I left the boat in Rebak marina on the 16th December to travel up to see my friend in Pattaya, Thailand. I wondered how i would travel, fly/train/bus ? but had decided on the overnight train that comes up from Singapore all the way to Bangkok. The overnight train which included a sleeping berth only cost about 18 pounds for the 15 hour journey and i thought it would be far more interesting than a quick plane ride. I used a few methods to complete the trip though, from Rebak marina i got the shuttle ferry to Langkawi island, from the drop off point i got a taxi to the main ferry port where passenger ferries leave for the main land. After purchasing my ticket i waited for the next ferry to take me to Kuala Perlis on the main land. After a refreshment stop i got in a taxi to take me to the train station, a beaten up old Proton with a damaged seat belt, broken door lock and non functioning window mechanism took me there in style. Its times like these that you do actually appreciate all the safety checks/regimes we have to go through back in Europe to make us safe on the roads, vehicles out here in Asia are appalling !! The taxi somehow got me to the train station, over 20 kms away but only a 4 pound fare. I suppose with prices like that they can’t really afford new vehicles every few years !! When i reserved the ticket i was told to turn up at the station at least by 3 o’clock (for the 5.25 p.m. train) to confirm and purchase my reservation. I was there at about 2 o’clock only to see a sign at the ticket office ‘Closed for lunch between 2 and 4, please come back later’. This sort of thing happens all the time in Asia though, a lack of communication between people, a sense of unurgency about everything that happens, you just have to accept and live with it. Worried my reservation might be given to somebody else i went and found somebody who smiled at me a lot and confirmed that yes, the ticket office was indeed closed for a while yet. I went and found some food for a while and then kicked my heels back at the train station. A little after 4 the ticket booth opend up and everything was ok, ticket purchased.
The train came in and i boarded my carriage, the train was very clean and i was surprised by thd standard, i was told not to go first class as it wasn’t worth the extra money, 2nd class was fine which it was.
The train stopped at the border about an hour after we left and we all got off the train, we went through immigration to leave Malaysia and then joined another queue to go through immigration and customes to enter Thailand. It was all fairly quick and we were back on the train within half an hour or so. Whilst we were waiting to go local people bordered the train selling lots of food and beverages which i thought was odd as the train had a buffet cart and a women came round asking you whether you would like to order anything !
One thing about the Asian people is they love their food, they never seem to be far away from it and you can always find something to eat on any street you are in. I was amazed at how much food people had brought onto the train, there were bags of the stuff, not just the normal biscuits and crisps which most people would take but all sorts. They had boxes which contained chicken, fish, rice, salad, sauces, everything you would have at home or in a restsurant they would bring with them.
A bit later in the evening and the porter turned up making the seating into sleeping berths, people got into their bunks and pulled the curtains and the train became a lot quieter. It was a good journey through the night although the carriage lights stayed on so it was a bit difficult to know when it was morning. Around 8 a.m. the porter came back and put away the bedding and made the seats back to how they were. Some people shuffled around and an elderly chap who i had seen the evening before came and sat opposite me. I thought he looked a bit German/Austrian/Swiss looking but he sat there reading a book in English. I asked him if he had done this trip before, ‘Many times’ he said, we started chatted and he was a bit of an expert on the Thai train lines ! He said he travelled during the winter times to escape the harsh weather of southern Germany, he would spend 5 months travelling around Asia so knew Thailand/Malaysia/Laos very well. Either side of this period he spent 2 months of the spring in Crete and 2 months of the autumn in Crete, i guess that only left him a little time in Germany when it may have been warm enough to go home. He was a very interesting man and he became my very own tour guide, everytime we pulled into another train station he would tell me a little about the place as it seems he had stopped off at most places over the years. I was trying to work out how old he was and how long he had been travelling for as he seemed quite experienced although he said he only travelled for fun/holidays never for work.
Later on he said he was 76, i wondered whether he was worried about getting old so thats why he was travelling all the time trying to crame so much in. A bit later we were talking about the economy/pensions (amongst all sorts of other things) and he started talking about how his mother lived until she was over 100 and other members of the family had done the same. He looked well for his age and i knew he would be travelling his favourite route and routine for years to come.
The train made another quick stop and he dashed out onto the platform for another cigarette……………….On one of his more recent trips he told me how he had visited the UK as he was interested to see how we were coping in the current financial climate. He had flown to Dublin, visited Belfast, went to Liverpool, then places likd Sheffield, Bradford, Leeds, across to Hull, Scarborough – everywhere !! I guess he just went wherever he fancied whenever he fancied, i hope i’m still like that when i’m 76 !
When the train arrived at Bangkok he was getting another overnight train up to Chiang Rai and stay there for a month. I was going upto Chiang Rai in the New Year and i hoped to bump into him again.
The train pulled into Bangkok station and we said our goodbyes. The station itself is huge and very elaborate inside, my journey started again and i got the underground overground train a few stops then changed to the underground underground train for a few stops. I arrived at Ekkamai bus depot and bought my ticket for Pattaya. Not too much of a wait and i was off on what should have been a 1 1/2 hour trip. Much traffic later and 3 hours i arrived at Pattaya bus station, my mate Roger was there to meet me in his pickup. So 2 ferrys, 2 taxis, 3 trains, 1 bus ride, 1 border crossing and a lift in a pick up truck i had made it to my friends house.
Roger had moved out to Thailand about 8 years ago due to failing health, he loved the place anyway and being in a warmer climate had helped him enormously. He soon got me into playing for many darts teams and showing me around the place. I soon met up with one of Rogers oldest friends in Thailand Alan, i had met Alan last time i was here, it was his 50th birthday on the day i landed and i was invited to his party. This time he came up trumps again and invited me to Christmas dinner, we had roast dinner in the garden with all the trimmings, yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, gravy, mince pies later, all cooked by his wife Noi. It was a nice day out, odd sitting in the garden in your shorts and t-shirts on Christmas day though especially when i knew the UK was getting a battering with strong winds and rain.
I met a few more of Rogers friends and we did a few days out sightseeing, a day at the beach, a day visiting temples, a day at Nong Nooch Gardens (they have won the Chelsea flower show the last two years running). There was a lot more to see than just the gardens though, a cultural show with genuine Thai dancers and an elephant show straight afterwards, a great place to visit.