Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thailand by train

I stopped telling you about my train trip just before the Thai border at Khota Bahru. I have now decided that I am going to cross the Thai border here, never mind if there is a bit of political tension... What I have understood so far about the situation: not too much... there is instability and violence on the east cost of south Thailand. 3000 people have been killed during the past few years, no tourist and I'm missing the point, I can't figure out what they are fighting about! Some people told me they had crossed the border and the army was everywhere along the train track but nothing spectacular. Out of ignorance (or boldness), I decide to go. An old Canadian had agreed to come with me.
The train is supposed to be around 2pm (which is 3pm Malay time) so at 11 am we take a taxi to Rantau Panjang, the biggest border point. 5 minutes before getting there, the Canadian realises he has forgotten his camera so he is going back to the hotel. Finally I'll have to cross the border on my own!

So, first, Malay immigration. That's ok very easy, absolutely no one, the guard keeps asking me if I'm alone, not reassuring... I'm not alone, I have my lonely planet! :-)

Then I go through a sort of car park, where trucks are being checked, I cross the bridge under a burning sun and I get to Thailand on the other side. There it is a bit messy. I am officially the only white person around and also the only one who doesn't understand anything. Someone hands me an immigration card (same as the one given in the plane a couple of weeks ago, so at least I know what to do with it). Then I go to a desk. They keep on asking questions in Thai until they find someone who can speak English. They only seem to be interested in why I'm travelling alone... After a bit of confusion they realise I'm at the wrong desk (it was the "leaving Thailand desk"), so a big "Cancelled" stamp later on my passport and I'm queuing at the right desk where the questions about travelling alone starts again! (I manage to stay calm...) My passport is now stamped properly, I move on to the tourist information to find out where is Sungai Kolok station. After answering a few questions, I'm given directions to the station 800m away.
There are indeed several groups of military officers in the streets but their main activity seems to be hiding from the sun. I finally reach the station, after much discussion at the ticket office I buy a ticket "2nd class upper" for a 20h train trip to Bangkok! Not as good as 1st or 2nd lower (bigger bed) but that's all they have left!

I have a couple of hours before the train leaves so I investigate the surradings (carefully and without taking pictures, the army is still here and I don't want to upset anyone). So, there is no restaurant wagon in this train. I need to buy some food! I stock up on water crisps and some other unidentified things. I also find a little restaurant to have lunch. I end up in the kitchen looking in the pots to tell the waitress what I want.

To come back to the army and to give you an idea, it is not more impressing (I would say less impressing actually) then when the army was at Heathrow airport late 2005, there are no tanks, just smilly guys with machine guns.

Anyway, the train is air conditonned and leaves on time. I stay quiet for the 1st 4h with the camera in the bag until we have got out of the tension zone.

I'm glad I have gone this route, it was nothing bad (ok, may be I was lucky). Then I have the rest of the trip to observe people in the train. I'm the only tourist so they are very interested in me as well, especially the kids. I buy food as often as possible (I could not be left for 20h feeling hungry!!!), at each stop, I either go down on the platform and by some fruits, coffee or someone comes on board and sell rice, chicken in plastic bag and all sorts of unindentified things!

For the most part of the journey, I admire the Thai jungle, then a few hours before arriving, the suburbs of Bangkok appears and finally the station.

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