From Chiang Mai to Singapore by train

From Chiang Mai to Singapore by train

Sooo, in another one of my flashes of brilliance and cost cutting moments, I decided that the cheapest way to get from Chiang Mai to Bali was to travel by rail (4 trains, 3 days & nights) to Singapore, then fly out from there to Bali. I am standing by this decision although it didn’t go quite as I had initially envisioned, as these things tend not to, at least when I’m involved. For my first trick, we missed our train – in my defence we missed it because it hadn’t arrived yet – we were one day early. What do you do when faced with an unplanned extra day, well we went to the movies and it was fantastic – there were about 10 people in the whole theatre and, of course, we all were sitting in the same place – empty theatre except for 10 other people directly in front of us, next to us and of course, behind us – heavy sigh. But the movie was great, “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt – I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan, although he is still pretty, but I really enjoyed this movie. Anyway after that we had to return to where we had just said all our goodbyes and admit we’d got the dates wrong – they all laughed. At us. Next day we actually caught our train, overnight to Bangkok, left at 4pm, due in at 6.30am giving us a 6 hour hiatus in Bangkok until our next train bound for Hat Yai. But the trains are never on time, and in this case it worked in our favour to be nearly 3 hours late because it was just enough time to get a feed, go for an hour’s walk into Chinatown, find another amazing temple, then grab a shower before boarding our next overnighter. And, we discovered the bar carriage, where we could drink and smoke and watch music videos – all with the windows open and a flashing disco light above our head – pretty cool. We also hung out in the spaces between carriages, with the doors open and the world flashing past inches from your face – just because we could – just because in New Zealand we can’t (nanny state gone stark, raving mad). It was great fun. Now you (I) would think there would be trains synchronised for those wanting to travel from one end of the railway to the other – North Thailand to Singapore and vice versa – do not think this – it is not so. Because that would make things easy. So much more fun hanging out at railway stations for hours on end. Not really. Not even. Not at all. Advice for fellow travellers on the overnighter, if you get a new(ish) train the bottom sleepers are roomy, comfortable and therefore more expensive. If you get a not so new(ish) train the bottom sleepers are uncomfortable, not roomy but still more expensive. We have been on 6 overnighters and definitely recommend just getting a top berth – 5 times out of 6, you will get a better bed. Just saying. Anyway we tossed and turned our way to Hat Yai, arriving in the early hours of the morning. The next train was not leaving until 4ish pm (we were still in Thailand – all train times are approximations – but they are never, ever, early – unless you are running late). We had a whole day to kill (see previous comment about synchronised trains and lack thereof) and ran the gauntlet of railway station touts to head into town. There was a map at the station with points of interest to visit – we didn’t find these – but we did spot a movie poster and decided to head to the cinema. Long story short, finally found it and had to hang around for 40 minutes waiting for everything to open. Went and saw Malificent, dubbed into Thai. Shit. You know how people say they’ve seen a movie? Well we saw it, apparently there’s some quite clever script, but we wouldn’t know about that! We had not been able to book our connecting train to Kuala Lumpur anywhere, being repeatedly told that we would have to buy it in Hat Yai. But in Hat Yai there were no sleepers available, just seats (at least it was air con) for a 16 hour journey. SHIT, SHIT, SHIT. How everyone else had managed to get a sleeper ticket was an unknown, and why you would even have any non-sleeper carriages on an overnight train was a mystery I’ve not yet solved. Seriously, it was 16 hours!! It was a hellish trip, aided and abetted by numerous noisy, crying children and an indian guy who had a nightmare at about 4am and let out the most blood curdling scream you have ever heard, scared the bejesus out of everyone, and woke all the kids. Again. Bliss. We arrived in KL in a state of zombieness and had 2 hours before boarding the train for the last leg to Johor Bahru (I asked if we could get a sleeper, and was told in what can only be described as a condescending tone, that this was a day train, so obviously, there were no sleeper carriages. Quite. Did I go down the road of the previous night train with day carriages? No I did not). Luckily we were meeting our friend Den in Johor Bahru (one stop, but as it turned out, a great deal of hassle, before Singapore) so we could relax, shower, do some washing and get a good night’s sleep before heading to Singapore the next day to catch our flight to Bali. We had an entire day to get to the airport on time. I know this sounds like a lot of time, and it probably is if you are properly organised – but it slowly but surely became clear we were not.This is how it worked out. We left a bit late, had to go back into condo for something we’d (he’d) forgotten, got delayed getting through Malaysian customs, lost some more time on the bus ride over to Singapore then, holy shit, we hit Singapore customs – at the same time as thousands of other people (“don’t worry”, Den had said, “Sunday’s aren’t busy”). I was getting nervous. Standing in line for approximately 50 minutes I was starting to panic. Then finally, an hour or so later, I was nearly through, waiting at the X-ray machine telling the customs guys that I was running a bit late for my flight. Changi airport was on the other side of the island and we were going to get a bus. Because we had so much time up our sleeves. We had planned on being at the airport at 7pm – it was 7pm. Customs asked what time the flight was and when I told them they said “Oh very bad, you are very, very late”. No shit Sherlock. It was at precisely this moment that I began to panic in earnest. I sprinted for the taxi stand, pointlessly as it turned out because James and Den were ambling along unconcernedly having a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll. We had to have our luggage checked in by 8pm so I feel there was just cause for haste. We found a taxi and I explained in pidgin English that speed was of the essence until Den kindly pointed out that he actually spoke very good English. Thanks Den. Luckily there were no traffic hold-ups, the taxi went like a bat out of hell and we arrived at 7.45 – but I had no Singapore money to pay him with so went running around the airport like a lunatic looking for an ATM. Money gotten, I sprinted back to the cab, grabbed my bags then went looking for our luggage check-in with James and Den following at a leisurely stroll, at a distance. Once there I couldn’t check in because James had all the paperwork. We made it, then decided we had enough time for a quick bite to eat before going to our gate. Burger King it was. I wolfed mine down then waited for James and Den – are we sensing a theme here? Then Den announced that perhaps we should get going (I think the flight was actually boarding) and we were off and running again, for miles, the airport is huge, you can actually do marathon training looking for gates. But we made it. In time to be told there would be a slight delay. Swear words.

I will never, ever subject myself to that sort of stress again, and will, in fact, camp at the airport prior to any flights. Made it to Bali at 11.30pm. Maybe next time we’ll just pay the extra and fly direct!

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Chiang Mai, hangovers and elephants

Arriving in Chiang Mai was a breath of fresh air – literally – hot air, but fresh (unless you’re behind a tuk tuk, then not so much) . Gone were the fumes, beggars, children left on overpasses all night, harassment by Thais lying about your destination being closed so they can take you somewhere you don’t want to go, and best of all, the rubbish & smells.  Chiang Mai is clean, clean, clean.  And laid back.  We jumped in a songthaew (red taxi ute with covered bench seats in the back – mind your head) for 50 Baht each, and were dropped on Muang Moon to look for accommodation.  You do not have to look far, there is accommodation to suit all budgets, and LOTS of it.  We found ourselves at the Chiang Mai Inn, large room with en suite and air con (not great, but did the trick) for 350 Baht per night.  Everyone wants to sell you a tour, so as advised by my bible (Lonely Planet Guide) I checked we could stay there without having to buy one.  Seemed okay.  As it happens, we did buy one, but only on our 5th day there.  Did a one day trip for 900 Baht each with Mr Jungle.  Picked up at 8.00am with huge hangover from night before where we weren’t going to drink – well that was a huge fail.  First stop breakfast and elephants.  I love elephants and I want one, only about 1,000,000 Baht to buy, but I’m guessing the upkeep is probably fairly major too – may have to content myself with cats & dogs, oooh, and horses and goats and chickens.  And if we end up in Oz perhaps a camel – but I’ve heard they have severe grumpybumgonnahurtyouuificanitis.  That said, elephants are really gentle considering how many ways they could kill you if they so wished.  I got to ride on the neck, but apparently I wasn’t a competent driver so got shifted to the seat on the back – way, way more bumpy but still awesome.  We stopped to buy bananas and immediately the end of the trunk was waving in my face saying gimmee – I gave, who’s gonna argue with an elephant?  When we finished we were told to stand directly in front of our elephant, and it whipped it’s trunk down between my legs, and up, up, up I went – unfortunately the landing wasn’t what you’d call graceful as my legs gave out and I landed on my bum – to the elephant’s credit, it did not squash me like a fly.  From there we were off to a local village (not the Long Necks, which was okay, as I’ve heard it described as a human zoo) where we viewed and bought some of their woven products. Karen and I both bought beautiful hand woven scarfs, and Karen also purchased an amazing table cloth which she is going to use as a wall hanging or bed spread – way too nice for a table cloth!  My memory gets a little hazy at that point as I believe I may have sobered up enough to enjoy the full force of the hangover, no, hang on, I remember, we went for a walk to a waterfall.  It was very hot.  Our guide thought it would be funny to get a long piece of grass and tickle my neck whilst yelling at me to freeze because there was a spider on me.  Suffice to say Jacky (guide), Karen and James thought it was a lot funnier than I did.  I froze and yelled back “GET IT OFF ME”.  There may have been some swear words too.  There certainly were afterwards.  So we set off to the waterfall where we couldn’t swim because rain had turned the water stew brown.  But there was a bar, with beer, in the jungle.  So whaddya do?  Obviously you drink.  Next stop was for some lunch, my taste buds had reasserted themselves by this stage and I vaguely remember it being nice.  Then bamboo rafting down another stew brown river, which, although we got saturated, was really very pleasant, great views drifting past, stunning iridescent dragon flies, water snakes and just a chilled hour or so.  This was our last activity before heading home.  Great day out.

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