Train ride: There's something about this place - Taking my life for a ride - CycleBlaze

July 25, 2015

Train ride: There's something about this place

Once before I took the train from Butterworth, Malaysia to Bangkok. It was so long ago now that it really should belong to a different time, a different planet, not now. But oddly, not.

The train station at Prachuap Khiri Khan is from a time past, it looks like and I'm sure it actually was built in the 1950s. It's small and intimate and the few staff who work there are in no rush and have the time to interact with the travelling public who use the train. The locals say the train carriages themselves haven't been upgraded since my last ride. The word "nostalgic" comes to mind... In today's idiom, the place had a good vibe to it.

Retro PKK train station: ageing gracefully, lovingly cared for.
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I purchase the ticket in the morning. The train leaves at 11:30 in the evening and I have a second class sleeper booked for myself. It is impossible to confirm the bike will travel with me on the same train as goods will be taken off and added throughout the journey from Butterworth to Bangkok. I'm told there are a number of trains travelling through to Bangkok in the night and it will be on one of them, no worries. They say to arrive an hour early and we will figure it out from there.

I kill as much time as I can wandering about town, the beaches, restaurants and tourist sites, but still arrive two hours before the scheduled departure.

As those of us who tour know, cycle touring has a special magic to it. Of course it is not always wondrously magical/mystical, in fact most of the time it's just bloody hard work. But occasionally, it allows for insights and interactions that are transcendent and transformative. Oddly, tonight is one of those nights. At one point, I'm standing there prepping my bike talking to the station master (no they still can't confirm on what train the bike will travel) and the next minute the bike and I are the hub of a group conversation about travel and life. We're covering some deep topics here and there are profound insights about life, geopolitics, global economics and personal relationships. And apart from arroy, I don't speak any Thai and only one of the group has a basic understanding of English, and I swear he's half pissed on some high octane local brew.

When they understand I'm at least 10 years older than any of them and old enough to be the grandfather of a few of them, and that I started in Singapore and pedalled to where we now stand and that I'd been to Thailand 40 years before, the mood changes.

"What? He was here before I was even born?"

They catch their train and when we part, I get hugs and pats on the back and pressed hands are raised to foreheads. It was a very humbling experience. For the first time in my life, I am the respected elder. Didn't see that coming.

When my train arrives, I have my own personal station attendant to help me find and board my carriage. I step 40 years back in time. The carriage is unchanged, except for the patina of forty years of neglect that permeates everything. It's midnight and everyone is sleeping behind their pulled faded green curtains. Amongst other bits of flotsam there is a large cardboard box of Durian obstructing the passage way; it's stink permeates everything. I climb into my just big enough sleeper, arrange myself as best I can in the cramped space, pull my hat down over my face and fall asleep.

I get the last berth in this carriage. Just big enough... As the train settles into its uneven rhythm, I fall quickly deeply asleep.
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As promised, my bike follows behind on the next train, which arrives at the station only a few minutes after I do.

This local neighbourhood canal is fetid filthy dark and oily polluted, and teeming with huge fish. There were dozens of 5-10 kg fish feeding on the surface. I regret not bringing my fly rod.
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Quick shot of Bangkok back alley. I love wandering down these lane ways that dissect the larger city blocks into small microcosms of life. All are thriving and all are unique.
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Bangkok ride a bike station. Free air, too. There is a serious cycling culture here, with many people out and about on a range of bikes from 16" Bromptons to Surly LHTs to high end European road bikes.
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The Number 25. From Granny Bike hostel, you catch the #25 to the Red Cross Immunisation Clinic. I pay about $40 AUD for a series of shots that would have cost me many times that in Australia. I opt for the series of 3 rabies injections, too. So that means I have to find my way to other public hospitals on day 7 and 21 for my next two injections. I'm told this will not be a problem, just roll up to any local hospital at any reasonable sized city and they will take care of it. I will still carry my umbrella.
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