Saturday, December 10, 2011

Returning to Bangkok by train


Afternoon view from Route 1263 north of Mae Cheam
When I last wrote we were finishing up our Mae Hong Son loop, cutting our tour short in fact, so we could hurry back to Chiang Mai to sell the Phantom. By the time we got back all the potential buyers had faded for various reasons, one of those being that Thailand makes it hard for a farang to own a motorcycle. You have to jump through a bunch of hoops with special documents, etc., that can be difficult to obtain if traveling on a simple Tourist Visa as most farangs are. If you happen to have a Thai friend you trust, as in my case, you can simply put your bike in his or her name. Two of the potential buyers weren't aware of this troublesome complication. Another had found a bike in the interim.

At any rate we had a nice trip back from Mae Chaem to Chiang Mai and spent a few days chasing down those motorcycle leads before finally deciding to make the long ride down to Bangkok on the Phantom where I was sure we could sell it. Neither of us was looking forward to the trip because it's mostly on big highways and in relatively dull scenery. Because the floods have closed many roads it would take two fairly long days in the saddle to get home. We had checked out of our guesthouse and while eating breakfast at our favorite breakfast place, Silomjoy, my phone rang. It was Guy, a French expat, who was interested in the bike. He sounded sincere, told me he had cash money ready, and he was available to meet with us right away. Three hours later the bike was in his possession and I had 60K baht in my hand. He was so happy about the purchase he blogged about it, and used my photos to illustrate the post. It's in French but here is the link anyway.

We made reservations on a sleeper train for the next day, departing at 3 pm and arriving Bangkok next morning at 5:30 am. Cost: about 1000 baht ($30 USD) for two. We had tried the air conditioned 1st Class train last year and while the cabin was comfortable the aircon practically froze us during the night. Simple solution you say. Turn the aircon off or to a higher setting. Sorry Charlie, not on a Thai train. No user interface, no controls. Take it or leave it.

This time we bought tickets for a so called fan car where the cooling is provided by oscillating fans set every few feet in the roof of the car. Up north this time of year aircon is completely unnecessary and the fans are a perfect way to stay comfy. Plus, you can ride with the windows down if you choose. And I always like riding with the windows down, especially when the temperature is in the high 80s.

Departing Chiang Mai 
Dave (aka  "Chang") enjoying a Chang beer
I mean, this is seriously the best way to travel in Thailand; cold beer in hand, window open wide, watching the beautiful scenery roll by.

Before you get the idea that it's perfect, however, let me tell you that later on these seats are converted into a bed. That's just fine if you happen to be less than 6 feet tall. I'm 240 lb and 6'2" tall -- the berths are a bit of a squeeze for me.

Nut had been observed running around in the station before the train pulled away, I knew not where. Turns out she was buying us lunch for later. She hates to be hungry, and truth be told, so do I. We make a good team. Sort of. The problem is that while she happily eats, and with the help of her storied "tapeworm" manages to stay slender, I put on weight. The beer doesn't help all that much I'm sure.

Here's our little picnic lunch and a few more pics:

Box picnic lunch
View of already harvested rice paddies from the train
Riding the rails -- Northern Line -- Thailand
Those few hours before the sun went down were very pleasant ones sitting there on the train. For some reason my thoughts raced back to a pleasant ride in my Wisconsin buddy Roger's Chevy II with a bunch of fellow partiers on a fine summer night many years ago. We had danced until the Trempealeau Hotel closed for the night putting an end to the evening's revelries. It was well after 2 am but still warm so we rolled the all windows down, pointed the wing windows (you know what those are, right?) back at us, and turned the radio up loud as we high tailed it back to the farm with sweet Susan resting her pretty head on my shoulder. What a wonderful way to end a summer evening. I lived in Wisconsin for a year or so back in 1987-88, working on an organic farm with a bunch of great folks who brewed their own beer and grew their own pot. It was a wonderful period of my life when Tuli was still a youngster and most of my Alaska days were still ahead of me. Why that memory and not any one of dozens of similar ones from my years in the lower 48? Who knows? Memory is weird like that.

View from the train - fighting cocks at feeding time
Concrete bridge -- Northern Line -- Thailand
We're back in Bangkok now after spending about 6 weeks up north. It's nice to be back but I already miss the cool dry air of Chiang Mai and the northern provinces. The next few days will be busy as I prepare to buy the new motorcycle, the Honda CBR250. I have an appointment with the American Embassy where I will get an Affidavit of Residency which will hopefully allow me to put the new bike in my own name. Then on Wednesday I get my teeth. I'll post a before and after picture and you can all get a good chuckle at my expense. Then on Thursday I'll buy the bike. I could buy it today if I wanted one in black. But I'm tired of black or black & grey color schemes. I want Red.  A red bike with ABS should be here Thursday. That would be my bike. I haven't owned a brand new vehicle of any kind since my 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix. That's a long time, eh?