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Chiang Mai to Ayutthaya by Train

Thai Tour: Day 4

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Portrait of Rama V at Chiang Mai Railway Station

Train 52 to Ayutthaya

The ticket cost around 800THB – a second class, air-conditioned sleeper carriage for the 680km journey from Chiang Mai to Ayutthaya. After yesterday’s morning with the monks at Wat Phra Singh, I’d said an emotional farewell to my trusty red devil before I was back in the back of another songthaew, choking on fumes on the way to the station to buy my ticket for today.

It was Tuesday. Train 52 was due to depart Chiang Mai at 17:30. I still had a good fifteen minutes as I dashed about the food stalls outside the station, stocking up on supplies for the journey ahead. We were on the last Bangkok-bound train of the day. All being well, we’d be in Ayutthaya by 06:00 the following morning.

It was mostly foreigners on the train – tourists heading back to Bangkok now that their Chiang Mai time was over. I could hear Chinese, German and Spanish. A French family was in the other carriage along with a couple of barefooted young Australians already trying to sleep. It was as if we’d been handed our own select few carriages to be pampered and waited on all the way south. It was everything I tried to avoid when I was travelling.

As soon as I’d found my seat and dumped my bags, I was up and exploring the rest of the train. It was pretty old-school as far as sleeper trains go. There were no compartments like on the Chinese trains I was used to. Indeed, there were no beds at all as yet. Two single seats (later to become the bottom bunk) faced each other on either side of the aisle, while above, the upper bunks were still stowed away, aeroplane cabin fashion, ready for later.

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“Like a dog in a car”. Hanging out on the way to Ayutthaya.

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Thailand’s old-school trains are great fun to ride

Photo Friends

Next door in the non-air conditioned carriage, the opened windows were providing their own blast of fresh air as we picked up speed outside Chiang Mai. Clackety-clacking our way south, the evening sun slanting through the open windows as the mountains rose in the distance, it was exactly how train travel should be. Why stay sealed in your own sub-zero capsule from beginning to end when you could be hanging out of an open window like a dog in a car, dodging oncoming signs with the wind in your face?

It was while engaged in such ill-advised behaviour that I was accosted by a grey-haired Korean gentleman intent on having me follow him through three carriages towards the dining car. He spoke no English whatsoever except the odd word and gesture, but we were soon through the restaurant and in the narrow corridor by the side of the kitchen.

I had no idea why he’d been so keen to bring me to this out-of-the-way little passage with no one else around. Maybe I didn’t want to know. But he was very excited by the whole adventure and he was soon pointing to the opened window, handing me his camera, and gesticulating at me to take his photograph as an onrushing bridge threatened to take his head off.

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New best friend?

It was all very jovial – he, as excited as a six year-old on his first train ride, not happy with my first efforts behind the camera and handing it back for me to try again, while I smiled my way through it, slowly realising the reason he was so keen to have me tag along. He did, to be fair, take a few photos of me, grinning like an idiot, with my own camera, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it.

After he’d checked his camera to make sure he’d got what he wanted, his brief wave and nod of half-arsed thanks let me know my services were no longer required. He then turned and headed back to his seat leaving me standing in the aisle wondering what to do next. Given my proximity to the kitchen, there was only one thing for it.

Some kind of chicken, some kind of curry, some kind of soup, with a couple of slices of pineapple on the side. It was as delightful as if I’d ordered it at the station café beforehand. Eating as the sun went down, rocking along unhurriedly. I almost wished we were going all the way to Singapore, heading down the coast towards the equator. But that was a journey for another summer.

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Thai train dinner … perfect!

9 hours, no sleep

By the time I got back to my own carriage, its transformation into a mobile dormitory was already well under way. It was a process that seemed far more labour intensive than it needed to be. First the bottom seats were pulled out to form the lower bunk, the top bed brought down, straps looped and tightened, mattresses unrolled, sheets unpacked, sheets put on beds, pillow cases unpacked, pillow cases put on pillows. Even then, there were still the curtains (one set for top, another for bottom) to be hooked onto rails and everything made neat and tidy. If the train had been full, the attendant slowly making his way down the aisle to complete this challenge would have been there all night.

It may have been lovingly prepared, but the night I spent in that bed was probably one of the least sound sleeps I’ve ever spent on a train. Wrapped in my thin, standard issue blanket, trying my best to keep out the air-con chill, it felt at times like I was sleeping in a washing machine such was the force of our rocking and rolling. It wasn’t just a little bumpy, this was full, Richter scale ordeal.

How many times I woke up during those nine hours I don’t know. It felt like every twenty minutes I was waking up having almost been thrown out of bed. But as the sun came up and we trundled on, we were almost in Ayutthaya.

Related Posts: Click tag: Thai Tour for more from my Thai Diaries.

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Nice bunk, terrible sleep

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