Back on Koh Phangan, and I have never needed a sewing machine more! All the wonderful, dirt-cheap clothes I bought in Chiang Mai are starting to fall apart, already, after just one week. I think sleeping in them for two nights, coupled with my not-at-all-thai-sized bosom, are to blame. We took two night trains to get back and they were air conditioned as advertised – but to the max. Colin devised a way to cover the vent on our first train but I still ended up layering on just about every article of clothing I had with me.
Our first train was totally the best way to travel – we caught a ‘special’ japanese express train that was only half full, and had a four-person sleeping room to ourselves. Instead of sealing off the beds individually we tied the dividers together to cover the door and windows to the hall. The train left at 10:00 pm and got in to Bangkok at 11:00 am the next day, so we snoozed for most of it and time flew by. It was truly POSH (at least the SH part as we were heading home, on the starboard side of the train). Much better than the flight over and half the cost.
Our second train was half the cost again and we could see why. There were no sealed rooms, just sets of uncomfortably close facing chairs that fold into top and bottom bunks. Instead of the fancy free meals and water from the first train, vendors continuously walked up and down the aisles moaning loudly in Thai and banging people with baskets of overpriced snacks. We were both on the top bunks (which didn’t seem much better than the bottom) but it meant we sat apart from each other until the beds were made up, and the Thais in the chairs facing ours wouldn’t switch so we could sit together. In fact they refused to even make eye contact after making us move, and one kept talking about us ‘farangs’ on her cellphone. Once we got to the sleeping it was all good, but unfortunatly this train was 3:00 pm to 3:00 am so we didn’t get much of it.
We did get out to see Bangkok for a few hours between trains, at least the bits near the station. It was stinky and dirty and thrown together, but there were some neat winding alleys, and on the major roads they had actual pedestrian signals, as if expecting people to be on foot! Chiang Mai did have crosswalks but the steady traffic would just flow around you as you went across. As Lukitha suggested: walk slowly and steadily and make no sudden movements.
Oh, I have now had the experience of using squat toilets on a train! They’re pretty much this: a hole in the floor (you can see the track go by below) surrounded by a shallow raised porcelin bowl with foot treads on either side, and about twelve inches of floor around it. Like most Thai-style bathrooms they were wet and filthy and some part of the plumbing was malfunctioning. So imagine balancing on slippery wet porcelin while the train is lurching from side to side, squatting and trying desperatly (as a girl) not to pee all over your pants, your feet and the floor. We westerners have it easy – over here you have to be a gymnast just to take a piss.
(But as I’ve mentioned I am a total convert to the usage of water instead of toilet paper. The spray guns here are more effective, more hygenic, better for the environment, and easier on plumbing systems.)
Once more back to the Thai clothes (as I sew the strap back on a shirt): Bangkok women if anything dress more conservatively than in Chiang Mai and I got comments to go with the dirty looks when I briefly wore a tank top (but it was so haw-awt there). Although I spent the whole week in Chiang Mai on the lookout for one-size-fits-farangs sleeved tops, I instead managed to buy three sleeveless ones that are definatly no-go in polite Thai society. Why do they sell them if they don’t want you to wear them? And why do they make them so irresistibly pretty?? Luckily our island is more relaxed about such things, and more forgiving of sweaty foreigners showing their cleavage in public. Or at least on their own front decks.