Before I left the U.S., I booked my train ticket from Chaing Mai to Bangkok because I had read that the train can fill up in the busy season. It was early morning, and the train would take ten and a half hours to arrive in Bangkok. I was in a hurry leaving my Airbnb and quickly ordered a Grab (similar to Uber).
Halfway into my Grab ride, I realized I still had the key to the apartment. Crap! I messaged the owner and explained that I forgot to put the key in the mailbox in the lobby like I was instructed, but I was now en route to the train station. The owner was kind and brainstormed with me on how I could get the key back. We decided that I would drop it off in the lobby of the hotel across the street from the train station. I had to go there to pick up my tickets anyway.
I arrived at the upscale front desk looking like a disaster. Flustered and out of breath after carrying my bags up the stairs, I frantically told them what happened and asked for an envelope. The two women behind the desk didn’t speak much English, but eventually, I was able to use Google Translate to get an envelope. I put the key inside with some money for their trouble and wrote the owner’s name on the outside. I tried my best to explain to the women that they needed to hold the envelope for the owner, who would pick it up shortly.
I messaged the owner to let them know the key was at the front desk. I was relieved when they messaged back a few hours later, saying they were able to pick up the key and thanked me for the money.
I quickly walked across the street, found my train, and boarded like the usual hurricane that I tend to look like when traveling in a hurry. I’ve taken many trains in Europe over the years, and I’ve loved them. I’ve found them to be comfortable, spacious, and provide beautiful views of the countryside.
When I boarded the train in Thailand, I couldn’t find space for my suitcase. I’m used to trains having a small section near the doors for large suitcases. There was the typical overhead space, but my suitcase was far too big and heavy to put there. I rolled my suitcase to the other door, and there wasn’t space there either. I flagged down a woman who worked there and asked where I should put my suitcase. She shoved it in a small space behind someone’s seat on the end. It seemed to be ok, so I put my backpack above my seat and sat down.
The train was scheduled to leave at 8:50 am, but it left about ten minutes late. It was full, and I was glad that I bought a ticket in the air-conditioned car in advance. I looked around, and I was one of three non-Asian people. The train carried mostly locals, who seemed puzzled as to why I was there. Across from me was a retired couple from the U.K. After an hour, we chatted for a bit. The man told me that they were traveling for a few weeks around Thailand. I told him about my travels and that Vietnam was my next destination. The couple had gone there six years ago. We talked about the war with America, and he recommended that I watch a documentary about its history.
The couple got off the train in a small town, so we wished each other well. The train often stopped in small towns for pick-ups and drop-offs. While the towns are larger than the villages that I visited in the northern mountains, they aren’t nearly as large as Chaing Mai. They were good mid-size cities. The countryside was stunning – all green rolling hills and farmland.
When I booked the train the month before, I read online that the trains are often delayed. The website warned of not booking a flight within less than five hours after the train was scheduled to arrive. I figured out why. The train would frequently go back to make room for an oncoming train. This was often just after we left the station. Sometimes we went backward or stopped for ten minutes. Other times we went backward or stopped for at least 20 minutes.
I went to use the restroom onboard and was extremely disappointed when I saw a squat toilet. I checked the other toilet to see if there was a sit-down toilet in there. Nope, another squat toilet. If you’ve never seen a squat toilet, it is a hole in the ground with a metal plate around it, like a pan. I am tall and cannot squat that low, so I did my best to aim correctly. The train was bumpy and swayed side-to-side, adding to the difficulty. I was grateful that I always carried a small pouch of tissues in my purse and hand sanitizer. I decided I would limit how much I drank in an attempt to avoid having to use the squat toilet again.
For lunch, the crew came around and served small plastic containers with fish that were like sardines. It was dry and hard to eat. I didn’t want to be rude, so I ate as much as I could. Luckily the rice wasn’t bad. I’m not used to eating fish like that, and it made my stomach turn. I ate my protein bar to help fill me up.
Mosquitos flew around the train from time to time. I never heard any announcement for a cafe car and all of the locals had their own food, so I didn’t try to find one. They all seemed to have this ten and a half-hour train ride down. The old woman next to me tied a plastic bag to the bar near her and used it as a trash bag. She had lots of snacks and food in plastic containers.
We didn’t talk because she didn’t speak English, but I dropped my snack at one point, and she picked it up. I thought she seemed nice. That is until she asked me to move seats. Several hours had gone by, and there was now an empty seat across the aisle. I knew someone would eventually get on, but the woman was pointing forcefully, so I moved over.
Sure enough, someone got on the train an hour later and asked for their seat, so I moved back to my seat. The woman got off the train at around 4:30 pm, and a chubby guy sat down instead, making me feel squished. I spent most of the time on the train listening to my music and writing on my iPad mini to catch up on my blog.
We arrived in Bangkok two and a half hours late, getting in close to 10:00 pm. I normally like trains, but this train was not enjoyable. I did get to see the countryside, but it was a very long day on a bumpy, mosquito-filled train with not much to eat. I decided trains were not a good option in Thailand.
As I was waiting to get off the train, I stood in the aisle with my suitcase. A man near me asked, “Where are you from?” I replied, “The U.S.” His face lit up, “Oh! USA, baby!!” I laughed. He continued in his limited English, “Trump! I like him. USA number one. That’s how it should be. My sister is married to an American.” I just smiled and nodded and then got off the train.
I ordered a Grab to my Airbnb. As we drove on the highway, I could see all of the high-rise buildings, which was very different than Chaing Mai. I was sitting in the back seat and looking out the front window watching a guy on a motorbike drive in front of us. All of a sudden, there were emergency lights redirecting traffic. My Grab driver and I watched in horror as the man in front of us zigzagged, swerved, and eventually hit the car coming onto the highway.
We both gasped and were concerned for the driver. There were already emergency personnel there, and thankfully he wasn’t going too fast, so we continued on.
I arrived at my Airbnb, which was a four-story narrow house connected to many other houses. I followed the instructions and got the key from the lockbox. The first level looked like a business with glass windows, workout equipment, and random stuff sitting around. I took off my shoes and carried my bags up three flights of stairs. My room was labeled, and it appeared several rooms were rented out.
The room was large, with a private bathroom and a small balcony. I was happy to have a small kitchenette, even though it was on the balcony. It had air conditioning, a TV with Netflix, and it was a comfortable space. The bed was hard, as was pretty much every bed in Thailand. I was exhausted from the day and went to bed right away. I knew Bangkok was a large city, so I was interested to see how it differed from Chaing Mai.
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Yikes! There is no way I could use the squat toilet 🥴
Yeah, it’s not easy!