As much as I love my job teaching English in Thailand, one of the best things about it is the three months’ holidays I get every year. I use this time to travel around Thailand or to neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.
My last trip was to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. I could have flown from Bangkok, the Thai capital where I work, for less than $100, but this time I wanted to try something different. So, I booked a sleeper ticket and readied myself for a 12-hour train journey.
The first big surprise of the trip was the ticket price. For both a seat and a lay-flat bunk which pulled down from the roof of the carriage I paid $26.
While waiting to depart, the porter told me in Thai that the train had a slight problem—it would be delayed for about 20 minutes. I’ve been in Thailand long enough to realize that a 20-minute delay can become a couple of hours, but this just isn’t as big a problem as it might be back home. Thai people do things at their own laid-back, relaxed pace and always with a smile on their face. They have a way of making the best of any situation. It’s a way of life I’m slowly coming around to. I wasn’t in a rush, I was sitting comfortably and it was a beautiful day outside. No big deal. I decided I’d pass the time with a few beers.
An hour or two had passed and the cold beers from the porter were going down nicely when a Thai nun sat down beside my empty beer cans and said hello. She was a very kind natured woman with a lot of stories to tell. She told me she was going up north to work at an orphanage and to help sick children. Buoyed by her enthusiasm (and possibly my own alcohol intake) I had soon volunteered to drop by the orphanage to give the children some English lessons during my stay.
When the train departed, we moved slowly out of Bangkok. Enterprising local women used the opportunity to walk up and down the carriages selling everything from Thai desserts to kites made from bamboo. They then politely step off the train when night falls and it comes time to sleep.
A porter tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was ready to sleep. He then arranged my bed with crisp, white sheets, fluffed my pillow and wished me a good night. You’ll find that in Thailand, you can often get first-class service at a tiny price.
The motion of the train quickly saw me off to sleep. I was so comfortable that I slept for a full seven hours.
Thai people like to wake up early and by 5.00 a.m. the carriage, and the world on the other side of the train’s windows, was coming to life. I could see the sun rising over glistening paddy fields and the silhouettes of water buffalo grazing lazily in the morning haze. I brushed my teeth while watching the farmers working the fields and tending their animals.
Whenever we stopped at a train station, local people would try to sell us food through the window. I bought an omelet with rice and a cup of coffee for about $1.50. The people sitting around me asked, “aroi mai?” (in Thai this means, “Is it delicious?”) When I told them it was, they smiled and hurried to the window to buy some before the train moved off again.
Thai people are some of the friendliest on earth and it was a great experience to travel with them on a long train journey. There’s so much to like about life in Thailand…from glistening golden temples to world-class white-sand beaches. But sometimes, it’s the simple things—like the fleeting connections you make with regular folks—that make the biggest impact on you.
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