Woke at 6 and walked through slumbering Phetchaburi to the station. Nothing much of note other than a brilliant disc of an orange sun rising over the train tracks. The journey is slow and coloured only by a spllt water bottle causing concern as it puddles across the floor of the carriage.
Bangkok is enormous, a real sprawl which takes nearly 2 hours to penetrate. Railway land is eaten up by shanty slums built of the ubiquitous corrugated iron sheeting and sheets of pepsi plastic sheeting, which in places are inches from the train. Piles of waste and plastic bags. On the many stops you can reach out of the window and touch the roofs, or peer into the spaces where people are sitting and eating. The track gas no fence. People stroll across and climb through the train or over the couplings to get from the side that they live on to the market on the other. The track literally ploughs a path through this seething claustrophobic mass of stalls and dwellings. The track bed broadens and other tracks converge. The heat haze skyline of tower blocks near and we are sucked into the central station.
The platform I disembark on is a hurly burly of activity: hawkers, soiled sheets from the sleeper car being tossed out of the windows and sorted on the ground, passengers humping bales and boxes of goods to sell out of the windows to helpers outside.
Getting a connecting train to Pak Chong is easy, and it costs less that 1 pound for what turns out to be a 5 hour ride. I grab a bowl of congee at the station (a bowl of rice porridge with an egg broken into it and stirred in. You add greens, chillis, herbs, oils to taste). The city is a busy but not hectic melting pot of humanity: monks, soldiers, families, grubby homeless, tourists… But it does not feel threatening. A huge portrait of the king has central place in the airy modern waiting hall.
The train is 3rd class, which means it’s basic, but not uncomfortable. No fans, all the windows are necessarily open. A monk beckons me over to sit by me. He is gawky, thick glasses and seems a bit retarded. Our conversation mercifully gets no further than repeated a number of times the names of our respective destinations. Language barriers can sometimes be a godsend. He also asked me for money.
The train is unbelievably slow and timekeeping is seemingly of no importance. The city slowly turns into suburbs, turns into paddies, turns into flooded land around Ayutthya. For the first 3 hours people are getting on and off quite frequently. As the countryside becomes less populated and plain turns to forested mountains the train begins to empty and the remaining passengers have become good friends and are laughing and shouting. The Thai Chinese are replaced by eastern Thais who have very dark skin, malarial eyes and missing teeth. They smile at me. One guy who looked scary and drunk wants to shake my hand. His is rough and dusty. He is groggy from working in the fields under a baking sun. Dirty but cheerful so amusing to watch him lumber around and tease everyone.
Throughout the journey peddlers of food: fried chicken, BBQ bat, perhaps, on skewers, instant noodles and hot water, fruits…jump on and walk the aisles. They don’t seem to sell much and are not treated as fare dodgers. In fact the guards are fooling around with them too.
For most of the journey an elderly retired Thai architect sits opposite me and we strike up a conversation that lasts for over 4 hours, encompassing the Thai monarchy and the very real situation a first Thai ruling Queen, the philosophy of architecture, the meaning and value of travel. It’s stimulating but he doesn’t let me say much. Possibly because, although well spoken, does not have good comprehension skills.
But, I have noticed here that people do not seem to be very inquisitive about me: I do the asking, they do the talking and sometimes I might squeeze in an anecdote of my own.
When I finally get off at Pak Chong, the station is quite empty and there is only 1 hotel tout. The map shows me that everything s far away and I’m too tired to negotiate this new place. Rabi tells me about her rooms and tours into the jungle. I’m unsure with nothing to compare it with. But also aware that if the town is booked up then she might be my best hope. I umm and err. Her rooms are outside town in the place where all tours start. I’m not even sure I want a tour. The distances on the map look short but after getting on her bike to get to the guesthouse, it becomes obvious that this place does not lend itself to independent do-it-yourself touring. Mis-information and mis-understandings mean that the room she had promised had gone, and the alternative at a recently built high rise business-style place did not attract. I was now stuck outside town and facing the option of going it alone and going back to town. Miraculously a German guy who had just arrived and who was sitting in the yard with a beer had a 3-bed room all to himself and offered me one of the spare beds.
The room was enormous and modern and spotless. I had my first fresh, clean shower in Asia. The accommodation is based around a couple of buildings either side of a track. The HQ being the other side where Bobby’s Apartments were based. The yard has an outdoor kitchen where Mike’s Thai wife cooks to order in super quick time with delicious results, outside seating for newcomers and returnees from tours. Darkness falls by 7pm. Bedtime is early for most. I chat to some Germans. Actually they are rather dull people…..