Bangkok to Chiang Mai by sleeper (or sleepy) train

8 Apr

We spent the next few days pottering around Bangkok – well if you can potter round a city as big and as crazy as that…checked into the hotel we were at before on Khaosan Road and treated ourselves to aircon. After nearly three months away of not having this, it was a bit of a shock to the system waking up and being cold so we actually kept turning it off halfway through the night :)

As we thought we’d be in Koh Tao for at least a month (which now does not look like it’s happening, boo), we went to get our visas extended at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We had to go by taxi because it is miles away, and when we got there it was like the government building of the future

 

It was enormous and had about nine million different wings, corridors and departments for us to search through. Once we’d found it, we duly filled in all the forms to find that the fee to extend the visa is £40 each! It did not say this on the website! So it would be cheaper to do a visa run to a neighbouring country than to fill in the forms, so we turned on our heels (stopping for amazing ice cream, of course) and got back in the taxi. I guess if it’s not happening that’s a good thing as £80 is a lot of money to spend on something we might not need!

Also a bit of a failure was our plan to give the Khaosan Road a swerve for at least one night and do something “normal” on a week night, so we chose to go to the cinema. But we did not count on the fact that the taxi drivers would refuse to take us there, saying it was “too far” and “I don’t like traffic”. Perhaps you are in the wrong job? Another one said he would take us, but his eyes weren’t focused and his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t read the bit of paper we’d got the address written down on. We slowly backed away and went for tea instead, and got lucky on our next try. The fee was 50 baht (£1) so glad we gave the tuktuk drivers who wanted 400 baht a miss.

However, because we had to wait until rush hour was over, there wasn’t much on so we ended up going bowling instead. We got to wear some rather fetching shoes

And somehow, the girl at the desk misread ‘Sarah’ for this

Her English must be very poor indeed.

But pride comes before a fall and Craig beat me by nine points, the swine.

The next day we hopped on the ferry to go to the flower market and Chinatown. The ferry is great – really cheap (15 baht for most journeys as long as you get the ones with orange flags) and a clever whistling system the crew use to let the captain know the best way to dock, as he’s at the front and can’t see the end of the boat. Somehow we did manage to miss our stop the day before and end up miles away, but we were paying more attention this time and got off at the right place…just in time to feed the massive catfish which lurk under the pier, waiting for customers to buy the many bags of bread or pellets for sale there

The flower market was a little smaller than we’d imagined, but they still had some lovely plants and flowers (real and fake)

We wandered on to Chinatown and through the many claustrophobic markets selling all the glittery tat you could ever possible need – or not –

…but then we found our dream travelling bike!

A restored ’60s Vespa with a sidecar for the bags and two seats for us. We asked people whose it was and they pointed us to a little dingy and dusty shop we hadn’t even noticed before. Here we met the owner, who restored all sorts of Vespas for a living (who knew they did a tuktuk!!). He showed us round the shop and we asked how much the Vespa outside was. He said he was sorry but it was already sold – but he could make us one in a month and for 25,000 baht, or £500. We excitedly started picking out colours and trims until he said something and it suddenly clicked it wasn’t £500, it was £5,000. D’oh. Such a shame but it will just have to go on the wishlist for now!

I got my hair trimmed and my toenails painted electric blue so feel a bit less raggedy now :) There was an extremely drunk Russian guy before me who was having his head shaved to show off his new tattoo, which was an enormous ship’s wheel that went all the way round his ear and onto his face. I would have really liked to know what he thought of that one in the morning! After this I found one of my favourite things about Bangkok: they do DOUBLE fillet-o-fish burgers. Just when you thought it couldn’t go and get any more delicious, they put another burger on top. I wish I’d order two at a time so I could be in quadruple-fish-burger heaven.

We also visited Bangkok Zoo, seeing as we were in the area. It was very good value at £2 per head and it was enormous. It was very professionally laid out and was completely packed with Thais and tourists. The exhibits were of a good standard and the animals were clean and well-cared for from what we could see. They said that there was a seal show just about to start, so we grabbed one of the delicious jelly and ice drinks (so much more incredible than it sounds!) and waited, hoping it wasn’t going to make us feel bad for the seals.

Well, I am not a seal expert but these ones certainly seemed happy and so eager to do the amazing tricks they had been taught. It was also very nice to see that once ‘their’ seal had done a trick, the keeper high-fived the seal, gave it a pat or a kiss and a little bit of fish, and spent every spare moment in between tricks stroking or cuddling them. The seals were so nimble out of water and so elegant in the water – the stuff they did was mind-blowing

The rest of the zoo was very nice, with a raised walkway, loads of information about the animals and lots to see. The only thing we didn’t go to see was the elephant show as they were chained and whereas the seals were doing things they do more naturally, like jumping, catching things and fetching, the elephants were dancing etc so we didn’t hang around for that one.

 

We were having such a good time we nearly forgot to get the train to Chiang Mai, our next stop. We got the sleeper train as Bangkok’s quite a long way from Chiang Mai and we’ve heard scary things about the buses here so we thought we’d give the train a go – it was about £14 each but we wouldn’t need a hotel for the night and would leave and arrive at a sensible hour.

I’m glad we did because it was great – it left on time, we had very clean, comfortable cabins and beds

Well you’ve got to pass the time somehow…

And they also served dinner

Compared to the Vietnamese trains we went on last year, but this wins hands down. The last sleeper train we were on in Vietnam was very dirty, the pillows and blankets stank and the toilet filled up in about half an hour. This was a much better experience all round! It was four hours late but this is to be expected on all trains around here and when you’ve got a comfortable bed to nap on, it didn’t really matter that much :)

Hopped off the train in Chiang Mai to find a guesthouse with a pool, tv, wifi and big rooms, for 150 baht less than we’d been paying for the Khaosan Road sweat box (aircon off)/ice box (aircon on). I know, a pool. But we have done our fair share of mouldy walls, broken showers, cockroaches, spiders, smashed windows etc for the time being so I don’t feel as bad about spending £8 a night for the next few days…

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