Friday, July 9, 2010

29 Hours

On the Train

Tuesday, 29 June, we were up early to catch a bus to the border. Our Cambodian visas were set to expire the next day and we planned to be in Thailand before that could happen. Our bus was at 8am. Sophara said he would pick us up at 7:45am. How we ended up at the bus station before the 7:30am bus left, I will never know. Anyway, we hung out at the bus station for a while and then hopped on our bus to the border. It was a bus to Poipet (border town) and then on to Bangkok. We were not taking the bus on to Bangkok though, we were taking a train.

The bus ride was about three hours. When we arrived in Poipet the bus dropped us at the Capitol bus station because our tickets were to Poipet. However, after leaving us at the curb, it then continued to the border crossing. Had we stayed on the bus, we would have saved ourselves a long, hot walk. Whatever, we needed the exercise. Doing the walk in reverse was an interesting experience. When we had crossed into Cambodia two months ago and were walking from the border to the bus station we couldn't beat the taxi drivers off with sticks. You may remember we were shadowed at slow speeds by one taxi driver that really wanted to drive us somewhere, anywhere for most of our walk to the bus station. This time around, no one was interested. We could only be going to the border and that wasn't that far away (in the grand scheme of things).

Once at the border we found ourselves in line behind people who had been on the same bus as us earlier. After we want through the checkpoint, Cale accepted an offer for a ride to the train station. The man phoned a truck that had already departed the crossing back. Surprise, surprise, there were the same barang (sorry, we are in Thailand now, farang) that were on the bus with us before. They were sitting on the benches in the bed of the truck and we were put in the back seats (extended cab) with the air conditioning. I started to wonder, about the bus to Bangkok from Siem Reap. I assume that the Capitol bus dropped them at the border and they crossed. However, it doesn't appear they just get on another bus on the other side of the border. Instead they were taken by this truck to a way station of sorts, where I suppose they were waiting for another bus. However, there were only farang on this ride. Where did all the Khmer (or I suppose Thai) people who had been on our bus go after they crossed the border? Weren't they also getting a bus on to Bangkok? They couldn't have been riding to just Poipet or they would have kicked them off at the Poipet bus station. Or would they? Maybe they were just to savvy to get off the bus there and saved themselves the long walk we had.

Anyway, we get a ride to the train station. The ride to the train station cost us more than the train ride to Bangkok. Hmmm.... A fifteen minute truck ride is more expensive than a six hour train ride?

The train wasn't going to leave until almost 2pm and it was only just noon, so we had a bit of a wait at the station. Cale bought some meat on a stick and wrapped it in the bread we had bought before leaving Siem Reap. Instant sandwich.

On the Train

The train ride to Bangkok was way more enjoyable than the bus ride had been coming the other direction. You could get up and move around a little if you wanted to. People walked the aisles constantly selling drinks and snacks. There was leg room. However, the best part of the deal was the scenery. The view from the bus is just highway and industrial wasteland and mammoth gas stations. The view from the train is so much more enjoyable. One thing we noticed immediately is the difference a little rain makes. When we arrived in Thailand three months ago it was dry, dry, dry, dry. Did I mention it was dry? Everything was brown and dust and dead. Out the window of the train three months later and everything was lush and green and gorgeous. It was exactly what Thailand was supposed to look like.

On the Train

The train came into Bangkok under the cover of night. As we entered the city. the train ran parallel to the
BTS (Skytrain) for quite a while. In the shadow of the BTS supports was the most extensive shanty town I have ever seen. It continued on after the BTS veered off in another direction. Just miles and miles of houses and businesses constructed out of scrap wood and leftover roofing irons set up between the "real" city and the train tracks.

We pulled into the main station 30 minutes too late to catch one of the overnight trains to Chiang Mai, the only overnight train with room left in the sleepers. Instead we got tickets on the next train that had no sleeper seats left. We settled on air-con rather than fan seats. We had a two-hour wait before our train left and were famished. We had been up for more than 12 hours and it had been a long time since breakfast at the guesthouse. The street meat and bread also seemed a long way away. None of the cheap food stalls in the station food court were still open, so we had to settle on KFC. That's right, Kentucky Fried Chicken. The KFCs in Thailand serve chicken fried rice and some sort of green curry fried chicken; however, they also have original recipe. We got a meal for two for about 250B. Considering you can usually eat for 30 or 40B it was sort of a pricey meal.

Whew. This blog entry is getting long and I still have a 14-hour train ride to go. What do you expect though, I am covering a lot of ground here?

So 10pm comes and we get on the train. The seats in the aircon car are not horribly uncomfortable and the leg room is more than ample. In fact, I found myself wishing there was less legroom so I could have something to prop my legs up against. Also, one of our seats was broken and it could only recline. No seat backs in the upright position for that chair. Luckily we were provided blankets as we soon discovered the aircon was more than adequate. A group of four French guys took the seats in front of us. While Cale went to locate us some drinks in the "dining" car, these guys basically removed their clothes (seriously, they were standing there in their boxer shorts) so they could change into warmer attire for the train ride. Flash forward 14 hours and they will once again strip in public so they can change back to shorts and t-shirts.

Speaking of temperatures, the next day when the sun finally started to warm the train and the temperature inside became comfortable (i.e. I could sit not huddled under the blanket) someone went around and turned on a line of high-powered ceiling fans. It went back to being uncomfortably cold with the added bonus of being intermittently hit with a blast of cold wind. Hooray.

Also, speaking of the "dining" car. Less dining, more train car with no seats and some dirty tables bolted to the wall. Cale asked to see a menu and baffled everyone affiliated with the car, including me at that point. Can't you see this is not a place for food and definitely not a place with a menu?

At some point in the middle of the night a man came around waking people up and asking us if we wanted breakfast. A clever ploy indeed. Wake people up in the middle of the night to ask if they want breakfast. The answer was guaranteed to be a confused and groggy yes (at least from the uninitiated). So I mistakenly agreed to this breakfast. Flash forward about eight hours and it is morning. We have been up for a while (or in my case, all night as I could not sleep in the chairs) and have seen no indication of this breakfast. Women have been hopping on the train at stops and selling drinks and food stuffs. I have Cale buy us two packets of sticky rice for 20B. Pesky breakfast problem solved. Except the man with the breakfasts finally shows up about an hour later and presents us with plates with eggs, hot dogs, apple slices and bread. I eat my bread, eggs and apple slices. We are also given what is quite possibly the worst coffee ever in all of the world. The breakfast man has disappeared and I start to wonder out loud to Cale how this works. We are the only people in the car that got the breakfast. If it was part of the ticket price you would think that other people would have gotten it as well. So that means there has to be a price associated with this, but when will we pay, how much is it, how does this work? Just as I am wondering this, the breakfast man is back. We do have to pay. 260B!!! I cannot put enough exclamation marks on that. You may remember that we got two packets of sticky rice for 20B earlier and now we are being charged more than ten times that for this. We learned that lesson the hard way. I am not sure what a breakfast at Denny's costs these days, but I think it might be cheaper than that. I know I could get a Burger King breakfast for cheaper.

Finally, around 1pm we arrived in Chiang Mai. So we had left our guesthouse in Siem Reap not long after 7am the day before and traveled almost continuously for the next 29 hours. When I mentioned that we had just traveled that long on facebook, some friends had assumed we had returned to America. Oh no, we were just back in Thailand. We still have to do the 30 hours of Tuesday when we travel back to America soon.

— Sara

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