Tag Archives: Thai trains

TTT – Taking the Train in Thailand

Placing our bikes between tracks 1 and 2 just before two trains arrived.
Placing our bikes between tracks 1 and 2 just before two trains arrived.

“I’m sorry. Too many people. No room for bicycles. Maybe you can take train tomorrow.”

Eric and I were standing between tracks 1 and 2 at the Ratchaburi Train station when the conductor gave us the sorry news.

Behind us was the southbound train on track one from Bangkok heading towards Hua Hin. Passengers were leaning out of the open windows gasping for fresh air and making conversation with Eric and me.

“Where are you from?”
“Where are you going?”

The train was stopped waiting for the northbound train to arrive on track two thus freeing up the single track heading south. Most of the windows are open. The four car train is old. The General Electric locomotive appears to be an early 1970’s model – I made this estimate based upon the mustard yellow paint job so prevalent with the olive green decorating scheme of that same era.

The northbound train chugged into the station…well, not really into the station but up to the track parallel to the station in the middle of some rocks and rusty pipe.
Eric and I had been sucking in our stomachs, trying to keep our packs, bike, and bodies from being squished between the two trains or thrown under the wheels on the northbound train. While several passengers disembarked, we hoisted our heavy mountain-bikes-retro-fitted–to-be touring bikes on one shoulder, slung our panniers over the other and started looking for an open baggage car into which to thrust our bikes.

It was at this point that we realized there was no baggage car. The conductor climbed aboard, peered down the length of the train, hoped back off, and gave us the bad news. The cars were packed with travelers returning home after a long holiday weekend. No room for bicycles.

We would not be riding today’s train, nor the next, nor the next.

To be quite honest, we’d expected this. It didn’t matter that we’d gone to the train station early in the morning to inquire if the train had room for our bikes .

“Bicycles, yes. 90 Baht for bicycle.”  (about $3)

It didn’t matter that we’d bought a ticket.

“50 Baht for two”(yea, I know…one bike cost almost double the  amount for 2 people)

It didn’t matter that the ticket agent had written a seat number on our ticket.

(I knew he made that up on the spot because he wrote #1 and #2 and there were 50 people ahead of us in the waiting area)

It didn’t matter that we’d risked life, limb, and bicycle to wait between the tracks.

The reality is that the trains in Thailand are about as far as you can get from a German highly efficient, organized and on-time railroad. Here, they have no idea how many people will ride, how many cars will be on the train, if it will have a baggage car, or what time the train will actually arrive at the station.

(The untimeliness of the train really concerns me because most of the country has only a single track.) I hope their engineers are good at solving algebra problems like these:

If train A leaves Bangkok at 7:00 , or whatever time the conductor finishes his Pad Thai, traveling south at anywhere between 15 and 70 kilometers per hour, and train B leaves Hua Hin at 7:00, or whenever the karaoke bars close, traveling at the same speeds, what time will they crash?
So why do people ride the trains in Thailand? Here’s what I think:

1. They’re cheap. A ride from Bangkok to Ratchaburi costs about 35 Bhat. That’s about 3 Malaysian Ringitt or about $1.00. (Yes, I mentally convert Bhats to Ringits to Dollars…dumb, huh, but it’s easier than diving by 30 to go directly to dollars)
2. The train stations have super cute paint jobs…kind of “Victorian” for those who like that look.
3. The trains are an option for cycle tourists who care about personal safely and don’t want to ride into or out of Bangkok.
4. Passengers want to try some local food that’s been sitting in the hot, hot sun for God knows how long because the trains don’t follow a schedule.
5. Passengers want to watch tiny, muscular Thai guys lift bulky bicycles laden with 50 pounds of soggy,smelly biking clothes and pass it through the train windows.

6. Someone or some book suggested this would be a good “experience.”

To be honest, we will probably use the trains again just to avoid riding in Bangkok traffic, but we will go with lots of patience,  a sense of adventure and an empty bladder.

 

 

Ayutthaya (Eye-you-tea-ya)

 

Our guide Thannakit, a colleague of Eric's
Our guide Thannakit, a colleague of Eric’s, explaining the layout of Bangkok to us.

We’ve had the good fortune to have had a bicycle tour guide for the past two days. A former work colleague of Eric’s in Malaysian is from Thailand. He happens to be on holiday at the exact time we are here. He is crazy about cycling and knows his Thai history very well. As a matter of fact, I feel so lucky to have had this personal guide that I almost feel we should return to Aytthaya with a rooster statue, it’s purpose I’ll explain later.

Our day started at the train station with plans to catch an 8:00 am train. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the Thai citizens, it was one of the king’s birthdays. It seemed that most Bangkok had also decided to take the 8:00 am train and there were no seats. Keeping our chins up and our happy faces on – even though we’d only had about 5 hours of sleep, our guide 3 due to holiday traffic jams at 11:00 pm – with our extra hour to kill we located a cozy little breakfast spot serving up western breakfasts, hot espressos from a high quality German espresso machine, good jazz purring at a smooth, relaxing early morning decibel level, and a sense of humor from the Chinese owner. Ahhhh, the joys of real toast , bacon and Ella Fitzgerald.

The open-window- for-air-conditioning train ride ended up being a perfect time to check another item off my bucket list: Thai lessons. Four giggly, happy high school girls plopped themselves on the vacant seats across from the three of us. Their favorite English words, once they got past their shyness, were “wonderful” accent on the “won”, and “awesome” accent on “awe” and “cool” with both thumbs pointed up to indicate OK or cool.

The girl on the right taught me to count to ten and some simple phrases.
The girl on the right taught me to count to ten in Thai  and some simple phrases.

It was like hearing my teacher voice parroted back to me from the past few years of ESL. Yes, they had the ‘“music” of the language just perfect and yes, we got a lot of laughs, but omg they must have had a clone of me for their teacher. I sound overly enthusiastic and kind of stupid, to be quite honest.

But, I digress…Seeing as these girls had a 10 hour train ride ahead of them and I was trying to break the ice, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask them to be my teacher: to learn to count, to say “How are you?” and “I’m fine” and the most important phrase of all……”I’m hungry.” Eric and my sign language for food and wanting to eat hasn’t been working that well, so I figure, if we get right to the point, maybe we’ll get quicker results.

The results of this impromptu lesson were both hilarious and helpful. Because the girls could not agree on the phonetic spellings of many words, and because, to my hearing, they each sounded soooo different, my pronunciation is not too good. But, my goals were accomplished and have already come in handy. I got two train tickets today instead of one.

After the train ride we unloaded our bikes and started riding to many important historical sites around Auyutthuya. (If you think this word is hard to spell, you should try pronouncing it.)

Our tour guide filled us with lots of information about the history of Thailand and I won’t tire your eyes with too many details. Actually, I can’t remember most of it. But here are the things I remember, or as I prefer to say, my version of what I heard.

These temples were used to bury important people. Buddah statues filled with gold were also buried in these temples.
These temples were used to bury important people. Buddah statues filled with gold were also buried in these temples.

Thailand has been a kingdom for a very long time. They’ve had 9 Ramas (kings) including their current Rama 9.
Before the Ramas they had another king who was a really good fighter. (Or it was Rama #5, I’m unclear about this). This good fighter Rama held off Burmese attacks 7 times in a period of 10 years. There are temples built on every spot where he beat the Burmese.
This good-fighter-ruler-leader Rama built schools to teach sword fighting. Students still learn sword fighting but with practice swords. Many of the small children visiting the temple were playing with cute pink and blue swords.

This temples is a monument to some very famous Ramas.
This temples is a monument to some very famous Ramas.

The same Rama from above liked chickens (I call them roosters) when he was a little boy so the Thai people love roosters and have statues of them at many temples.
All the Ramas built/build nice parks that are filled with people enjoying the out-of-doors. In Bangkok, for example, because the traffic is so bad, lots of people leave their homes at 4:30 am, drive to the city parks to jog, cycle, walk, or practice yoga. Then they shower and head to work. If they stay home and opt for more sleep, they get stuck in traffic and don’t get to work until 9 or later.
The Burmese used to burn the Thai temples to find the gold hidden inside the Buddha’s. Therefore, in Auyttuhya – UNESCO World Heritage Site – the foundations of many temples are the only things that still remain. However, the temples that are still standing are really cool and worth seeing.
The newest temple for the good fighter Rama (could he be called the father of Thailand? )boasts of collection of roosters about 20 deep and 200 meters long. Apparently when the Thai people go to pray and their prayer has been answered they return to the temple grounds and place a rooster to show their thanks.

Lots of rooster statues donated in thanks for prayers being answered.
Lots of rooster statues donated in thanks for prayers being answered.

I know we only scratched the surface of Aytthaya but I definitely recommend it for a destination. Riding the train to avoid the chaos and danger of Bangkok to get there made for a nice nap, a good place to read, and a good opportunity to watch people. Having our bicycles for the 30 or more kilometers cycling around the ruins was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

This is a beautiful temple where all the buddahs are wrapped in a yellow scarf. they change the scarves depending upon one of the three seasons in Thailand - the hot season, the rainy season, and the cooler season...(which is still hot by our standards)
This is a beautiful temple where all the buddahs are wrapped in a yellow scarf. They change the scarves depending upon one of the three seasons in Thailand – the hot season, the rainy season, and the cooler season…(which is still hot by our standards)

And back to the rooster….Our thanks to our guide are so great that, should we return one day to Ayuttuya, we will bring a rooster to show our appreciation.