Waking at 5.30 is hard. Cyrus has to go to work and I have to leave with him. Neither of us wants to go. By the time we have got outside night is beginning to end, but there is no bus. As usual. In fact hardly any traffic. Finally a taxi. This drops Cyrus at his hotel and takes me on to Pura Central, an airport-like bus station, which looks more efficient than it really is. In spite of my insistence on rock-solid answers, the bus which I had booked, does not leave on time. They wait to see if any latecomers will fill it up. It stops almost as soon as we have crawled out of KlL for some petrol and the driver disappears. I’m already looking at my watch wondering about the likelihood of making my train in Butterworth, again, which I had reserved. After a couple of more stops, a traffic jam which ground us all to a halt for a round an hour and more frantic huffing and anxious staring at my watch we make it to the sprawling transport hub of underpasses, fly-overs, hawker food stalls, abandoned buildings and intense heat of Butterworth. With 10 minutes to spare.
I use my fledgling Malay to get directions, but am met with shrugs and disinterested pointing by the first older guys when they see I’m a foreigner.
Cyrus calls me when I’m at the station worried about my near miss. Worried about my lack of food.
Anyway…and I should have predicted this…the train isn’t even in the station. 30 minutes after schedule a 2 carriage train pulls in, I find my seat and we pull off. It’s more like a rural service, speed-wise, but the rhythm is relaxing. There are no compartments, but pairs of seats either side of an aisle face to face, which convert into 2 bunks, privacy provided by blue curtains. My lower bunk is about 1.5 times the width of the top one and only $2 more. When I finally sleep later on, it’s very comfortable, except for the aisle light which stays on all night. During the ride I read, watch the perfectly planted rows of palm plantations roll by, limestone cliffs and mountains, rice paddies, and begin to chat with 2 French guys, loaded with juggling props who are opposite and next to me. The other guy is Malay and is going to BKK to bulk buy t-shirts to sell back in Malaysia. Half the price in BKK….
The journey is relaxing. For the first time this trip I know I don’t have to move or make any decisions for the next 17 hours.
Crossing the border is very relaxed. Through one office out of Malaysia and through another on the same station into Thailand. Visitors’ visas used to be for 1 month, I notice that now it’s only 2 weeks.
As soon as we enter Thailand the atmosphere of the train changes. There is a whole procession of uniforms….railway police in dark grey with red braid, ticket collectors in smartly ironed white shirts with a buddha hanging from his shirt pocket, a hostess who shows me an on-board menu, a young guy who sweeps the train clean (finally- it was dirty when it left Butterworth) wearing a smart yellow polo, which when only on closer inspection you noticed the red and green trim and the miniscule Bob Marley logo. At the station as we creep into Thailand there is a police officer photographing in detail the train. I’ve heard that there are flashpoints her and it can be dangerous here. Could be this is a security check. There are a group of kids who look hostile, but no stone throwing, as I’d read about.
In spite of no change in latitude the clock go back. 7pm becomes 6pm. It is now dark. Damian (the French guy with 3 diabolos) challenges me to some chess, which to my surprise turns out to be quite even, although I havent played for maybe 15 years. He runs out beating me 2-1 and I eat my meal of soup, rice and 2 veg dishes.
Sleep to the gentle rhythm of the train and Mogwai on the i-pod.