Blog // Tales from the trail

28 Nov

Night Train Express, Malaysia

By Keith

Still unsure why we hadn't quite been able to find any sensible (or indeed any sensibly priced) flying-shortcuts, or quite how we'd managed to find ourselves at a border town (with Laos) in the north of Thailand when our planned exit was Malaysia, we tried to turn our mind to more positive matters as we bounced along on the 5 hour bus ride from Chiang Khong back to Chiang Mai.

The first of these were our brunch plans upon arrival, and now being very familiar with the city, we wasted no time in heading straight for our favourite coffee shop for some delicious tucker.

A brief

A brief 'Cubano' stop in Chiang Mai

Bellies full in anticipation of the long night train down to Bangkok, we felt it only fitting to have a farewell Thai massage to iron out the creases before an uncomfortable journey. Although in fairness, in spite of an over-enthusiastic air-conditioning system, it was a relatively smooth and relaxed way to travel.

The cool-carriage on the night train

The cool-carriage on the night train

Corallie waking up to a fresh new day

Corallie waking up to a fresh new day

Cruising into Bangkok the following morning reminded us again that despite the good times we had in the north, Thailand is far from poverty-free as the ill-maintained railway rumbled through the slums on the outskirts of town at a near-crawling pace; some shacks within touching distance of the train on one side (and facing an open canal-cum-sewer on the other). Also despite being the main rail-link into the capital, in terms of safe and efficient city infrastructure, it was some way off the mark.

A monk, waiting for what we weren

A monk, waiting for what we weren't sure

Graffiti on the way into Bangkok

Graffiti on the way into Bangkok

Still it was a passing visit and perhaps one subject to my grumpy morning wrath, which quickly passed after we took advantage of the fortunate coincidence of Mother Looie being in town with 'the girls' and in particular their hotel rooms for a quick and very refreshing shower before breakfast.

Breakfast with Mother Looie

Breakfast with Mother Looie

Also my friend Ian was in town and continuing with our food-stop theme, we met up for a coffee and late lunch before heading back to the train station to take another night time, this time bound for Malaysia (and us better prepared with warm clothes to hand)!

Somewhere in the middle of the following morning we rolled through an area flanked with barbed-wire and into a swish looking station. We were duly informed to leave with our bags and passports at the ready, as the station appeared to double up as a border post. Entering through a pair of large sliding doors, before we knew it, we had been stamped out of Thailand, into Malaysia and were back standing on the very same platform, ready to board our train (which was now missing five carriages - where did they go?!?) into Malaysia.

First impressions we find count for a lot, be it friendly border staff (nor the requirement to duplicate your passport details on a tiny immigration slip) or just leaving what felt like a third world railway and out onto smooth, ballasted tracks, properly fenced and segregated from the residential areas. Nevertheless, we were whizzed down so fast we nearly missed our stop into Sungai Petani - flinging our bags and ourselves out onto the waiting platform just in time.

And so 48 hours of public transport later we'd made it to our first stop in Malaysia. And as we sat waiting on the station steps a well-worn Mitsubishi rocked up - Fred and Xin had arrived! Fred, a friend we made on our permaculture course and Xin, the niece of the family residing at Serkum Farm to which we were heading; together they have been transforming a traditional chicken farm into a self-sustaining organic eco-farm. We were not really sure what was in store or how we would be contributing but we were quite happy to bunk down in one spot for a while and be useful!

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