Category Archives: All Transport

Travelling In Thailand….By Train!

It’s been quite a bit of fun writing up this ‘Travelling in Thailand series and for the forth and final part I just had to write up a whole blog on the unmistakable Thai Train.

During this series I didn’t even mention ‘motorbike-taxis’ – probably cause I am in the habit of writing about them quite a lot anyway! And how about the ‘car’, sorry – but such a boring form of getting from A to B shall have to wait for a new series! Then what about the horse, elephant or even buffalo? Guess I shall have to find some space to fit them into another blog sometime.

I hate to say it, but in the eyes of the Thais, the train is a ‘last resort’ when it comes down to ‘transportation preference’! Just ask any old Thai what they think about the state of Thailand’s trains and you’ll hear a flurry of remarks along the lines of “Darned slow”, “Crummy service” and “Never on time”. Guess they aren’t far off the truth! Since the Thailand’s train system is ‘a government service’ the state officials employed to run the things aren’t in the habit of working their guts off for a pittance wage. Every branch of Thailand’s government is renowned for its civil servants who hate being called ‘servants’ and instead feel that they are doing the public a favour and ought to be respected forthwith.

Thailand’s poor old train service has certainly gone down-hill over the years but it is still the best mode of transport to really see and feel the country! A bus up to Chiang Mai may take 9 hours but the blessed train plods along in no rush whatsoever and does the distance in 12 (if you’re lucky that is!). But what a great way to go! Sat on the upcountry bus you’ll be bored stiff with a TV blaring away in front showing some corny quack-wack Chinese soap opera, then for a view from the window you’ll be seeing nothing but huge billboards erected along the road, just waiting to fall over… (on a motorcyclists head). The train however, offers you some excellent views of the Thai countryside and its paddy fields, farming families and water buffaloes. Then in the morning you’ll be waking up to some gorgeous sunrise. Not having to just plonk yourself in the seat all evening, the upcountry train provides passengers with a groovy restaurant. Though the prices are rather over the top, you’ll have the opportunity to meet a whole variety of characters and especially other Thai state officials (they get a discount on train travel) hoping to practice their English with some foreigner. Thailand’s civil servants are famed for a few things and besides just laziness, they are; playing cards for a few baht (under the table of course!) and drinking whisky like there was no tomorrow.

If you fancy ordering some beers on the Thai night train it is advised to flash a bitta Thai lingo and pretend you know the score as employees on the train are synonymous for ‘over-charging’ beer-swigging Farangs. I remember the last time I took a train up to Chiang Mai and got into conversation with some banana-shake-backpackers and a few Thai army boys returning home. The backpackers had supped up all their beer and when they asked the waitress for the bill, I was surprised at the cost of a large beer – 100 baht! Not expecting to pay that much for a darned beer, I asked for my bill only for the waitress to reply, “that will be 160 baht for two bottles please”. Glad to be paying the Thai price, I sat back down and had one more!

Just ask any of the train officials and they all have a stock of nauseatingly bad stories about ‘Farangs!’ and for some strange reason, ‘drunk ones’ especially. There was the true story of a pack of Farangs from Europe a couple of years back who had been partying it up on Koh Samui over the new year. Getting on the train, the officials in charge ordered them to ‘control their alcohol consumption on the train’ as they were already smelling to the heavens and being loud-mouthed. Failing to heed the advice of the train officials they continued drinking their supply of alcohol which they had brought along with them, stuffed in their bags. They were warned too of standing in the gangways and opening up the door to have a smoke. Anyway, the story goes that around midnight one of the guy’s girlfriends starts running up and down the isles screaming at the top of her voice for the train to stop. Her boyfriend had simply disappeared after the last time he had popped out for a cigarette and…….. fallen off the train. Quite a lot of negative publicity was given to this story and especially about the quality of the Farangs heading to Koh Samui these days! You have been warned!

My favourite train route just has to be the Isarn (north-eastern) one that runs from Korat (Nakhorn Ratchasima) to Ubol Ratchathani on the Thai/Khmer/Laos border. I’ve done the route twice now stopping off every day at a new town like Surin, Buriram and Sisaket. The train is nearly always late but it’s darned cheap, incredibly slow and full of north-eastern locals speaking their local Khmer or Isarn dialects while pigging away on grilled chicken, papaya-bok-bok and sticky rice. For friendless it’s hard to beat the Isarn folk and you’ll soon be asked to help consume their lunch with a few glasses of whiskey. Even for me, the folks are as nice as can be but actually understanding what they are saying is a different kettle of fish! Try the route you won’t be disappointed!

The train is also the place to eat! The upcountry chug-along day-train is a haven for vendors coming on to the train trying to sell you a whole variety of food from the likes of dried squid to grilled meat balls. The for some weird reason, whenever a ‘drinks lady’ spots a male Farang she automatically sticks a can of Beer Chang in his face as if he lived on the stuff! Countryside train stations are quiet places run by some station-master who does virtually nothing the whole day long but watch TV, eat, drink, gossip with some friends and occasionally water the flowers. Fine job – his only responsibility in life is to wave the train past – twice a day!

When I first came to Suphanburi I had to go buy a ticket for the Bangkok-Penang train at the station here. Now, half the locals here don’t even realize the town has a train station! Arriving at the station, it took me 10 minutes of looking around to actually find someone who was working! I finally found the station-master sat under a tree outside, again drinking whiskey with some buddies of is! He seemed pretty perplexed when I explained that I needed to book a ticket to go to Penang, I think his first words were “Are you sure, we have a train that goes to Malaysia!?’ It next takes the guy another 10 minutes to turn on his computer, another 10 to call up a colleague in Nakhorn Pathom province to find out the code for the Penang/Butterworth train and finally another 10 to print out a ticket, I mean the mechanism looked older than him!

Talking about the Bangkok-Penang (Butterworth) train, now that’s the funkiest train Thailand has to offer! Funny to listen to the ‘tanoy’ when the train is approaching the station (I always take the train at the Samsen station instead of Hualumpong) “Passengers pls get ready for boarding, the International Butterworth train is approaching” makes it sound like you were at the airport! That is one heck of a train though and a bargain and a half, at something like…. eleven hundred baht! Very recommended!

If you are a newbie to Thai trains and fancy the idea of taking one, it is advised to book well in advance (if it’s a long distance one). Absolutely no need to go to the main train station you can book a ticket at any old station in Thailand – they are all computerized these days. If you are wanting to take a really long distance one, like to say Hat Yai or Penang I suggest you take along some sandwiches drinks etc….. as the food on the train is pish-poor and darned expensive! It isn’t a crummy slow chug-along day-train neither, so vendors aren’t allowed to pop on the train at every station it stops at!

And finally, if you get a sleeper get a ‘lower’ one! The ‘upper’ ones are right hassle to climb up to, the cabin light glares in your eyes, they are quite tiny and in the morning you will have no where to sit until the person in the ‘lower’ sleeper decides to pack up his/her bedding and give you your seat back. Plus, a ‘lower’ sleeper offers you lovely views of the sunrise, not a bad thing to wake up to!

BTW: It’s been fun writing about the witty side of life in Thailand but I would like to offer the readers another side to my writing. You may have noticed that I have started a new series on ‘Thailand News Stories’ but I will also be starting up a couple of new series on “Thailand’s most influential persons” and “Insights”. See how it goes, will be interesting for me too, to write about topics just that little bit more serious……

Lots More Fun….Travelling In Thailand!

Just when you may have thought that i had given up on my ‘Travelling in Thailand’ series – i decided to… come back and write..yet more. Though perhaps a little delayed due to recent work and family duties, it’s back to blogging again with some more weird and wonderful ways to make that trip of yours to Thailand just that…. little bit more special!

Once upon a time, hitch-hiking was an absolute fad amongst those hippy dreadlocked herb-smoking travellers seeking a bit of mystical enlightment on the overland Asia-Europe trail. These days though, such mode of travel has become virtually defunct in this part of the world and Thailand is no exception.

Bit of a pity really as yours in name can admit to having some wild times hitch-hiking along the unbeaten tracks of Thailand to the bemusement of the local population. Instead of a freebie ride, it didn’t take me long to decipher that most of the drivers thought that you were a willing sponser of their petrol tank! and the only reason you were hitch-hiking was that there was no public transporation around!

I once resorted to hitch-hiking with a few Farang buddies of mine after we had got lost somewhere in the jungles of Kanchanaburi. Since most of the drivers passing-by hadn’t a clue what we were up to sticking our thumbs like a bunch of clowns; just sped on past while giving us a friendly gesture of a wave. Fruitless in our endeavours and almost dark by then, the only Farang girl in the group decided to do the gracious thing and plonk herself on the side of the road and flag over some car…..alone. The next pick-up to come along stopped for her and it was a cop’s. The driving officer, probably thinking it was his lucky day, looked pretty pished-off when he witnessed a bunch of monkey-like Farang males run out from the back of a tree and jump into the back of his pick-up.

Talking about pick-ups.

Now, Thais are famed for a lotta things: covering themselves head to toe in baby powder after having a shower, singing karaoke for ten hours on the trot or falling asleep on a bus within the space of ten seconds. But unquestionably, Thais are applauded most for miraculously managing to fit the entire population of one village into the back of a single pick-up. Just when you think the truck is already completely full to the brim, there is always space for dear-old grannie and a couple of newly-born babies to dangle off the back bumper grasping on for dear-life.

Travelling by pick-up in Thailand, like most other modes of transport in the country, is not the safest way to navigate one’s life. I can remember just a couple of years back. While out celebrating the Water-throwing Songkran Festival on the back of a friend’s pick-up i did the truly unwise thing, and pretending to be a Thai decided to sit on the barrier of the darned vehicle. Great fun it really was until; after getting into a water chucking fight with a bunch a saucy looking girls in another pick-up, i slipped up head over heels, and completely fell out of the thing. I was left bruised and battered flat on my backside in the middle of the road. Whilst fearing for my life at the possible onslaught of incoming traffic heading my way, the locals at the side of the road were in complete hysterics. On returning home and seeking some sympathy from me girlfriend, all i got was “Serves you darned-right for staring out other girls”

Outside of the nation’s capital there isn’t that much in the way of transporatation around little towns besides the ‘Songthaew’. For all you foreigners who may not be so familiar with such vocabulary, a ‘songthaew’ is one of of those funky looking roofed-pick-ups with two benches in the back – ie… the word ‘songthaew’ literaly translates as ‘two rows’. Once upon a time you just had to bang the roof when you wanted off the wretched thing but due to technological development most now have a ‘buzzer’ you can ring – I mean, if it works!. Just like the country’s bus drivers, ‘songthaew’ drivers are another fine species that is reknowned for slowing down to pick up passengers but not actually stopping. It is left to the passengers own devices, yet once again, to hazardously jump into the vehicle, one slip and he’ll be flying head-first onto the main the road.

‘Songthaews’, like buses are usually synonymous with happily charging foreigners the same fare as the local Thais. Go to the east coast and Pattaya however, and you may find their ‘songthaew’ drivers to be the most wretched uncivilized beings to walk the earth. For years now I have avoided Pattaya’s ‘songthaew’ drivers like the plaque because of their two-teiring price system. Of course, there is a lotta ‘over-charging the foreigner’ at every tourist destination in Thailand but if you haggle a bit you’ll often get away with paying the Thai price. As for Pattaya’s ‘songthaew’ drivers, they are in a habit of physically assualting any foreigner who even tries to get away with paying the Thai price!

My last confrontation with a Pattaya ‘songthaew’ driver ended with this fine species being arrested and shifted off to the local cop box to pay a fine. Don’t blame me! I had been in Pattaya for a month or so and had got into the fine tendency of putting 5 baht in the driver’s hand (the correct local fare) and dashing quickly across the road before the monster could even complain. On one occasion however, I wasn’t so quick and the freak comes running out of the ‘songthaew’ bellowing “You pay 10 baht!” (The Farang price). Pretty pished-off with his remarks, I retorted in English that I had lived in Pattaya for years. The driver wanting nothing to do with my feeble explanation, reached for a huge plank of wood concealed under the driver’s seat and started waving it around threatening to smack me over the head with it. Unfortunately for the driver, I spotted a couple of ‘Thailand’s-finest boys-in-browns’ driving past on their bikes and flagged them over. By the time the cops got off their bike the scheming driver had replaced the huge plank of wood under his seat and started defending himself by waffling off to the cops that I had refused to pay the fare.

Just when the driver thought he had won, I started blabbering away in Thai to the cops and explained that the driver had threatened to wallop me round the back of the head with a nasty plank of wood which was …… under his seat. In no time at all, the impressive policemen had the driver on the back of their bike and waltzed him off to the station for carrying …… a lethal weapon. Serves him right I say! There were even a couple of English tourists in the back of the songthaews with their thumbs in the air shouting “Good on ya mate!” I would however, recommend the readers to be a little more cautious than me – and not so darned-cheeky! From that day onwards, I only ever travel Pattaya on a motorbike-taxi and golly-gosh…..they always charge…the Thai price!

Even at Pattaya Bus Station the ‘songthaews’ had up a huge sign (probably still there now!) in English advertising over-inflated prices, rather ironic though when the police down in Pattaya had explained to me that “It is an illegal offense for ‘songthaews’ to over-charge foreigners!”

Now, what other awesome way to get around the islands of Thailand is there besides the ‘Rickety Thai boat’? The ‘long-tail boat’ is real favourite of mine but once again your life is truly in the hands of the driver! Not only are you in fear that the 30 year-old termite-infested vehicle may run out of petrol in the middle of the open sea, but if the thing suddenly does a somersault on a high wave; there is only a single life jacket for a total of seven passengers! Long-tail boat rides are full of risk and not for the faint-hearted but if you are daring enough they are a fun way to zip off to some remote island or beach. Be warned though – the long-tail boat driver will be more interested admiring topless-sunbathing ‘lady Farangs’ than he will be with the direction he is supposed to be taking.

‘Motorized-rickshaws’ in Suphanburi

In Bangkok, ‘Rickshaws’ have been banned for years but in the provinces they are still a popular mode of transport. If you fancy trying one out for yourself just pop up to Nonthaburi or Kanchanburi provinces and you’ll see scores of them. The flimsy vehicles are usually half falling to bits and their riders – well, they are so unbelievably skinny that you’ll be amazed at how they manage to cycle up-and-down hills all day at such a speed!

You may have read from ‘Richard the Webmaster’s’ latest blogs that he ventured up to my home province of Suphanburi over the Chinese New Year Weekend. Well, one of the first things he was quick to notice was the existance of ‘motorized-rickshaws’. Talking about a bit of technological deveopment! The rickshaw drivers here had the sense years ago; instead of having to peddle the darned things, just attached some make-shift engine to them! The motorized-rickshaw may chugg along the road at the grand speed of 10km/hour but at least the drivers aren’t so knackered and energyless that they look like sunburnt-chopsticks.

The Hazards of Travelling…in Bangkok

It has to be admitted – Thailand is one right groovy place to travel, and I doubt any other country in the world offers such a wide variety of transportation.

The Prime Minister himself was in fine form this week during his very own TV Reality show in the middle of ‘Stickyrice-land’ up there in Thailand’s Isarn region. Wanting to prove to the cameras that “I am just a humble lad” revved up his bike and was filmed live on TV showing off his driving skills and roaring through a couple of villages whilst dodging a couple of stray water buffalo. Riding in fierce pursuit, were half the government (see photo above)

After a few brilliant wheelie-stunts to the delights of the country-folk and half the nation watching on TV, it took a certain lawyer from near Bangkok to report to his local police station to file a charge against the PM for not……wearing a motorbike helmet! It is yet to be seen however whether the PM will actually be prosecuted for..quite blatantly breaking the law.

I very very doubt that the PM himself would ever be seen dead riding a motorbike in Bangkok and I don’t really blame him. So how about walking? It doesn’t take the newly-arrived foreigner to Bangkok more than a few hours to realize that most of the local people, and especially the women here, just hate walking anywhere. Notice the way a Thai girl, on coming out of her apartment building will stand there (in the shade of course!) for ten minutes waiting for a motorbike-taxi to take her to the main road, that is instead of actually walking the wretched distance of….100 metres! Should there be no bikes around, the pitiful woman can be witnessed walking along holding a newspaper over her head and hiding her face like some moviestar. If you had ever wondered at the ‘ins and outs’ of such a spectacle, the reason lies with….the sun, the country’s darlings are more afraid of getting a sun-burnt nose than they are of getting run down by some 10-wheel lorry.

As for the foreigners coming to Thailand, there is none of this ‘afraid of the sun’ nonsense and they can be seen waltzing around the streets of Bangkok from dusk til dawn. Now, one of the funniest sights in Bangkok just has to be the one of ‘The Farang Tourist at a Zebra Crossing’. Unknown to the newly-arrived Farang, a zebra crossing here does not mean that the traffic will stop for you to cross the road – in fact you would have to be joking! Let it be known that zebra-crossings in Bangkok are just an indication where to cross – doesn’t mean however that you can’t just do as the locals do, and scarper across the road like a beheaded chicken anywhere and at any opportunity.

Pedestrians are pretty much second-class citizens, there is nothing else a car, bus, taxi or motorbike driver just loves more than, when sighting a pedestrian crossing the road, is racing right at him with a finger on the hooter and a foot on the accelerator. If that isn’t enough to have your hair stood on end, there are other life-threatening obstacles to send you into your next life early in the form of: 12 foot-deep open manholes and shockingly low cables head-high, waiting to electrocute you. Then, if you are fortunate enough to avoid such hazards, the motorbikes are back with revenge again trying to run you down on the actual sidewalks themselves. On other occasions, the sidewalks are just so awfully crowded with vendors’ carts, parked bikes, billboards and noodle shop stalls that you are once again forced to walk on the road and at the peril of the capital’s drivers.

Another type of ‘being’ Bangkok’s drivers have serious contempt for is the – cyclist. Thais are famed for their lack of patience when it comes to driving and at the sight of a bicycle slowing them up at the newly turned green lights, they are once again slamming their horns in disgust at such a defunct mode of transport. Personally, I wouldn’t advise any newbie to Bangkok to ride a bicycle. Just ride it into any old lane and half the soi’s stray dog population will be running behind in a frenzy trying to bite your ankles and pull you off the darned thing. Then, if the dogs aren’t nuisance enough, the state of the bumpy lanes and their potholes will shorten the life of your bicycle to less than two weeks. As for the pollution you’ll be sucking in at the red-lights every day, the rider himself will be dropping down dead after a three year stint.

So, what other ways are there of travelling in Bangkok? Howabout the traditional Tuk-Tuk? Well, they aren’t too bad I suppose, but if the darned driver turns a bend too impatiently, the vehicle has the unfortunate habit of doing a somersault. And i’m not joking! Apart from the obvious dangers of actually riding a Tuk-Tuk, there are the other dangers that the shifty driver will soon have you visiting an unscrupulous Gem-Shop of his choice which knocks off pieces of plastic resembling precious stones. In fact, Tuk-Tuk and especially taxi drivers are one of the significant causes of the infamous Bangkok traffic jam. With little regards for the traffic law, they often park their vehicles outside major tourist attractions, department stores and go-go bar areas waiting for tourists to over-charge. The road itself comes to a virtual stand-still before a traffic cop comes racing over to chase the parked drivers off. Then on other occasions the local boys-brown-in turn a blind-eye to such illegal parking, after they have received their monthly supply of whiskey and grilled chicken at the Tuk-Tuk/taxi drivers expense

Disillusioned on how to travel in Bangkok, there are the wonders of the boat! For a matter of pennies you can enjoy the visual pleasures of ‘Bangkok Now and Then’ on the funky Chao Phraya River Express Boat. Depending on whether you wish to take the slow or speedy express boat, well…that’s up to you. Now, there is just one part of the journey, from around Pinklao Bridge to Sathorn Bridge where the boat is completely packed out. Not just with local Thai folks, there is often a mob of beer-bellied bare-chested Farang guys stood at the back of the boat chugging away on their cigarettes and swigging a can of Beer Chang as if they were on the way to Koh Samui. Wouldn’t be too bad like if the guys could actually read; there are big signs in English that read “Please move inside the boat” and “No Smoking”. But then again, many tourists believe they can come to Thailand and get away with lotsa ho-bo behaviour which they couldn’t do back home. Getting off the boat is usually quite hazardous too, having not only to barge your way past sweaty chests you usually end up having to leap-frog from the still-moving boat on to the waiting platform – rather risky ordeal when it’s raining!

Then finally, there is the ‘Saen Saeb’ canal boat which runs the route all the way from just past The Mall Bangkapi in north-east, Bangkok, to The Golden Mount on Ratchdamnoern Road – via Pratunam Market. Quite a journey at something like 50 minutes in all, but if you were to make the journey by bus during peak time you would be looking at 3 hours in all. Great value at 15 baht, I think it still is. But once again, as travelling in Bangkok is, it is “fraught with eminent peril”. Not only are your ears at risk from blowing-up due to the noise of the canal’s boat engine, there are the occasional muddy waves that splash into the boat in the direction of your mouth! Should you ever have witnessed or tasted for yourself the water quality of Bangkok’s canals you will know what I mean! One gulp of that sordid stuff and you could be cutting short your vacation time on the islands and instead spending it in hospital.

Getting off and on one too is not for an amateur! While the boat is still bobbing around at the pier you will be expected to: jump on, cling to the rope at the side for dear life, tip-toe your way along the flimsy boat edge and finally pounce into an open seat. One slip dear readers and you’ll be soon falling into the abyss of a Bangkok canal; covered head to toe in garbage, you’ll be stinking of dead fish and sporting a used contraceptive stuck to your nose.

The Motorcycle (Taxi) Diaries

One time, as we were driving to Pattaya one evening, my friend hit a dog. The impact was surprisingly loud, but the dog got up and ran away. We wondered if it was hurt, and I couldn’t help but imagine that once it ran far enough into the woods, the pain of injury would catch up with it, and it would be left with a pathetic limp…or maybe it would just lie down and never get up again.


Living in Thailand for the past few years, I’ve encountered my fair share of minor mishaps. From getting stabbed in the knee by a bamboo meatball skewer to slipping on the rocks drunkenly trying to pee into the ocean on Samet island to the sharp edges and man-eaters at Mystique (RIP). Luckily, nothing serious every happened, leading me to suspect I am Unbreakable like Bruce Willis.

Anyone who has lived in muggy Bangkok knows that walking outside more than 100 meters involves sweating, exposure to pollution, twisted ankles on the uneven sidewalks, dodging stray doggy doo, and more sweating. For extended journeys, nothing beats the heat like the MRT subway and BTS Skytrain with their glorious meat-locker frigidity. But when you absolutely, positively gotta get somewhere fast, there is the ubiquitous motorcycle taxis, or the “Bangkok helicopter.”

I had to take a harrowing 45 minute journey from the rush-hour congestion of Lad Phrao road to the gridlock of Sukhumvit. After the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at Impact Arena, there were no available taxis back to civilization, but my friend the “taxi mo’cy'” was there for me. I’ve lost track how many hundreds of times I have ridden one, and I’ve gotten used to it to the point where I blithely send text messages en route. Sometimes my biggest concern riding pillion is how to prevent the wind (and those bothersome helmets) from ruining my coiffure. I know, I know…I sound like such a careless dandy.

Now, from my office to my apartment is a 2 kilometer, 6 minute, 30 baht ride. There was nothing out of the ordinary about yesterday when I flagged one down for a ride back home. The driver was a little unfamiliar with the route, so I had to tell him where to turn. As we approached one intersection, I told him he needed to make a right. He slowed, put on his turn signal and…

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Navigating Bangkok’s Rails and Rivers

It is essential for the 1st or 2nd time visitor to Bangkok to have a good map showing the Bkk Transit System (BTS) routes, as well as the public water taxi stops up and down the Chao Phraya River. Truly it’s the only way to stay somewhat sane when attempting to cross, or circumvent this vast air polluted city of eight million people. Forget tuk tuks and or taxi cabs as you will no doubt be stuck in a maddening traffic blood clot; unless only needing a short lift; even then sometimes it’s faster simply to walk. And if walking the streets of BKK for your initial explorations- be very careful when intersecting busy streets, as cars and trucks do not stop for you like back home, even if you’re within pedestrian crossings; and watch out for motor bikes going the wrong way on sidewalks too.

The sky train and underground systems generally run on time and are quite reliable; also they’re fully air conditioned, so it’s a good way to beat the sticky heat while crossing town. I enjoy the public river taxi for traversing between Th Sathon or Th Silom and China Town or Banglamphu. Cheapest transit in the city (15 Bt or less) and affords cooling breezes on the Man Nam Chao Phraya, and great temple and people watching. You can also make stops to cross to the other side to see Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), or hire a long tail boat to explore Klong Bangkok Noi or Klong Yai near Thonburi, or whatever else looks interesting or fun.

Recently, Lek (my Thai girlfriend of many yrs) and I got up early one Sunday morning and took the commuter train from Thonburi Wong Wian Yai station to Samut Sakhon (also known as Mahachai) – about an hour directly south of Bangkok. This one engine line is used exclusively by locals mainly as transport to the small farming communities which parallel the tracks, or as a connecter to the rail line continuing to the city of Samut Songkhram. Or to shop for fresh seafood in the sprawling markets of Mahachai where fishing trawlers come up from the Gulf; this was our plan.

The funky train was unexpectedly crowded as we rumbled over worn rails, and past dilapidated concrete and stucco apartment buildings, where smiling children loitered about the asphalt streets and dirt alleyways. Yet fifteen minutes down the line the terrain becomes surprisingly verdant and tropical with tall palms and giant elephant ears, the abundantly watered lowlands painted by lilies and lotus and other wild flowers, and occasional weathered wooden houses and platforms. These are the farmlands which provide vegetables and fruit for the markets and restaurants of Bangkok.

Finally we roll into Mahachai and the coach halts in the midst of a bustling grocery market place. We stroll past mountains of chilies, onions, ginger, and every kind of produce, and tables stacked with newly slaughtered pigs, chickens and beef; & all types of harvest from the rich Gulf of Siam. Lek is possessed and bartering with street vendors, buying plastic bags full of squid, crabs, clams, prawns and whole fish on ice.

Half hours later the whistle blows, and we dash past brightly painted fishing trawlers anchored at the dock, and board the train for our return to Thonburi. The scene inside the rail car is festive as Thais giggle over loads of fresh caught seafood and vegetables. The floor is slick with water from melting ice, and as the late morning heat comes on a fishy odor permeates the air. Lek is on her cell calling Mama and Aunts, informing them to ready the skillets and light the grill for the Sunday family feast.