This captures exactly what a dance party on a train feels like.
After two days and nights, I’m halfway to Singapore, with two night trains on the Malaysia side to follow. In the layovers we’ve scouted out famous street food vendors in Bangkok, observed preparations for an urban monk pilgrimage, discovered that Forever 21 is twice as expensive in Thailand, despite lots of the clothing being made in Southeast Asia, and walked around a smaller Thai city that feels more foreign than any other place I’ve been.
People have been doing double takes at us all day. We must look strange, two sweating white people standing around looking lost in a place more designed for Malaysian tourists than the Western variety. It’s actually nice; I love Chiang Mai, but it’s saturated with expats. It’s too easy to grab pizza and see a movie in English. Likewise, it’s easy for locals in Chiang Mai to dismiss us as tourists. After four months, the man at the beer store finally asked Andy if we lived here. There’s not a lot of curiosity about farang in Chiang Mai.
Dining car #2. It’s impossible to get a clear iPhone picture with all the movement.
So now we’re sitting here in this coffee shop south of Bangkok without English menus. I feel an urge to cling to my seat, as my muscles hold on to the memory of the train. It’s like that Joe Lewis quote, “You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.” Replace “drunk” with “train traveled” and the idea applies to me right now. It feels better if I rock myself, but to do that would be to appear as drunk as my coordination feels.
I’m getting more and more convinced that train travel is a great way to see and understand a place. Between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, we stumbled into a tour group of retired Dutch folks having a dance party in the dining car, which was one of the more absurd moments of my life. When those folks went to bed, the younger travelers came out, as did the 2000-era ballad mix…and a microphone.
Singing Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” in a dining car speeding through Thailand wasn’t on my bucket list before, but I’d like to add it in retroactively for the satisfaction of crossing it off. I cannot find the words to describe how terrible I probably sounded. I don’t know song lyrics, and it wasn’t a proper karaoke machine.
Last night, we were the only farang in the dining car, but when we started playing Texas Hold ‘Em with bobby pin poker chips, we won a few Thai friends and generated great interest. That would never happen on an airplane, nor on a bus.
2nd class sleeper.
I don’t mean to glamorize train travel too much; it’s certainly rather dirty and loud. It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep with the constant stopping, starting, and snoring. And just when I’d finally mastered the squatter toilets, a train in motion throws me right back to beginner status. Generally, the food is terrible and over-priced. When you get a meal that’s not completely disappointing, it’s win. The trains generally arrive at their destination early in the morning, but not on time. It’s hard to relax when you don’t know how long you have to lie down or sleep before disembarking.
That being said, there still is a bit of romanticism to the affair. Watching the scenery roll by and the steady chug of the engine still have some charm, even if the bathroom is disgusting. Traveling slowly with stopovers long enough to explore a new place appeals to me, as does having the chance to actually interact with fellow travelers, local and foreign. You can’t get that from an airplane.
- Buying Train Tickets - How to Book Train Tickets in Thailand Without Losing Your Mind
- Chiang Mai to Bangkok - Train Legs
- Bangkok to Hat Yai - The South
- Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur - Derailed
- Kuala Lumpur to Singapore - Destination KL, I<3 KL
- Getting Into Singapore - The Part No One Tells You: Getting to Singapore’s MRT from theTrain Station is Hard
Hi! I'm Susan, and this is my travel journal. You can read more about me here.
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