Leaving Bangkok for the start of our journey was surreal.
30 years ago when we headed off on our first European adventure family and fiends came to see us off and wish us well, this time it had all the pomp and circumstance of a trip to the wet market, albeit with a slightly heavier shopping bag.
The two weeks following our return from Japan were hectic, arranging last minute changes to packing lists, arranging last minute bill payments, arranging last minute wild parties and getting fixes at our fav restaurants. Our last day, in contrast, felt normal, we watched the Dockers loose again (1st pre-season friendly) handed the car keys to Nigel and then wandered down to the shuttle boat to cross the Chao Praya. A short ferry then tuk tuk ride later (yes we had to do the cliche bangkok departure) we arrived, way too early, at Hua Lamphong train station.
I love terminus train stations, they they have an air of nostalgic, faded, grandeur. Unlike modern airports that are just giant people processing plants, singular in pace and texture, train stations have a richness of character allowing travellers independence of will and pace.
Business people bustle on and off the commuter trains, families wait on the platform for regional trains back home, back-packers sit in dodgy coffee shops or in groups on the floor whiling away time before boarding an intercity to a new far flung destination.
Hua Lamphong is a classic example of these stations, smaller than most it is grand yet intimate, faded yet colourful, bustling yet relaxed While you may not be able to get a beer you could get a bowl of noodles or free haircut from a track side apprentice.
We boarded the night train bound for Chiang Mai around 7.00pm, The SRT had recently purchased many new sleeper carriages...our’s, unfortunately, was not one of them! It was tired but comfortable and felt appropriately in keeping with the station we were leaving.
With almost Japanese efficiency the trained rolled out at 7.35pm precisely. Shortly after a lovely stewardess offered us “complimentary” orange juice, which would cost us 60baht each the next morning when bills were settled.
Bangkok looks significantly more serene when viewed from a slowly moving train window, mercury vapour lamps give the shops and night markets a dusk like glow
While locals tuck in to bowls of noodles at track side food stalls, we tucked into our picnic dinner of more party leftovers, toasted the start of our our journey (given the alcohol ban with a paper cup or two of sparkling, fermented grape juice) and watched Bangkok give way to rural-ish Thailand. When the scene outside went completely dark we adjourning to bed in the bunks recently made up by the steward.
We woke the next morning, as dawn broke through the bamboo forests of the northern foot hills. As the sun rose we wound our way up though forested valleys past rural villages and small lot farms. These slowly gave way once again to golf courses and urbanity as we approached the outskirts of Chaing Mai
Our friend John met us at the station managing to weed us out from the throngs of back packers as we strolled down the platform ending the first stage of this journey.