Today was my last day in Chiang Mai. This is somewhere I felt really at home, I will miss it. The exceptional hostel helped but mostly because the people were really nice, relaxed and helpful. The food was great. There was just enough of a party to be had if you wanted it and plenty of history and activities to keep you entertained.
I was getting a train down to Bangkok later today so had the morning to entertain myself. I figured that since I’d not actually done anything historic or cultural, I had better do that before I left this fabulous city. I embarked on my own walking tour, just heading for things that looked cool on my map and found completely by accident the most important Wat (temple) within the city limits.
Wat Chiang Man was built as the temporary residences of the three Kings who commissioned the New City. Upon its completion, the sacred artifact, a hair of the Budda was enshrined in the huge golden Chedi Chang Lom (stupa) on the site of the residences. Now a temple, it also houses the crystal Budda. A small green glass crystal statue about 60cm high on its golden plinth. A guy was photographing it out of its usual pace of reverence behind caged doors. It’s a very valuable piece of history so I understand the bars, but it’s a shame they are needed. I was lucky to be able to see it up close. It was, however, watched over by worried looking monks so I didn’t upset them further by pointing my crappy selfie camera at it.
Now midday-ish, I adjourned to the Cat Shack. A traditional wooden building, from which some incredible smells were coming. I watched the cement mixer roasting thing spin slowly above a roaring fire, occasionally tended with a wooden spoon. It was burning and roasting coffee right there in the yard and promised the most authentic flavours. I chatted with the guy tending it and he showed me their Youtube video of the process! I also saw the sign for fresh hummus, something I didn’t know I was craving until it was presented. It made me think of House Of Hummas on Koh Pangan.
Full of wonderful flavours, Ted joined me for a massage. Not like that… massages are so cheap here you dont need an enthusiastic mate to help you out. I had an hour and half till my train outta here. I thought a massage would be a great way to decompress and relax before the 14 hour journey south. It sort of was, and sort of wasnt.
The Thai girl who brought us into the shop started by washing our feet. This was not cool. I’d been walking around the city for hours this morning. My feet were grimy and smelly and let’s be honest, huge. They almost didn’t fit in the bath they were given. Now allowed to enter their shop barefoot, I was shown to a a bed and asked to strip. I didnt feel it necessary to scare the ladies further than the indication my feet provided, so my pants stayed on. In hindsight I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing.
The masseuse started with my back, generally warming me up with some prodding and poking. I’d opted for an oil massage, not wishing to repeat the pretzelling experience of a Thai massage. This was much nicer, having oil rubbed into my muscles by strong, knowledgeable hands. It was indeed relaxing until she started on my legs. I was covered in the middle, over my butt, with a patterned sheet. She had worked on my lower back so had tucked the top of the sheet into my boxers waistband, to stop oil seepage I presumed, fine. Now she did the same to my legs. The sheet was raised over my bum and tucked neatly up my leg holes.
Now. This is important. As a bloke going travelling, with limited space I had chosen to only take with me, flattering boxers. Ones with nice patterns, that were comfy and… supportive. They were tight enough but not too tight. The addition of a thai ladies hands and a sheet meant that the precious items my boxers contained were getting far too close to freedom. It was not a relaxing experience. I’m sure she felt my sharp intake of breath, and abdominal tensing as I internally tugged my crown jewels clear of the boxer-invading fingers. But she was there to do a job, and no overly flintchful englishman was going to say she hadn’t done a good one!
She continued the massage in a very professional manner, completely ignoring my squirming. And I did squirm. She was rubbing my thighs with the oil up and down. On the up stroke, it was like a car reversing beeping going off in my head. Her hands would be pressing firmly against my thighs and all I could hear was a high pitched beeping getting faster and faster as she approached the danger zone. Right at the closet point my dignity could bare, and with just a single long desperate beep going off in my head loudly, she reversed direction and relaxed down my leg again. It was a bit stressful getting the thighs done. The rest of the massage was very enjoyable. She finished with a back and neck massage and I felt very calm by the end. I’d have one again but maybe by a bloke, someone who realises the danger in getting that close to my balls uninvited.
I said my goodbyes to Ted and picked up my bag. Kari wasn’t around but he said he’d pass one my best. I hopped in a taxi and made my way over to the station, bang on time for my train. It’s just me being british, but i turned up on time as per the ticket. Then found myself waiting around for 20 mins for it to set off. No trouble, we cant even get them to run on time in England with all the technological advancements available at our fingertips. You can forget them running on time in the far northern mountains of Thailand, somewhere cows are considered legitimate road users.
The train itself looks much the same as any reasonably modern diesel-electric, a big rectangular box with many wheels underneath and a driver at the front. This one happens to be orange. The cars following the locomotive are unpowered as far as i can tell but have motors and vents and radiators for the air conditioning units some of them carry. I had tried to get air conditioning as it is swelteringly hot in the carriage if you are stuck on the side with the sun, as i was. I slapped on a load of 50+ sunscreen to prevent my skin going crispy in the 14 hours it was going to take to reach Bangkok. Luckily I would only have to deal with 4 hours of that in the sun as this was a sleeper train that would travel through the night.
I had booked a slightly more expensive seat, to the tune of £4 more, than one without a bunk. I figured this was a good idea as I was saving a nights sleep in a hostel and wanted to be able to see stuff when i arrived, rather than need to go directly to bed at 5am.
The train set off and pleasantly clacked along the wobbly tracks. Chiang Mai is not a massive city so it wasn’t long before we were ambling along beside fields of rice and mountains covered in jungle. There was plenty of time to see the sights we were passing as we weren’t moving very fast. We didn’t need to, we had all night to get to Bangkok and besides, i doubt the condition of the track would permit high speed travel. Just a thought, but now with internet and online conferences, will Thailand ever need a high speed travel network? Will they ever get a train network that can travel the length of the country in a few hours like ours can? Will they need one? Personally I doubt it. I doubt we actually need the new HS2 line that is currently being built in the UK. We certainly don’t need it for travel reasons in any case, but economic reasons – perhaps?
While the train was basic and slow and loud and hot, the food available put First Class Virgin Pendolino trains to shame. There were the freshest of peanuts available, sold by the grower in little hand packed and tied bags – i had one of those. Fresh cut mango and pineapple, banana, dragon fruit and some other juicy looking fruit that I don’t know the name of. The smells of this fresh produce wafted down the corridor and made you salivate uncontrollably. I had picked up some pringles, oreos and water as my dinner, disgraceful really. I supplemented this with the fruit and a fried chicken leg, the least suspicious looking meat available. It was very tasty and again, I managed to escape, my bowels unscathed.
This I was particularly happy with as the state of the loos was awful. It was a squat for starters meaning keeping balance was of utmost importance. This was clearly difficult, born testament by the marks and stains on the walls surrounding it. It was also smelly, and drafty, quite an achievement considering drafts usually clear smells. It was drafty because the “toilet” was merely a pipe through the floor to the passing tracks beneath. This gave me a giggle as I thought what would happen to a poop dropped at 40mph…
I had paid for a bed but couldn’t work out where it was. Maybe we had a separate carriage with bunks? Approaching evening, a small ununiformed chap walked down the carrriage and started plucking beds out of thin air. Turns out that where there would have been a luggage rack above my seat, a panel in the carriage wall pulled down into a bed. And, just like a campervan, the travelling seat i was sitting on was pulled out and made up to complete a set of bunkbeds. It was a really neat system and the beds were surprisingly comfy. They were built for the thai frame size so it was comfy but my feet had to stick out the curtain diagonally and rest on the luggage rack in the isle.
The repetitive rocking, clunking and clickety clacking sent me off to sleep nicely. I woke up a few times at stations and when the rocking of the train gave you to feeling of falling out of bed, but other than that I slept through to wake in Bangkok before sunrise.