Thursday, 9 June 2011

Not well trained

Thailand, Bangkok to Trang by sleeper train

That feeling about trains, for instance.  Of course he had long outgrown the boyish glamour of the steam engine.  Yet there was something that had an appeal for him in trains, especially in night trains, which always put queer, vaguely improper notions into his head.  
Georges Simenon, "The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By".

‘Where. Have. You. BEEN’?  Yep, I’m in trouble, I thought.  The gritted teeth and fire in the eyes gave it away.  This was face-tremor anger, and even through the delightful cloud of irresponsibility that Thailand’s national beer, Chang, induces I could tell that I’d done A Bad Thing.  For those of you not acquainted with Chang it’s the most popular, and cheapest, lager in Thailand.  It’s also like Stella on steroids.  The quoted ABV is 6.4% but I’ve been reliably informed that it varies in strength from 6-8%.  Its logo graces the ubiquitous singlets worn by virtually every male traveller in Thailand, a uniform that displays bulging biceps and island tans.  You must understand – I’m not jealous of these bicep-ed young men wearing their identikit uniforms, looking fit and healthy and cool, part of the vest gang, singing Bob Marley songs around a beach fire.  No, I’m not jealous, I just want to beat them to death with the guitar and use the singlet to rub away the fingerprints.   

None of this, however, crossed my mind as I sashayed my way to the dining car on the overnight sleeper train we had caught from Bangkok, our destination Trang on Thailand’s western Andaman Coast.  I was feeling tip-top in fact, all at peace with the world, not the least bit misanthropic, and I may have even been humming some Bob Marley in my head (blah blah load of old bollocks blah, that’s one of his right?) .  I’d left Helen in our carriage, snugly ensconced in one of the upper level beds.  Oh, sure, I hadn’t actually told her I was going to the dining car, but it was a last minute decision.  I figured that as I had already clambered my way down from my own top bunk I might as well stretch my legs, have a sneaky little cigarette in the dining car, and do a little spying on who our travelling companions were. 

Well, it was just wonderful in the dining car.  There was no-one wearing a singlet, the Thai karaoke was blaring out of a table mounted TV, everyone was tucking into bottles of Chang or whisky, the lowered windows were allowing a cool breeze to cut the humid night, and the bustling waitresses were only too pleased to plonk me down on a seat, then plonk a Chang on the table.  This is how you do it, I thought, reflecting back on the last time I had been on a train, several months hence, 5.45am, freezing cold, en route to London, and very seriously questioning if what I was doing was the mark of an insane person.  But this moment in the dining car re-ignited my love of train travel, reminded me of those long and pensive journeys I used to take during the university years, the happy hours spent just staring out of the window and thinking.

Raising my glass to the young Thai guy sitting opposite me I took a long pull on the Chang, and lit a cigarette.  Before I knew it we were chatting away, albeit in broken English (his English being much better than my Thai), and through the universal language of smiles, laughs, and clinking of glasses we quickly established that we had a shared fondness for nicotine and alcohol.  I bought a round of Changs, he shared his bottle of whisky, we were having a merry old time. On the subject of time, one of the lesser known effects of mixing Chang with whisky is that it disrupts one’s sense of time, or more specifically the passing of time.  I’m sure I felt a cold chill pass through the dining car as I glanced at my watch.  In retrospect, this chill may have been guilt.  Or my wife truly is a sorceress and can manipulate the weather through her emotions (cold chill = rage, for future reference).

Pin-balling back through the train carriages I arrived back at our berths. ‘Where. Have. You. BEEN’?  ‘Er, I just had a beer in the dining car’. ‘Really’, she hissed through gritted teeth, ‘is that why your lips are smeared across your face’?  ‘OK, two beers.  And some whisky. But it was really fun’.  This wasn’t the correct response.  With a final outburst that is simply not printable I was banished to my sleeping berth, my doghouse for the evening.  And most of the next day as it turned out. 

She’s right, of course.  It was selfish to disappear unannounced, she was worried that I’d fallen off the train (not totally unrealistic), plus I’d left her with all the bags.  I’d been a Bad Husband, and I apologised sincerely and repeatedly.

But it was really fun.  

Before: Happy and together.  After: Shunned and alone (with a changover)
Update 18 June: So, we were doing our accounts today and I stumbled on this page from the daily expenses/mini-journal H keeps.  In case you can't read the entry for the event described in the post above it says: Ian + friends drinks - 400 baht + ?.  In dining car for over 1 hour - "No, let's not go to dining car" x 2. "No you can't have the computer I want to write my blog".  SELFISH WANKER.
Hell hath no fury...

<If you need useful information about trains in Thailand (or most places in the world) then I can't think of a better place than this lovingly created and meticulously maintained website: the man in seat 61>


  1. DIL I am with you on this one. Bad boy Ian, in your bed. Can you imagine Helen if it had been you? Those pursed lips and Interpol would have been contacted. That said the blog did make me laugh especially Ian "pin balling" down the corridor. Cannot wait for the Gibbon Experience story as long as it does not turn out to be a love story!! Gorillas in the Mist that sort of thing. Love you both

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