Friday, 10 January 2014

Keep calm and leave Bangkok

On Friday I wrote about a tuktuk driver who assured me that the King's palace was closed.  On Saturday,  I found out that this was actually true - well,  almost.  It closed early because of some official business. As I thought that 500 baht were a little much for half an hour in the palace,  I walked on through valleys made of market stalls until I came to Wat Pho, hope of the amazingly giant reclining Buddha.  Even after the dozens of Buddhas I had seen the day before,  this one was special (pictures will follow once I can use my sister's computer in mae sai).
While walking back to my guest house, squeezing through the crowds of Khao San Road, I decided that I had enough of Bangkok.  Too many people,  too high temperatures,  and then the were the camps of the protestors  - crowds building sandbag walls, stalls selling whistles and tshirts, protest leaders holding speeches, and who seem to have succeeded with their plan to shut down the city today. Enough. Let's go up north.
The next morning,  I'm a headless chicken hurrying through dozens of travel agents,  trying to secure a ticket for the same day sleeper train to Chiang Mai. No success. Everywhere it's the same thing: no tickets,  the next train with free seats leaves in four days, but you can take the bus. No,  thanks.
Finally,  after at least two hours with no luck,  I find a little travel agency tucked away in a side alley (soi). The young man there has a "good friend" at the train station, who can get me a ticket (slightly more expensive than the usual rate) within 90 minutes. Two hours later, I have the ticket.  To use the time before my train leaves,  I take the river boat (nice and cool on the water) and then a ferry to Wat Arun on the other side of the River that splits Bangkok in halves.
Wat Arun is different from the many other wats not just in that it's the symbol of Thailand, but also in that you don't go inside the temple,  but climb it from the outside. The first level of this stupa-like spire is easily accessed by broad stairs,  but the higher you get,  the steeper the steps become.  To reach the highest point accessible to the public I grip the ropes on both sides and lift myself up each step,  never letting go of the ropes.  But the effort is worth it,  great views over Bangkok (and is fun watching the different techniques other people use to get up those stairs). The worst part is getting down,  although my going backwards attracts some laughs at first - but soon others copy me when they see that it's so much easier than climbing down while looking at the ground below.
I don't spend as much time at Wat Arun as I would have liked,  but I need to get to the airport.  So river boat back to my amazing Phiman River View Guest House, then a bus to the train station.  However,  after the bus needs 45 minutes to travel to a street I could have reached in no more than fifteen minutes on foot,  I am very happy to have a lot of time left before my train leaves. After 90 minutes on the bus,  I get off and walk the remaining two kilometres, easily overtaking the bus.
I still arrive early enough to deposit my backpack at the Left Luggage centre (all employees here are wearing protest tshirts) and walk around China town for a bit.
Then it's time to board the 19.35 sleeper train. I'm pleasantly surprised: in second class,  there are four people in each compartment,  one bed each (I chose a lower one because it has a little bit more space than the upper one) that even has curtains for a little more privacy and a reading light. Someone comes to take food orders;  an hour later,  my vegetarian menu is brought straight to the compartment (good quality,  and it's great to have three different dishes plus soup and drink to try in one go).
Soon after departure,  the train conductor comes to make our beds. This is amazing to watch,  he manages to put a sheet on the bed and a cover around the pillow within seconds (there are YouTube videos of this).
Soon, I fall asleep to the calming sounds and motions of the train.
The next morning,  I enjoy being able to watch the countryside rush (actually,  it creeps) by from my bed. The train is late (I am told you always need to add about two hours to the official timetable) and arrives around 12 instead of 9.30 am.
Now,  I'm in Chiang Mai - and very close to my sister.
More about to this lovely city soon,  once I've returned from mediating. Check this post again in a week or so and you will (hopefully) find some pictures.

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