2 Nights Krabi, 2 Nights Train, 2 Nights Chiang Mai (updated)

After coming back from Phi Phi, J. and I took two days in Krabi to figure out what was next. Due to laziness, rainstorms, and finding a free wifi cafe, we decided to just sit back and relax. Most of our time was spent getting free one hour wifi tickets in The 89 Cafe next to our hotel. I felt a little guilty staying there for so long, but they needed customers. By the end of our two days, we had amassed quite a few of these slips. For dinners, we walked down to the night food carts near the river again. It was good to get back to eating cheaply.

The bustling food carts of Krabi.

My meal of prawns and ginger sauce.

J.’s meal of chicken and oyster sauce.

My second night’s meal with a weird “salad” called yam. Mine was a warm mixture of glass noodles, prawns, squid, onions, tomatoes, spices, and coriander. I’m not sure if I would oder this again, but it tasted fresh.

J. had the always safe and delicious pad thai with chicken.

Our northward travel was arranged by a friendly travel agent nearby. We booked a combo bus/train ticket from Krabi to Surathani to Bangkok. On Tuesday afternoon, were shuttled via haggard minivan to an even sadder private bus station. We waited about an hour before boarding the warm, musky bus from hell.

The sketchiest bus station ever. One bus, a shed, smelly urinals, and all sorts of people lounging about.

The bus looked new from the outside, but inside was a different matter entirely. Various pieces of the ceiling were missing, the air-conditioner vents leaked water. The seats were grubby, the engine lurched and brakes squealed, and the whole bus bounced and tipped around uncontrollably. At least the driver wasn’t aggressive; he seemed to know the limits of the machine.

The three hour ride passed through alternating rubber and coconut plantations. Occasionally, there would be cleared patches of the richest red dirt I’ve ever seen. At one house, a yam colored pig was wondering by the road. He had been wallowing in the red mud.

There were also a lot of palm plantations. Various ramshackle loading chutes were being used to dump thorny, reddish palm tree parts into trucks. I think they must be used for making palm oil.

For no logical reason, our bus dropped us off in the road next to a lone building. It wasn’t really a bus station, more of a restaurant. They said we were going to transfer buses before heading to the train station. Our one hour wait was spent with passengers looking skeptically at the hosts and the hosts looking slyly at the passengers. It had a weird, untrustworthy vibe. I think the stop was solely to generate more money for the company, assuming people would get something to eat while waiting. I abstained from chow. I went to the bathroom and while peeing got to watch a gecko eating flies by my head.

The transfer bus arrived as promised, and it was a garish beast. Taller than any bus I’d seen before, this vibrantly painting machine rumbled to a stop. Everyone went up to the second floor because the first was block off. This must have been a party bus, as there were disco lights, a mirrored ball, and a smoke machine mounted to the ceiling. Thankfully they didn’t turn them on. They did, however, start the movie “Hitman” for our 30 minute ride. The audio was movie theater loud, with the bass rumbling like engine idle. It was the weirdest 30 minutes on a bus I’ve ever had.

Update: It took us time to verify, but it appears that someone on the Andaman Wave Master bus rooted through bags in the cargo area while the bus was in motion. J. had nothing taken, but I had about $10-15 worth of Euro/Thai coins taken from a film canister I was storing in the top pocket of my bag. It was the same pocket I keep my passport, and it was unzipped when I checked after getting off the bus. I always have this pocket zipped, so I know they must have rummaged through on the ride. Weirdly enough, I also seem to be missing my favorite pair of jeans. They might have been lost at the laundry in Phi Phi, but I swear they were in a plastic bag with other clean clothes on top of everything else in the main compartment of my backpack. This remains a mystery. Regardless, the lesson is to NOT TRUST PRIVATE BUS COMPANIES THAT CATER SOLELY TO TOURISTS.

Surathani’s train station is actually in smaller town to the east. There wasn’t much going on at that late hour, especially in the way of food. J. and I passed the three hour wait by watching the numerous tightly uniformed policemen, eating a pad thai dinner from the only stall nearby, and reading. Early in the evening, the station would come to life when a train passed through. Vendors lugging trays of food and drink would walk along the open windows of the third class trains hawking. Policemen would jump of the train and replace those that hopped on the train. All sorts of bells and whistles and announcements would be made. Then after the train rumbled off: silence again.

The train station near Surathani. Our train was supposed to leave at 11:18PM, but it ended up being an hour late. We waited at the end of the platform, talking to a Dutch couple. I was sitting next to a drainage ditch that ran under the tracks and was being used by numerous rats.

The hallway in the sleeper car.

We were traveling first class in a private cabin with AC. Our tickets cost about 1500bht($47) each. The cabin was nice, with clean glasses and linens. I didn’t sleep as well as I expected because the air was so cold. It was a 12 hour ride.

Our breakfast the following morning was a pathetic looking plate of toast with jam, an orange (they are green on the outside here), some Tang-like juice, and an instant coffee. Not the breakfast of champions. But it was nice to have toast again.

Me, looking out the window. (Though I’m secretly looking at my reflection and noticing how tan and handsome and modest I is.)

Our train got into Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station around noon the following day. We purchased our set of tickets to Chiang Mai and bunkered down in waiting area until our 7:30PM train out. Time passed fairly quickly thanks to snacks, cards, and people watching. A lot of other people were sitting with us on the floor. We had planned on visiting A. at the U.S. Embassy, but bag storage at the station was unsecured and pricey and our bags wouldn’t have been easily allowed into paranoid country HQ. I hear they have a decent Thai/American cafeteria though. Instead we ate at the train station cafeteria and assorted snack shops. I got my first paper cup of real coffee too from the Thai equivalent of Starbucks called Black Canyon Coffee. It was beyond piping hot.

The area we waited in Hualaphong.

Waiting for our train to come at platform 10.

Unfortunately, our train was only three cars long and was sold out of sleepers. Instead, we got economy tickets in a bus-like cabin. As you can imagine, this wasn’t nearly as glamorous as our other ride. But weirdly enough, there was an attendant that served not only dinner (a weird tray of spicy mystery and rice), but drinks and a breakfast snack (all free). Plus, our car had an option of squat or regular style toilets, a step up from the terrifying stainless steel hole in the last train. We slept horribly. I proped my legs up on a tray, along the window, against my chest. I put my head on the tray, my feet on the ground. I tried turning sideways. There was just no comfortable way to sleep while in a chair. The Thai people seemed to have an easier time with it. I looked at them enviously on my trips to the bathroom. It was a 12 hour ride.

J. sleeping, or trying to.

We arrived in Chiang Mai around 8AM on Thursday. Promptly, we shuttled via taxi-truck to the guesthouse, chatted with my friend who owns the place, met her 2 year old son, showered, and then got down to business…if you know what I mean. And what I mean is, we walked to get a motorbike and helmets. Everyone calls them motorbikes, but to me that means motorcycle, like a Harley or crotch rocket. But in Thailand, it’s far more likely to be an imported auto/semi-auto scooter. All vehicles over 125cc have import restrictions, so that’s about as fast as you can get economically. The scooter is a 125cc Honda Dream, color blue (photos soon). Our helmets are of the trustworthy “Space Crown” brand. It’s what the Thai astronauts wear!

J. riding in the songtaew from the train station.

Black Jack is back and ready to talk some smack, smoke crack and whack a tack into the backs of some chaps!

Once we had wheels, possibilities opened up to us, like a road opens up to a vehicle that will travel on it. First we drove around my old neighborhood to get some food at a hole in the wall I went to a lot. Then we meandered around the neighborhoods, heading back to take a nap. For dinner, we drove around the university campus and settled on a bustling road on its backside. The road was lined with cheap carts, throngs of students, and tons of motorbike traffic. We picked up some items and drove back into campus to eat on the basketball court bleachers.

Omelets for dinner?! ONLY IN THAILAND!!!

Good old, ass kicking hot papaya salad in numerous plastic sacks.

This batch was served northern style, complete with three pickled crabs. I didn’t eat them, as they work as laxatives.

During dinner we watched university students playing basketball.

Rambutan fruit, one of two 1/2 kilos of fruit we got to snack on. I’ll be doing a post specifically about fruit soon.

Our second day in Chiang Mai was spent searching for an apartment. In the morning we browsed internet listing and sending emails. In the afternoon, we went to a real estate office nearby that was staffed with friendly, and slightly confused femaninas. We arranged to meet them at a unit on Saturday. For lunch, we went to a nice sit down restaurant near where I used to live. It’s called The Boat, and it has a full menu of thai/american/dessert.

Huay Kaew Rd. outside The Boat looking towards the mountain.

The road leading to where I used to live. Three years ago, there weren’t any buildings at this intersection. Now it is full of well-worn generic Thai architecture. It’s weird how even new Thai buildings look old.

Thai style power lines near the restaurant. And these are new wiring maintained by the government. You can only imagine how crazy the wiring gets when it goes into private hands.

My lunch at The Boat restaurant. I used to get this dish a lot, for beef reasons. It’s basically green curry paste fried with beef and veggies. So good and under a dollar.

After lunch, we rendezvoused with a plump, bucktoothed Thai lady. From our meeting point at a bank, we walked to look at three lackluster rooms in a large condo building. Great views, no internet, decent prices. She had another unit available a little further away, so we followed her by motorbike. Chasing her through traffic and down narrow winding streets made us feel a bit like being secret agents. She only looked back once.

The apartment she showed us was a fair price, great location, and quite awesome. I don’t want to jinx getting it though. She said it would likely be taken soon, but I suspect it’s just realtor talk. I think Thailand is rolling in vacant apartments, judging by how many condo towers there are.

Regardless, we should be finding a place soon.

For dinner we had a meager soup, but for dessert…MILK ZONE!!! Whoop!

Milkzone be the dope! All milky and zoney and shit. Many a nightz, I be hanging there years back with my Huay Kaew homies.

Check it, J. Dawg supped on Coconut icecreamz with clear jelly

Then I be munchin’ da same icecreamz on a thick, rich slab of Chinese grass jelly straight from da can.

Then we got our crunch on, toast style with deez Thai custard and peanut butta topped biaches. Dats breads, for desert, in yo mouth, suckas.

It feels good to be in Chiang Mai, but also confusing. I’ve fallen back into a special dreamworld from my past. It doesn’t seem quite real yet. My goals are unclear, my lodgings unclear. Everything is very uncertain but very casual. For real doh.

In be doing business with people today, I be reminded of how laid back everyone is. You wander into someone’s work and they treat you like a friend or show you all over the place. Nobody seems to care much about anything too much, except being happy. This smooth atmosphere is easy to get sucked into, and is itself a vacation from the hectic, pointless stress of the other world back home. You know it!

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July 11th, 2008. Categories / Chiang Mai, Thailand

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