Bangkok (Not Very) Dangerous

27 Mar

Z in driving seat of train, Thanaleng, Laos

No hands. The engine was running...

Honestly. Why take the bus when you can take the train?!

Even in second class, the night train from Nong Khai to Bangkok is a real joy, particularly after our Lao bus experience the night before. Fold out, curtained bunks with clean sheets which are prepared for you at bedtime, allowing you a seat before. Decent food delivered, with table, from the buffet car. Woken by hot coffee vendors in the morning…

So we are in Bangkok, and rested. Despite the alarums in the international press, this is clearly not a city in the grips of civil strife. In fact, the Red Shirt rallies provide the chance to earn a few hundred baht. Five hundred, to be precise.

This is the going rate for turning out in a red shirt in support of the deposed politician Thaksin Shinawatra — a man sufficiently disreputable to be pronounced unfit to run a football club in the UK.

Foreigners, we learn from an amiable Australian expat on the train, get free food and drink for showing up, but the five hundred baht appearance fee is only payable to Thais. Or, I guess, Thai-looking folk. The atmosphere, apparently, is more carnival than revolution, since everyone is there for the money and the giggle rather than the power.

So in most of Bangkok the normal commercial chaos continues, while rose pink taxis buzz about their business, traffic piles up beside canals, and street vendors do their funky stuff.

The journey brought stunning confirmation of Z’s ability to sleep anywhere at all, but not to order.

Z crashed out on his pack, Thanaleng Station, Laos

Fifteen seconds after arrival...

Weirdly, even I’ve begun to acquire the ability to support a sleeping child while sleeping oneself which I’ve admired in the mothers over here, who can snooze, with child supported, for hours at a time.

It’s not down pat yet. Some sort of reflex kicks in when the grip loosens, meaning I switch to consciousness for a couple of seconds, while these ladies do it in their sleep. But it’s getting there…

I didn’t actually want to wake Z when we got off the sawngthaew which took us from Vientiane to Thanaleng, for the only train ride in Laos and one of the shortest train rides ever.

He had slept only five hours the night before. Though he doesn’t have much of a sleep routine, and has never needed a lot of sleep, we’ll be spending six nights on the trot in different places, the last two in transit, and covering three countries in three days. Our tired modes — hyper humour on his part, stressed irritability on mine — go together like vinegar and bicarb.

But I didn’t particularly fancy carrying him and our bags off the back off a truck, so I woke him. I get into the station, turn round, and find him out cold, on his bag on the floor. Then I had to wake him again to go through the Lao side of immigration.

Then the driver of the Thanaleng-Nong Khai train let him have a go in his cab, putting Z blissfully in train heaven.

Me too. There’s something about the railway, as opposed to the road, which gives a real sense of distance passing. I think it’s the tracks stretching into the distance as the flatlands unfurl before your eyes, road crossings flare out of the dark in a blaze of light and colour, wheels chatter over sleepers, small person swings lethally from bunk to bunk…

Ah yes. The bunks. The ceremonial bed-making which provides adults with an invitation to sleep presented Z with, essentially, a giant climbing-frame-cum-dressing-up-box.

These bunks have high ladders! Removable suspension straps! Curtains! Pillows to hurl! High luggage racks from which to dangle…

Embarrassment is not a sentiment that comes easily to me. But when a small pair of Transformers underpants came whizzing down from Z’s bunk and into the head of the Australian chap below me, it hit. Bigtime.

Now, I described him as amiable.

That was an understatement.

Not only did this chap not object to flying pants. He turned it into a game of catch.

And made appreciative noises at the outfit Z crafted from shortie pyjamas, with pants over the top, elephant print sarong and Thai Railways’ soon-to-be-off-white blanket.


In another plus, our Indonesia issue appears to have resolved itself over breakfast in Bangkok train station.

“Well,” I say. “One thing we could do is take the train from Bangkok down to Singapore, stopping off en route.”

“That would be the longest train ride ever!” he says.

“Oh,” I say. “So you don’t want to do it?”

“No, mum,” he says. “Of course I do.”

So that’s that, then. I’ll stock up on Islam-friendly clothing for Malaysia and the relevant bits of Indonesia, and we’re away. Just need to do a bit of shopping first… And BKK is shopping central.

2 Responses to “Bangkok (Not Very) Dangerous”

  1. Chris March 27, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    The international train to Butterworth is even better than the BKK-Nong Khai one. And Penang is a great place with wonderful food. Don’t miss the Singapore Zoo and esp the Night Safari!

    • MummyT March 27, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

      A top tip! Thank you. I was thinking to spend absolutely minimal time in Singapore, but the Night Safari sounds fab…

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