On Dec. 1st, Ellen and I landed in Bangkok, where we spent 2nights at our usual guesthouse, that still charges USD$10 for a double fan room with shared bath down the hall. During the next 2 days, we met to discuss probable orders with 4women from as many groups, before heading to Chiang Mai 600 kilometres to the north.
At 9 pm on Dec. 3rd, we climbed aboard Train 51 from a small neighborhood station and quickly settled into our berths. Like the guesthouses we frequent, the walls were dirty but the sheets and floors were clean. Despite the mouldering carriages and increasingly frought safety record of the State Railways of Thailand, I still enjoy the 2nd class sleeping cars (called "bogeys), if I can secure a ticket for a lower berth! Fortunately, we have Thai friends who purchased our tickets in advance and mailed them to us, so we had tickets for our preferred date, time and seats.
The next morning I awoke to a few puffy clouds in a rich blue sky as the sun rose golden over recently harvested rice fields. I popped a straw into the box of soymilk purchased on the platform the night before and laid back down with "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. The berth's thick curtains shielded me from the other passengers and prompted a child-like sense of cocooning. Fields, pages and minutes passed. Eventually I popped open the can of "Birdy" I'd also brought along and enjoyed the sweet, milky coffee it contained, as well as the lovely laziness of train travel.
By 8:30 the whole car was stirring so I decided it was time to dress and join them. When the porter came by to flip the berths to daytime seating, I made an effort to breathe calmly through the same surly silence he had shown us the night before. Eventually, my rusty Thai elicited a few polite responses before our brief exchange ended. Score one for me!
Uncharacteristically, Ellen slept several hours later than I did. When she arose, happy but hungry, our previous resolve to decline the railway's factory food breakfasts in favour of food hawked from the platforms began to waiver when no such vendors appeared. Eventually, we were rewarded with various yummy traditional foods: khao lam (sticky rice steamed with cocnut milk inside bamboo tubes), phat thai (rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, dried shrimps, scrambled eggs, bean sprouts and garlic chives in roasted chili paste), and a palate cleansing portion of pomelo fruit (peeled and cleaned segments laid out on a wee tray): all of this for 60 baht ($2.00).
After eating we sat quietly across from one another, rubbing each other's feet while we looked out on the fields that stretched to the foothills on the horizon. In between the shorn fields drying under the sun's glare, green profusion blocked out the sky as bamboo, teak trees and others strewn with prolific creepers delighted my gaze more than any Christmas tree would have had I stayed in Nova Scotia for this holiday season.
And besides...train travel has a tiny carbon footprint! Win win: it's easy to be green when choices like these are available.