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Mission accomplished...

...and off to Chiang Mai

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WOO-HOO: We have some very pretty Indian visas glued into our passports. We picked them up yesterday and still can’t quite believe they’re in there, but they are—and valid for a full six months for multiple entries.

We seem to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time (or maybe not, depending on how you look at it): Although we’re now in Chiang Mai, we spent the past couple of days in Kanchanaburi. We got to Kanchanaburi by third-class (local) train, which was interesting and efficient. Ciaran met a Thai family with three kids on board and spent most of the three-hour trip playing with them. It was all good, so we were planning to return to Bangkok the same way yesterday. At the last minute, we decided to take a minibus instead (long story). This morning, I opened up the Bangkok Post to read that yesterday, the Kanchanaburi train derailed. Four cars followed the locomotive off the tracks, with 280 mostly foreign passengers on board. Luckily, it sounds like there were no fatalities or serious injuries. Apparently this is the second such accident on that line this month.

Actually, yesterday was an interesting and busy experience in all forms of Thai transportation:

    First thing in the morning, board minivan from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok.
    By noon, arrive in an unknown area of the Banglamphu district of Bangkok. Whisk all bags to sidewalk, dive back into traffic to flag down a metered taxi.
    Pile bags into trunk of metered taxi and drive to Hualamphong train station near Chinatown to drop into the travel agency that booked our train tickets so we can pick up the tickets and leave our baggage there for the day.
    Take the MRT (metro) from Hualamphong to the nearest Skytrain station.
    Take the Skytrain to Siam Paragon in modern Bangkok to be mall rats for a few air-conditioned hours. Discover Kinokuniya, a gigantic bookstore, where Ciaran sprawls on the ground with comic books for an hour and Chloe meets a Thai girl in the juvenile section.
    Take Skytrain to Asoke station by 4 p.m., alight and make our way back to the Indian visa processing centre.
    Pick up passports with visas, do victory dance.
    Hop the metro back to travel agency near Hualamphong train station to pick up left luggage. Notice that most staff members, still uniformed and sitting at desks behind computer screens, are now drinking whiskey on ice with lemon wedges in fancy champagne glasses.
    Just after 7 p.m., board overnight sleeper train for the 14-hour trip north to Chiang Mai.
    This morning around 10 a.m., arrive in Chiang Mai and negotiate a cab to our hotel.

Whew. Not as difficult as it might sound, but busy, and always interesting to be homeless for 24 hours in Bangkok with the kids in tow.

The kids are amazing little troopers who thought sleeping on the train was marvellous. They watched with interest as the train attendant worked his way down the aisle making up the beds for the evening with clean sheets, pillowcases and white blankets, then got into their beds and promptly fell asleep. I, on the other hand, climbed into my bunk and got absolutely no sleep at all. The fluorescent lights remained on all night long, and if you’re imagining a Via train gliding softly north in the quiet darkness, think again—this old, narrow-gauge train lurched and thumped and squealed and rocked its way along, speeding up, slowing down and coming to sudden shuddering stops for no apparent reason. I was convinced that if I fell asleep, I might be thrown bodily off my bunk during one of many curves.

We had pre-ordered some breakfast, but not much, and were glad we’d been cheap: I don’t know when I’ve ever seen anything less appealing. Cold toast on a Styrofoam plate sealed with plastic wrap so that it was also soft, and a brownish, unappealing chunk of pineapple beside it. The coffee was shockingly bitter. The kids were happy, though, because the night before I’d stocked up on croissants and orange juice just outside the train station.

I thought the kids might object to the toilets on board—typical Asian squat numbers that empty directly onto the tracks, so you can see the tracks racing by underneath you through the hole while you’re in there—but Ciaran thought they were just the bomb and is planning to write to his teacher about them. Chloe’s attitude was purely philosophical: if this is how it has to be, bring it on, but please tell me there’s something better around the corner.

The first thing we did upon checking into the hotel here in Chiang Mai was temporarily lose Ciaran. He grabbed a deck of cards and fled the room. We fanned out looking for him, briefly panicked (me anyway), only to find him lounging in the restaurant area, where someone had set him up with a tall glass of cold water and some cookies. He was playing solitaire.

Posted by The Rymans 03:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged family_travel

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