Train no. 211 coveniently leaves Bangkok’s central Hua Lamphong station at midday. That leaves time to slowly find my way through the city’s traffic jams, slowly drink coffee at the balcony of the station’s waiting hall. A station hall as station halls should be, with an arched roof.
It’s crowded. But there is a Thai calmness in the air. No noisy or running people. Subdued voices. Every now and then a message about an arriving, departing or delayed train.
Distinct Thai-ness comes from the royal portrait, and from the orange robed monks in their separate waiting area. Not far away a group of ethnic Malay passengers, with the women wearing head scarves, is waiting for a train to the Islamic provinces in the deep South.
There is a window for same day tickets. No queue. No passport needed. A dollar and a half for the 200 kilometres. Third class only.
Departure. Slow clatter of steel wheels, steel tracks, steel carriage couplings. Poor housing hugs the tracks, from the train one can almost touch the roofs of corrugated iron and plastic. Railway neighbourhoods are slummy the world over. But here it’s a slum with the red, white and purple of bougainvillea.
We take an hour to cover the 25 kilometres to the old Don Mueang Airport, still within the city limits. Then we gather a bit of speed.
The conductor announces himself with the click of his pliers. He adjusts his glasses so he can read my ticket. ‘Nakhon Sawan’, he says and looks up. He recognizes me, I recognize him – from a previous ride.
The storks show up early this time, before we get to Ayutthaya, old capital with temple ruins where the tourists get off the train. There are rice fields in every possible stage, from only just sown to ready to be harvested, bright green – fresh green – yellow-green – yellow.
I doze off in the afternoon heat, wake up, go catch the wind in the open door.
We often stop, at charming small old stations. At platforms a flower bed or potted plants; a railway official with a red and a green flag; signs with the distance to the next and the previous station, down to the metre. Names like Phon Thong, Nong Pho, Hua Ngiu – villages one never hears about. Schoolchildren get on, and off again.
Late in the afternoon, best part of the day. Soft light. I’m wide awake and alert. My sense of being on the road, my sense of movement, of freedom is strongest.
It’s a perfect day of travel. The day after a two month stay in China, without a care in the world.
At dusk we reach Nakhon Sawan.
[Travel notes from pre-corona times]