March 4, 2013
A leisurely breakfast buffet at the hotel before checking out at midday. Since we’ll be taking the night train to Chiang Mai, a 17 hour ride, the last thing I feel like doing is running around Bangkok in the heat. I retire to the cool rooftop garden of the hotel to write the blogs that have piled up on me, while Christof goes out to look for some inexpensive backpacks. Panniers are designed to be hung on bicycles and make awkward travel luggage.
We spent a lot of time debating whether to take our bikes up north on the train, but should we decide to take a cheap flight down to the southern islands, they would become a costly impediment. For this reason we leave them boxed in the hotel storage room.
On the way to the station I buy the long-sleeved linen shirt John showed us a few days ago and because we want to upgrade our reservations (from a 2nd class sleeper to a 1st class one), we get there early. No luck! Every berth on the train is sold out, so we have to remain in two adjoining compartments. There are two bunk beds per compartment and because the lower ones are easy to get into and have a window view, they sell out first. We have the top bunks.
A 60-year-old American man has spread his belongings, two big suitcases and myriad garbage bags across both the seats and the luggage racks of Christof’s compartment, leaving no space for anything more. Apologetically he clears away one garbage bag so Christof can sit down, explaining that the reason he’s got so much stuff is because he’s moving to Chiang Mai. An older German couple sitting on the bench across from them follows their exchange with silent disapproval. The wife fulfills all clichés about Germans and older women. She is unfriendly and discourteous, opening her mouth only to issue complaints and defile the air of the compartment with unpleasant comments. Her husband, an easy going man, tries unsuccessfully to make up for her nastiness by outgoing friendliness.
I share a compartment with three Vietnamese doctors. Two older, smartly dressed men are sitting comfortably on the bottom bunks when I enter, but the moment the train leaves the station, they hang up their dress jackets, remove their shoes and stretch out for a nap. The third one is a dynamic young fellow dressed in jeans and a cap, who somehow manages to hop up onto the top bunk bed without using the ladder. He has already made up the bed I am booked for, and when he discovers his mistake, grins and hops over to the other bed which he, without a word of complaint, proceeds to make up.
40 Vietnamese doctors are on their way to Chiang Mai for a conference. By 10:00 p.m. everyone has retired to their bunks and drawn the golden curtains around them closed for privacy. The bunks are comfortable but the air conditioning is turned so low that the light sheet and thin blanket provide scant protection against the cold. Even after putting on all the clothes in my backpack, I can’t warm up enough to go to sleep.