At Surat Thani train station in the south of Thailand there is a big board like the one in the Eurovision Song Contest. Contestants are the trains and the score is the number of minutes delay. We were winning most of the evening on Rapid 20.14 until overtaken by a late starter on the Rapid 21.26. The kids here are discussing voting tactics.
But the 4 hour delay was quite good fun. We met lots of fellow travellers. There was a couple who had a toddler who must have been born “on the road”, and what a gorgeous contented wee soul he was, wearing the smallest crocs I have ever seen. A lovely Canadian couple popping over the border for a few days out and back into Thailand to renew their 30 day visa which was on day 29. A slightly odd German pensioner with very wobbly dentures who spent 5 months each year over the winter in Asia to reduce his fuel bills. He was a bit odd only because he sidled up to us and after asking whether Neil wanted to see his new girlfriend he flashed up a picture on his IPhone of them both naked and smiling. Clearly very proud. And the Russian woman in her 30s with a young son who looked a bit panic struck at the thought of spending the night in the station. She said most of the people she had met on Ko Samui were Russian and had second homes there.
Then there was the circle of aged 20-something backpackers with their rucksacks piled in the middle of the circle. They had obviously all just met and were sussing each other out carefully. The last time Neil and I were in Surat Thani we were exactly the same age, with exactly the same crammed rucksacks.
20 years ago, there was a reason for our rucksacks to be crammed. Our video camera was the size of a microwave. There were lots of differences back then when I think about it (not that I feel old). There was no internet. There were no mobile phones – or at least we didn’t have one. We kept in touch by writing letters and postcards, making the odd phone call, and we got replies by fixing up a poste restante box at a post office we knew we’d be passing in the next few weeks. We had to actually go into a travel agent or ticket office to buy a ticket, and to check the best prices we had to go into ALL the travel agents and ticket offices.
Ko Samui wasn’t a disappointment second time round. But I think that’s because we were on the quiet side of the island. We were told there are now 7 hospitals, shopping malls, an airport, and elephants (for the tourists). We saw none of that. There is an airport now being built on the next island along, Ko Phangan. It’s really like The Beach book/film – everyone is searching for the next undiscovered island along.
No one was complaining in the train station that night either because the food market was just along the road – we bought enough pineapple, fried rice and chicken to last a month. Or the duration of the delay as it turned out. Apart from being delicious and cheap, it was an evening’s entertainment in itself watching the scooters with 2 or 3 people on them (and possibly a toddler at the front) drive right up to the stalls to place their order. A Thai take on a drive through.
The trains that passed were packed. We heard that everyone was heading up to Bangkok to join the anti or pro government demonstrations (probably not in the same carriage). As each train pulled up, football rattles whirred, music blared, and food and drinks were sold to the passengers through the windows. Then the bell was rung by the train guard and off they went. Finally with us on board too.
This is the view at sunrise from the train over the paddy fields (windows of train a bit dirty). It’s a really comfy sleep on the train if a little bumpy. We were in the last carriage and it felt a bit like we were bouncing along the track.
When we got back to Bangkok, Matt went out with Connor and his friends to the new Hunger Games film. Vicki and I dropped Matt off – we were late with the train delay – and I had my first experience of LADY PARKING.
Now, as we drove into the car park and saw the signs for LADY PARKING on the first (and a half?) floor I had no idea what to expect. On so many levels I found the whole idea very strange. Was it divided into 3 enormous spaces with cushions round the edges? Did you pull up, hands in the air, and say, all flappy, “Help, I can’t do it”? Was it for safety? Whose? Was it to attract customers (the entire level is pink)?
As it turned out, LADY PARKING is a bit like normal parking, but pink and very close to the shops, with someone to guide you should you require – Vicki managed perfectly well without, and what’s more, into an “internal” space.
An internal space is one where cars block you in from all angles, but the cars on the outside have to leave their brakes off. So you can legitimately PUSH them out the way. There’s something fun about pushing someone’s else’s fancy car towards someone else’s fancy car with only a tiny difference in momentum between no bump and a massive insurance claim. THAT’S why Vicki parked in an internal space. She is a hardy driver full stop taking on the crazy tuk-tuks and songthaew and scooters of Bangkok.
We had chance today to have a little wander round the area to the north of the city centre where we are staying. We got on the wrong songthaew. Not our normal circular route songthaew, but an east to west one. They looked the same. After we had perched in the back, from east to west, then back west to east, then back again east to west, the driver got out and came round the back to find out what was wrong. His wife stayed in the front eating a big bowl of noodles. He drove us to the right point on the east/west route that we should be getting off and waved us off without accepting any payment. Farang!
It’s been another flying visit to Bangkok, we are off now to Chiang Mai in the north. A big thank you to Lee for driving us to the station in rush hour. We arrived in plenty time and made the very most of the 8 seconds before the train left. We are due you a beer Lee on our return 🙂