I knew Ploy had misgivings although I didn't know exactly why. But at 12.45p.m., just 45 minutes late, she waved me off from the platform at Saraburi station and I was on my way.
The train only had third class and was quite busy, surprisingly with a number of foreigners who I was to find were all destined for Ayutthaya, but I found a seat and rather enjoyed the 2 hour 40 minute trip to Bangkok; all for the princely sum of 24 baht, or 50 pence in old money.
Ploy's worries over my trip were, I believe although she never really voiced them, because only 'low class' Thais use the train (or at least the third class) and I would be raped in my slumber. Two points I tried to make; there is no way unless you are Thai that you can sleep on this train. Air conditioning is the natural kind and with all windows thrown open there is no quiet diddly-dum to the journey but a raucous crashitty-bang with occasional interludes of even louder BASHITTY_BUMS as we cross an iron bridge. The second point is that any sexual attention at my age is only welcome, even if from a four legged suitor.
So I settled back into my hard plastic seat, designed for a midget and to produce the sweatiest back possible during the journey.
If you have ever travelled the Shinkansen in Japan you will have noticed trolley dollies, cute Japanese girls who enter your carriage with a pre-recorded, 'forgive me for intruding' message before chiming their way past you offering a selection of drinks and snacks. Even in third class Thailand also has this, although the trolley is replaced with trays and buckets and there is perhaps a certain eloquence missing in their deportment. At no point did I hear them apologize for entering the carriage for example.
I was grateful that my station was the terminus as I did notice scant time is given to enter and exit the train at stations - sometimes it seems as if they barely stop, but otherwise, as I got more confident and we stopped at Ayutthaya which allowed the remaining passengers to stretch out more, (and proved we were going in the correct direction), I sat back and enjoyed the journey. From Hualampong station I got the MRT to Sukhumvit (27baht, extortionate by comparison), from there the BTS to Nana (15 baht) and from there I walked to my hotel in Soi 11.
The point of the trip was a meeting with fellow ex-pats. I had joined an on-line group some eighteen months earlier which hold monthly meet-ups in Bangkok. I occasionally read the e-mails informing of them but had never been. I am not sure why but I decided I would go to this one and because the meet-up didn't finish until 10.30p.m. according to the invitation, I decided to stay the night in Bangkok. Now those that know we me will wonder what on earth I am doing attending such events. I admit, it was a moment of weakness. But looking at the attendees, of the 131 listed, only 17 were British which I saw as a real positive, and there was a good distribution amongst other countries, including Thais, so I thought maybe, just maybe, I might actually meet someone who it might be good to discuss something other than football or the weather or how ignorant Thais are with.
The meeting itself was OK. Attempts were made to introduce you to people and the first person I spoke to started a discussion about music, but then they wandered off and I never saw them again. I spoke with two people who worked for the UN and a person from the US embassy, a Thai girl that wrote for the Bangkok Post and Nation newspaper, a Spanish girl that spoke no English or Thai and clearly was very alone here, (she was here because her boyfriend worked here but he was always away on business - my Grade 4 CSE in Spanish proving its worth at last as I asked her where her pen was - unfortunately it wasn't with her her uncle in the garden so I never found out where but I do know the colour of the door on her house); a girl from Vietnam who had gone to Portsmouth University (Polytechnic I pointed her out to her, along with the difference between that and a university, thereby removing any chance of a quick sexual encounter), who stayed in the street in Portsmouth right next to where I spent all my teenage years, a financial consultant in starched white shirt and slimy smile, a nice girl from the US who was funny and engaging but left early, a plain looking woman from Belgium who was clearly a sexual predator (the type Ploy was trying to guard me from I presume), and various people who I forgot as soon as they said their names.
Quite often I found myself in the corner looking at these huddled exclusive groups and at ten I decided to leave. Looking back the person I spoke longest with was the Thai girl from the bar who handed out the tickets for drinks which probably says everything you need to know.
I left and wandered the streets looking for something to eat. I had had lunch with Ploy and a plate of cashew nuts with chilli and spring onions at the hotel before venturing out and thought I would fill up on the free snacks. However the snacks turned out to be some flaccid pizza and pieces of french stick with various toppings on it that appeared to be either vomit or a dead insect. So I was hungry and found Soi 11 and its nearby vicinity devoid of anything that appealed. I returned to my hotel and at 11p.m. you found this intrepid explorer in his room, in the heart of Bangkok just a stone's throw from infamous Nana Plaza, watching the BBC news and munching on a tuna sandwich and sipping a glass of wine he had ordered via room service.
I first came to Thailand, I think in the absence of my passport from then, in 1980 or 1981. My first trip was a package holiday from Kuoni and was one week in Bangkok and one week in Pattaya. The hotel I stayed at in Bangkok was the Ambassador and so when I was looking for a hotel within walking distance of the night's event I couldn't resist booking it again, perched as it is just 50 metres from the bar we were to meet at. I don't remember much of the hotel, except the large pool where I got so sunburnt I had to stay in my room for two days and one of the restaurants where I had a dessert of icecream in a hollowed out pineapple that took me about four hours to eat. And there was room service where I was encouraged by a female friend I had encountered (hey, I was young and single) to order beef salad (yum nua yang) which was my first real introduction to Thai food.
So rather than just sleep in the hotel I thought I had to have a beer there and just reminisce a little before venturing out. Unfortunately their choice of beers was either Singha or Heineken so I chose the former as at least it was on draft. I chatted to the woman who served me as the bar was quiet and amazingly she had worked there 33 years and must have just have started there the year I first visited. She did not remember me. But she told me a little of who owned the hotel and the changes that had been made and it was a pleasant hour spent.
It was during that first visit, or perhaps the second, that I remember seeing the marriage of Charles and Diana on TVs around the country. The Thais were glued to it and didn't understand my rampant apathy. By a strange quirk it was during watching the news that night in my room that the BBC pushed aside news of Syria and Israel to inform us that the Royal family had succeeded in breeding again. I sat riveted as I was informed that Kate, poor soul, had been admitted to hospital for 'severe' morning sickness although looking at her naked, as some kind photographer had evidenced, I had assumed she was familiar with what must be such daily actions. And so it went on, third in line to the throne even if the sprog proved to be female which shows how progressive these people are that women are allowed a voice.
What a a strange coincidence but rest assured dear reader, that after I finished my wine and slipped under the sheets of my king size bed, I felt all was right again with the world.
I retraced my footsteps to return home, this time getting a slightly faster train that took just over two hours to reach Saraburi, that had an air conditioned coach that I thought I had bought a ticket for but which the ticket inspector respectfully indicated I had not, and that I had to pay 50 baht for, presumably because this was the 'express' train. It did not have the same attention to detail as the King's train which lay parked at the station but I got out at Saraburi having enjoyed my travel immensely and I could see Ploy was disappointed that I had survived the trip unscathed as I enthusiastically told her we should take the train every time we go to Bangkok.
As long as we don't stay at the Ambassador hotel as I would hate to see further developments from within the Royal circles just because of my choice of accommodation.
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