me down, which is generally not the best idea. Often times, the ones that chase tourists around are the ones that charge higher rates, or even try to take you to some worthless gem store or some other silly scam.
It was 100 Baht to go from the train station to the hostel, which was just fine with me, given the fairly long distance. This “taxi” was open air and had two benches facing inward at each other, yet was not quite a “tuk-tuk.”
I climbed in, and joined a couple that was already sitting in there. They were from France, travelling for just a couple of weeks. Man, the French people sure get around! Out of everyone I had met, the definte majority of people came from France.
I arrived at Shunlin Hostel just after 10:00am, where I was greeted by a very friendly Thai gentlemen. He let me check-in right away and I got to my bed several hours earlier than expected.
I locked my things up to take a nap. I slept for maybe an hour, after not sleeping all that well on the train.
Around 1:30pm, I finally decided to go out and explore Chiang Mai. There are so many people raving about this place, I was wondering if it would live up to the hype.
I wasn’t sure where to go first. Perhaps to check out the museums in the center of the old city was the answer.
Entering the Old City
The city of Chiang Mai was founded in 1297. There is an original brick and stone wall still standing in many places around the original square city site.
In addition, there are four city ‘gates’ in which you can pass through from the old city and into the rest of the area. The entire square is surrounded by a moat.
I was surprised at how much information was in both of the museums that I visited in Chiang Mai. There were many more that I did not get to see.
In the Lanna Folklife Museum, there were many stories, paintings, and ancient artifacts from the Lanna people. The Lanna people are an ethnic group located in northern Thailand. In fact, they used to have their own kingdom seperate from Siam (now Thailand) not too long ago.
I returned to my bunk around 6:45pm after an afternoon at the museums, as well as walking around in parts of town. I wasn’t sure what I should be doing now. Go get some more street food? That sounds great I guess.
For a few moments, I wasn’t too excited about anything. Here I was, on the other side of the world wandering around. Great, now what?
It seems I was on an endless quest to eat random foods and look at random things. It almost seemed to silly to be doing this all alone. I certainly wasn’t lonely, but it seemed wasteful to not be able to share the experience with anyone of the same background as me.
Or maybe the dark side was just trying to infiltrate my mind.
I walked out to the local night street market to find some dinner. When I looked up, I noticed the half-full moon. Half full? It was completely full last night, this is impossible!
For a moment I doubted my sanity while climbing over loose wires, through the overcrowded narrow sidewalk, and between food stands.
I looked up again and remembered reading several months ago about a lunar eclipse that would be occuring around this time, but had totally forgotten about.
It was quite the task; watching the eclipse while simultaneously trying to pick out street food, and not get hit by a car, tuk-tuk, motorbike, regular bicycle, double decker bus, or the massive mob of Chinese tourists that got off that bus all at once.
I found a great food stand that I ended up visiting two more nights in a row. For 100 baht total each night, pieces of chicken, fish, crab, and bacon wrapped sausages were all consumed in random assortments.
When I finally got my food, I went across the street to watch the eclipse from near the old city moat. After dark, the moat featured multi-color lighted fountains, which added to the vibrant ambiance of Chiang Mai.
There along the short walls around the moat, several people were sitting. A couple of them appeared to have cameras. I found a place to sit myself so I could watch the eclipse and eat, without being in anyone’s way.
It wasn’t but a few more moments before we were all talking to each other about the eclipse. There was a girl from Germany, a couple from England, and a few locals.
I ended up helping one of them set up their camera correctly in terms of light and exposure to capture the Moon. It still showed up tiny on their small point and shoot camera, but now it was at least clear and visible.
We all ended up talking about all of our trips, past present and future, for nearly an hour by the water while watching the eclipse. Sometime after 10:00pm, we exchanged our Instagram info and all went our separate ways.
So…even when you are travelling alone, you are never really alone. You just have to be willing to get out there, even just a little bit. You will almost always run into interesting people on a daily basis, if not much more frequent than that.
Most people traveling are just looking to fit in. Especially solo travelers. In fact, most people period are looking to fit into something.
While I do long for some things from the past, my home and childhood….and am certainly always looking forward to the future, the next big thing….I know there is no better place to be right here, right now. Wherever that may be, whatever it may entail.
17:08 ICT 5 Feb 2018- Vientiane, Laos