A lazy departure from Bangkok

Andrew in 3rd class seatingLooking out the back of the trainWhen we first began our journey, some 22 months ago, we were determined to cycle every last mile. Something has changed since then. Worn down by the road? Perhaps a little bit. Getting lazier? Almost definitely a factor. We prefer to think of it as quality over quantity. Could we have ridden out of Thailand`s capital? Of course. But we couldn`t really convince ourselves to take on the challenge of fighting heavy traffic and polluted air when a train would do the job so much more quickly and painlessly.

Sweat just for the sake of it doesn`t appeal to us anymore. Goodness knows we`re going to be sweaty enough over the coming weeks cycling through hot and humid Southeast Asia.

We navigated the city streets to the main station easily – bless the Thai drivers who are eternally polite and easy to get along with – and bought a ticket within minutes for the grand sum of 15 Baht. That`s just under $0.50 cents for a ride an hour up the line. Our decision to take the train was looking even wiser. Tickets in hand, we rolled past a string of ladies cutting hair to the end of platform 10 where a woman sat in a booth, waiting to sell us a cargo ticket for the bicycles. We were a bit surprised when the cost of taking our bikes worked out to six times as much as our seats but we couldn`t complain when the total barely came to $7 U.S. for everything.

Two happy station workers even laughed and joked with us as they helped us lift our bikes up the steep steps and into the impossibly narrow aisle of the train carriage. “No problem,” one of them seemed to be saying as he grabbed one of our bungee cords, lifted Andrew’s bike onto its back wheel and quickly strapped it vertically into position. “He’s done this before,” we thought as we watched him use a creative combination of train door hinges and our bottle racks to make sure the bike was tightly secured. What service.

Soon we were chugging our way towards Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand and renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its many temples. But before we got there it was the train that caught our attention. We were in the last carriage. Our third class seating came with simple wooden benches, surprisingly comfortably despite their spartan appearance, and at the back we could stand in the fresh air on a little balcony, letting the wind ruffle our hair. We took some pictures, munched on the fruit we’d bought by the platform in Bangkok and watched the city disappear behind us.

By the time we arrived in Ayutthaya we were very relaxed and it didn’t take us long to settle into a room in one of the many backpacker havens. Every luxury can be enjoyed here. Clean accomodation, with air conditioning if you like. Thai and western food in the trendy restaurant. A foot or back massage, sir? Wireless internet. Plenty of English speaking staff.

It’s both wonderful and slightly disconcerting after so long in relative obscurity. We are revelling in the ease of it all and yet in some ways also missing the challenge. Trying to get to know local people is harder than it`s been in some months because the Thais are understandably accustomed to tourists arriving in their thousands. Having said that, we can’t help but fail to be impressed by their continually cheery dispositions and we’ve yet to feel overcharged in a shop or market – something we’re told is common in nearby Vietnam.

It’s a credit to the Thai people that they welcome so many visitors far richer than themselves every year and at the same time have failed to develop the ‘cash cow’ mentality and aggressive salesmanship we’ve seen in other countries. We are looking forward to our exploration of Thailand, which should start in a couple days as we pedal towards the Khao Yai national park and the border areas near Cambodia.

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    4th July 2008 at 6:39 am #

    By chance I was watching a program on TV last night….supposedly about a “backpacker” touring Thailand. One of the places he visited had many, many temples; it might well have been where you are headed. Later he was on an island that has been turned into a real tourist trap.

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