The last riding day in Isaan - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

January 8, 2024

The last riding day in Isaan

Ta Phraya to Bangkok

Dear little friends,

The bed in our little green bungalow was the hardest one yet, an absolute board. Reluctantly we dug out the sleeping pads we had brought, I added my sleeping bag for even more padding. The bungalow was spacious, it even had a little rudimentary kitchen, but sleeping still felt like camping, and I didn’t really sleep well. 

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Mark LellmanWas Dew around?
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Bruce LellmanTo Mark LellmanDew was around but he evaporated.
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There were extra chores in the morning to pack up our bedding and eat a muesli and papaya breakfast so it was a bit of a late start but we knew it was a straight shot on a smooth road to Aranyaprathet. Back in Sisaket we had made the decision to catch the train there after a few days of noodling around Isaan, and today was to be our last Isaan riding day, and Isaan gave us some gifts.

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Fueled by our breakfast and 3-in-1 coffee we turned our noses south and started pedaling. The hills were long and gradual and mostly downhill, the tailwind was incredible, traffic wasn’t horrible, there really isn’t much to say about the ride except that we did 32 miles in less than three hours with only one or two quick water stops. 

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Big doings at the temple!
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Temples are such festive places!
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Ron SuchanekThose signs remind me of fireworks stands that litter much of the rural US.
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Bruce LellmanTo Ron SuchanekThey do look like those.
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This looks promising.
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But you will have to hold it because there is no way across. You have to go a mile down the road to the U-Turn place and then a mile back. Just a simple turn lane for the rest stop would be so helpful.
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A few miles from Aranyaprathet I said to Bruce, “You know, there may be an afternoon train we can catch to Bangkok.” The last time we did this in 2015 we had had to go through the border from Poipet, Cambodia, a notoriously bad crossing with lots of delays and folderol and we had just missed the afternoon train to Bangkok by about 20 minutes. Things change in 9 years as we constantly discover, so maybe there was only one train a day in the morning. It was worth a stop at the station to find out.

Aranyaprathet’s train station is adorable and adorably kept with a lot of potted flowering plants, nice clean bathrooms, benches that get dusted. We looked at the posting by the ticket window, yep, a train was leaving at 2:56pm, arriving in BKK after 8pm or whenever it got there. It was 10:30 am and getting hot. We decided to go for it. 

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Didn’t I tell you it was adorable?
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Jen RahnAdorable and charming!

Descriptors that likely fit very few train stations.

A delightful encounter!
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But first we made a foray into town to scout out some food and sat down in what appeared to be a former city market that now only housed three or four eating places that all shared the same tables and condiments and dishes/silverware. Perfect. Inflation hasn’t eased yet in Thailand, 50 baht is now a standard price for standard Thai dishes like fried rice or noodles, even in a market setting. Bruce chose some tray food and I ordered my new fave of this trip, pad si ew. 

On the way back to the station we saw a cart selling coffee bolan (traditional Thai coffee, brewed in a cloth bag) and got two of those to go, iced. And a good thing too because while we were shaded in the outdoor seating area of the station it just got hotter and hotter, even with the breeze. I lay down on a bench and took a catnap. We crunched our coffee ice and waited and waited, as the benches started to fill up.

Our coffee guy.
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The station master's office.
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Aranyaprathet Train Depot
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The last time we took this train it took forever, there was some sort of long wait in the middle of nowhere, and maybe another one for some unannounced mechanical thing, so we knew we might be getting into Bangkok fairly late. I mean, we’ve been going to bed before 8 pm most nights, this was going to be a stretch for us.

And of course there is always tension when getting two bikes onto a train. The train staff weren’t too keen on it but with some teamwork everything got stowed near the door along with some huge blue plastic bags full of who knows what. Off we went.

There were two tiny corner sinks in this space. Occasionally someone would reach around our filthy panniers and wash their hands.
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This is an open-window, hard bench, airy, dirty train. It was surprisingly full, too. People jump onto the train, bribe the conductor with a bottle of coke, and walk up and down the aisle selling snacks and drinks. It’s kind of a rough crowd, to be honest. Not rough as in criminal rough, just kind of loud and cackle-y, including the train guys. 

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Eucalyptus trees
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Water buffalo love to cuddle up.
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Rachael AndersonWow, how neat!
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My hair was blowing into my eyes hence the babushka ‘do.
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Ron SuchanekLooks great! I hate it when my bangs blow into my eyes.
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Gregory GarceauTo Ron SuchanekHa! Me too. Really though, my bangs would only blow into my eyes if I had a tailwind and my eyes were somewhere behind the crown of my head.
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Another adorable station.
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Jen RahnTwo in one day!

They both look like scenes from cheery children's books.
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Man, that train was hot for the first couple of hours. We floated through endless typical Isaan landscape: rice fields, tapioca, rubber trees, eucalyptus plantations, cattle, water buffalo, dry plowed fields. Right around the time the air was cooling down, it got more lush and green, with some mountains in the far-off. We were leaving Isaan.

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At a stop in Chachoengsao suddenly the train filled with younger passengers, students that went home from university at night. Young louts gathered between the cars and smoked and laughed, and as we drew close to the city the stops got more crowded. 

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A very crowded commuter train.
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Entering Bangkok by night, and it nearly always seems to be dark when we enter it, is rather jarring and not a little intimidating even though we’ve been here so many times. There are lots of cement pilings and such at the stations, the buildings get bigger and bigger and more and more futuristic looking, while the rural poverty transforms into some completely abject urban poverty, always along the railroad tracks. Generations of people have lived in those rusting hovels.

Pulling into Hualamphong station was completely bizarre. No more bustle of numerous trains and crowds of people, ours was the only train, there was a sleepy looking security guy at a table, the main station was closed. We de-trained our bikes and panniers, got everything loaded, and then walked the very short walk to the hotel we like to stay at, right across the klong from the train station. 

And not a moment too soon because they were quickly running out of rooms, which completely flabbergasted us. It’s not a posh hotel at all, the rooms are very basic and badly in need of updating, but it has a great location and a breakfast buffet to die for. We quickly snagged three nights there using Agoda and finally were in our room by a few minutes after 9. 

What a day. I was dead. When I showered my feet were running filthy water onto the floor, I was starving and ate two bananas and some peanuts and drank some water and crawled into bed. And you know what? It was a fairly comfy bed with nice cotton sheets. Outside the window, down 7 stories, the city buzzed and boomed as always. Last night all we had heard was crickets and roosters, the hard-bedded bungalow was on a different planet from where I was now, and you know, it didn’t matter anymore. These travel transitions are jarring and exhausting and weird, but having a bed to retreat to is the cure. 

Today's ride: 32 miles (51 km)
Total: 839 miles (1,350 km)

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Jen RahnThe re-setting magic of rest.
☮️😴☯️
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