Chumphon to Bangkok by Train
Two hours late. I suppose that is an acceptable delay to wait for a train in Thailand. In fact, it’s probably pretty good! Even though it was now 1:30 in the morning at a somewhat isolated train station in Chumphon, there was a hive of activity from all kinds of vendors, selling anything you could possibly desire to the hordes of patiently-waiting locals.
Our decision to catch the train rather than a bus from Chumphon, in the South of Thailand, to Bangkok, was based on the reasoning that we had never caught a long distance train before. It was a massive 100 baht ($3.50) more expensive than the overnight bus, but we had a bed with a fan! Sold!
Although we love to travel in the same way that the locals do, for the sake of a few dollars, and a massive increase in our comfort levels, we opted to take a shared sleeper cabin instead of the hard, upright seats that most of the natives choose. That being said, we couldn’t justify forking out another $7 to have one with air con, or another $7 on top of that for our own private cabin, so second class sleeper with fan it was!
As the ageing train finally chugged its way into the terminal, we watched the majority of the foreigners move towards the air conditioned carriages, while we were ushered towards the back. A friendly train employee showed us to our bunk beds (both upper level. The kids in us have never changed!), and we dumped our bags at our feet and passed out before the train had even left Chumphon.
I was woken by Lesh at about 8am, who told me they were packing away our beds. Still in a daze from being jostled during the rapid-eye-movement stage of my sleep pattern, I poked my head out from behind my little curtain and was instantly greeted by a smiling Thai who sang the words, “good morning” to me in a bubbly tone. I answered him back good morning, and asked him how he was in my very limited knowledge of Thai, and he became even happier! Well, if this guy was so cheerful, I had better wake up and match his exuberance!
While I was rearranging my belongings so I could vacate my top bunk, a few of the Thais who we were sharing the carriage with changed seats so that Lesh and I could sit together and admire the view outside the window. We thanked them and moved to the chairs to while away the rest of the journey. The employee who had greeted me earlier grabbed the sheets off of my bunk while whistling an unknown tune, and with a quick push, returned the bed to its storage space and provided us with a lot more headroom.
We had naively purchased some over-priced, packaged food at the station thinking we might not be able to find food on board. We should of known from our Central American backpacking voyage that you can buy just about anything you could possibly imagine on public transport, and Asia was going to prove to be no different. Throngs of vendors cruised up and down the aisle selling food, drink, medicine, toiletries and anything else you would require.
Before we had a chance to purchase something for ourselves, an elderly man across from us bought two styrofoam containers full of noodles and offered them to us. We graciously accepted, and when I pulled out my wallet to reimburse him for his kind gift, he laughed at us and refused our money. Such a generous act from a man who we had never met before touched our hearts, and we thanked him profusely.
To return the favour, when a lady walked past selling mangoes, we secretly bought an extra bag and placed it in front of him. He thanked us, and continued on with his breakfast. 5 minutes later, as we were finishing up our food, he appeared again with some fruit we had never seen before, demonstrated to us how to eat it, then left the stalk and all it’s sweet, delicious seeds for us to consume. This was starting to turn into a game! We sent coffee his way, and he countered with juice. And so the game would continue.
Everyone who passed us while we were sitting in our little chairs, staring out at the passing scenery, stopped and greeted us and began talking in their local tongue. When they realised we couldn’t continue with a serious conversation, they wished us well and moved on, smiling. Such friendly people!
Before we knew it, the elderly man appeared again, this time with a photo album. He took great pride in showing us pictures from his family vacation to Phuket, proudly pointing out his beautiful wife and handsome kids. We showed him images of our family back home and felt like we were now becoming the best of friends. He explained with hand signals and drawings of how he used to work on the train line for 23 years, and that now he gets to ride the train for free to anywhere in Thailand. He felt quite honoured by this, and seemed to make an announcement to the rest of the passengers that he was an ex-train employee. My newly-acquired knowledge of the Thai numbers allowed me to learn his age of 80, and we were impressed by his strong stature for a man who was of such an age.
In between our chats with our new friend, the other passengers periodically popped their heads in to let us know how many stops we had until we reached our final destination of Bangkok. They would smile, hold their hands together and bow to us in the traditional “wai” greeting, we would do the same in return, and they would vanish into the other cabins.
While all the friendly banter was going on around us, the landscape outside the window began to change from lush farmlands to suburbs and then eventually to the cityscape. The singing employee from the morning quickly appeared from nowhere and cheerfully announced that we would be arriving in the “Big Mango” in a few minutes, wished us safe travels, and continued on with his duties.
Upon reaching Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok, we waited for most of the other passengers to alight before we stepped out from the carriage. As we were waiting, every single local person who we had seen or met during our journey approached us and wished us an enjoyable stay in their country. The sincere friendliness of the Thai people had shone through so strong that what was meant to be a simple train ride from point A to point B resulted in what will become a lasting memory of the power of human interactions. Even with a large communication barrier and cultural differences, we felt we had made a connection with many of the people on board, and especially with our elderly Thai companion.
Our first long-distance train ride will not be our last. But now they have high expectations to meet!