Getting train tickets from Chiang Mai to Bangkok required charm, persistence, and many return journeys to our guest house. The unsmiling ticket guy relieved the tedium of his day by playing power games with the hapless, hopeful, red-faced, backpack touting tourists. It almost felt like a disappointment to him when nothing prevented him from booking train tickets, but this usually came after he got to lead us on merry dances requiring passports, hotel info, cash only, no seats. The lists, the lines, and the tuk tuk trips droned on.
Third time lucky, I emerged triumphantly, clutching a book of tickets for a few days hence. When the time came – thank God there were 4 of us – we boarded the train to our own, very snug, 4 berth compartment, and began the slow, windy, bumpy journey to Bangkok. Actually, as long as you didn’t really expect to sleep, it was pretty pleasant. We were served food, violently orange drinks, and given help with our beds. Each sheet had a few random holes or stains, but not enough to be scary. The most surprising thing to me was that it took over 3 hours to get from the outskirts of Bangkok to the train station. We’d done small Asian towns, had got back into ‘big’ with Chiang Mai, but I had forgotten how truly colossal Bangkok is.
The bonus of this was the views that we got into Thai’s urban lives. It was pretty raw. People slept alongside the tracks, erratically-constructed houses were a whisker’s edge away from the trains roaring through. We saw people washing, dressing, cooking and working right next to the steely roar of our huge train, barely turning a hair. School children emerged, looking immaculate from slums. A cock-fighter guarded his prizes. We sat in our privileged space and watched this endlessly unfolding tableau through the giant screen of our window, sleepy, sweaty, entranced.