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The night train to Chiang Mai

THAILAND | Wednesday, 1 April 2009 | Views [1414]

On our last day in Bangkok we were just about checked out when an enormous thunderstorm rolled in and opened on the city. It was more ferocious than spectacular – simultaneous bellowing thunder and lightning combined with torrents of rain which knocked over plants, ripped leaves from trees and made a lake of the garden. At one point water started to drip down onto the little reception desk so we turned off the lights and replaced the papers with rice bowls and eventually a bucket to catch the water. On the plus side, the temperature seemed to drop by about 5 degrees. Steve and Jane were also hanging around the Villa so we taught them cacho and waited for it to finish. It did eventually a few hours later and we emerged to a cooler city, washed clean by the torrents.

We took a river taxi, by now having learnt that rivers and canals are easily the fastest and cheapest way to get around Bangkok. As we approached, the majestic site of the five pronged Wat Arun, the temple of the dawn, probably Bangkok's most distinctive landmark loomed into sight. We boarded another smaller craft to cross the river to it – both journeys for the princely sum of 11 baht each. Wat Arun seemed quite different from the other temples firstly in that it looks so different, built in the Khmer style and secondly because it was thankfully almost bereft of tourists, probably due to the storm. We climbed up the steep giant sized steps and could see the colourful donated porcelain plates used to decorate it – it looks completely different up close and far away.

Back across the river and we came to Wat Pho, the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok which apparently contains the biggest collection of Buddhas in Thailand. It's also a very famous massage school. The most impressive sight was the, as Claire says “gigonormous” reclining Buddha. It's 42m long, 15m high, completely covered in gold leaf except for the feet which are a collection of 108 mother of pearl pictures of Buddha and has to be seen to be believed.

After a quick veggie curry we picked up our rucksacks and jumped on the bus to the train station, leaving plenty of time for the crazy traffic which is not improved by the frequent red shirt demonstrations. 30 minutes before departure time we made our way to the platform and boarded the 22.00 night train to Chiang Mai.

I wasn't sure what to expect – we had an upper and lower on the same side in second class fan. Our beds were already made – I threw my stuff as usual on top (I always sleep on top for some reason). If you ever travel on a night train in Thailand GET LOWER! Upper doesn't have any windows and has a much smaller bed. The people we shared the carriage with were a group that looked liked a Gap adventure or similar so were all wrapped up in their own conversations so we busted open the beers we had taken with us and opened the chess board.

It set off exactly on time and we ordered more beers from the very friendly carriage attendant as we made our way out of the suburbs. I was surprised with the facilities – it was very comfy and if you wanted to you could even have a shower, but the myriad of little ant-like creatures living in my bed were somewhat less than welcome but hey, that's what silk liners are made for! It actually got chilly during the night so we were glad we didn't have AC – the toilets were in the AC carriage and it was freezing! Another tip - bring ear plugs if you're a light sleeper – it's pretty noisy. Just before we went to bed the attendant came along looking distressed – someone had taken a beer from her bucket without paying – it would probably come out of her wages – poor thing.

I woke early, before anyone else it seems. All the curtains were pulled and without a window of my own I got up to see if it was light and what the terrain looked like. I walked down to the AC carriage where I knew there were some windows and was surpised to see both doors wide open and giving a great view onto the lush plains of central Thailand. I could have jumped if I wanted to. Just as Claire woke we were served our breakfast (we had ordered the night before) and ate watching the beautiful villages and homesteads whizz by.

We arrived in Chiang Mai (CM) just before 1 and bargained a tuk tuk down from nearly double what he wanted to take us into the centre. Chiang Mai is an attractive city of about a million inhabitants which feels almost like a small town after the madness and enormity of Bangkok. Its historic centre is surrounded by a square moat dotted with fountains which create little rainbows in the sunlight. We had arranged to meet Steve and Jane from Bangkok at a restaurant. The guidebooks as well as anyone we met had warned about a few things – naely availability of accommodation over Songkhran (Thai New Year) and guest houses limiting the amount of time you can stay depending on whether you do a trek with them or not. It seemed a good idea to compare notes as we all wanted to do some trekking and stay a while.

Tags: storm, temple, train


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