There is still much to tell oft the Wi-Fi adventures in Thailand and so little time. This particular blog post is somewhat of a slow train coming … having struggled with writer’s blog and a busy schedule for weeks. When last we talked, the PingWi-Fi entourage was holed up in paradise. And against the advice of many, my running buddy Steve and I left the southern beaches of Thailand, to head to the northernmost provinces … the Chiang Mai area.
So, I suppose all of the little day trips I did on Thai railways was a good primer for the big trip. Uncharacteristically, I even read a few travel blogs before we jumped on the train north. The blogs were helpful and were very enthusiastic, telling us to go for it. They were right …
However … this should have been greatly emphasized. The all-night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is hotter than a … well, you fill in the blank. It is miserably hot. Actually, we were warned of the temps. But this is what we didn’t realize — when you make your train reservations, you should choose the lower berths … because only those beds have access to the train windows! Both Steve and I were stuck in the top berths … which seemed like a good idea for privacy at first due to the proximity of the other travelers … you know, who wants a stranger peering down at them while snoring? The articles I read neglected that important travel tip. And yes, by all means, you must make your reservations well in advance, to even have a choice of accommodations on the train. (I would recommend at least three weeks in advance.)
Regardless … the trip is both an ordeal and a must! No there was no Wi-Fi on the train … hard to believe in early-adopting, electronics-oriented Asia … but no. Who cares? … I mean … I was much more concerned with the ancient oscillating fan bolted to the ceiling than any Wi-Fi hotspot. Which would burn up on the trip first — it or me, i wondered?
Ha … sweating miserably on the train, I tossed and turned and probably made the monks in the bunks down below really annoyed. When the concessions person asked me for my order … I bought 5-6 bottled waters on the first opportunity. Good looking out!
And no matter what hard luck stories my fiend Steve will tell you about the miserable train adventure … Ha! I can assure you that he was sound asleep by the third or fourth train station. I know that for a fact. I was wandering the aisles looking for a place to die, when I saw him blowing zzzzzzzzzs.
I digress …
Oh … here’s another tip the travel experts didn’t mention. NetFlix. They didn’t mention it, because due to licensing limitations (I assume) you cannot watch NetFlix films via the Internet in Thailand. “Why does this matter?,” you might ask, since we have just recently learned there is no Wi-Fi on this train? Well, my friend, I will tell you. PingWi-Fi advises you to ride the train by all means, but first, in The United States load up your laptop, iPod and/or iPhones with lots of movies. More on that later.
First … let’s just harp on the heat a bit more. Did I mention the upper birth was still about 90 degrees well after sundown. We boarded the train around 10 p.m. By 11 I had tucked the monks in down below in their berths and at Midnight … I was drenched.
Well thank God I’m a country boy! By the way, have I mentioned that any Thai who plays guitar can play John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads”? … I digress … but is a true and interesting fact …
So about the Country Boy thing … as mentioned previously in this blog and its predecessor The Wi-Fi Guy blog, I have attributed my love of road trips and my tolerance for butt-in-the-seat time to my childhood upbringing on the farm … sitting on the seat of a tractor: a Minneapolis Moline, a Case, A John Deere, an International Harvester … and yet another Case.
I confess I did more daydreaming than learning on the farm … but I did glean two important things. The first one … since I was way too stubborn to follow my father’s instruction and wear a jacket in the early spring … I learned that if you are driving a tractor, pulling a one-way plow, that 25 percent of the time, you are driving into the wind and the motor’s heat (and exhaust) will warm you up, although the other three sides of the field are really cold. (This gem has not come into play yet in my travels, but I have it queued up and ready if ever needed …)
The second thing I learned — in the days before our tractors had cabs, air conditioners and radios — was that my semi-frozen, melting, water bottle on the tractor is an excellent source of personal cooling. Yes, I used to down a swig while the container was still cold, and spit or spill the water all over me, my shirtless dusty torso and my jeans. I would be soaked … and thus a wet, muddy, living breathing human “swamp cooler” … a veritable evaporative cooler of sorts. (This technique did come into play in Thailand …)
Remember all those bottle of water I hoarded as the train left the station? Well i would down one, then wear one … soaking my shirt and a towel and a bandana with the coolest water available … That my friends, was not in the travel guides I read … perhaps because the other fellows did not implement this cooling technique and therefor perished. (Important: Be careful not to over-apply water … I mean, if you spill on the lower berth … what are they to think?)
So anyway … it was one hot, long train running from Bangkok to Chiang Mai … but you can live through it. (Ha … you would think I wrote this blog during the duration … it being so verbose and all …)
OH … back to NetFlix … if you load up your devices, as mentioned above, with good content … The 12-hour trip passes in no time … sort of. As for me … By this point in my Thai trip, I have been toting around four or five episodes of my new guilty pleasure — “Breaking Bad.” Well … I guess it is not new, they were the final episodes after all … anywho … I had been saving them for just the right opportunity on this trip. The train was it.
Do you too do “Breaking Bad”? Well … if you don’t, it might not sound like your cup of tea … but I assure you it is so well done. I love the characters and the cinematography. The New Mexico skylines and backdrops are spectacular and also could pass for parts of The Texas Panhandle … I digress … “Breaking Bad” is about a high school chemistry teacher, who when faced with sever financial difficulties and insurmountable medical bills, turns to his craft … and begins to manufacture the best methamphetamine Albuquerque has ever seen. Instantly he makes beaucoup coin and naturally totally wrecks his life in the process.
You may assume — and rightfully so — that this storyline illustrates the more deviant aspects of life. However, the nudity and such was pretty much tame compared to many HBO/Showtime genre productions. However, wouldn’t you know it. The one time I decided to break out “Breaking Bad” amongst the monks, in tight quarters on a Thai train, there would have to be a totally embarrassing, totally nude scene. I glanced over to see if the monks in the lower berths had seen and therefore ruined a lifetime’s work of purity. Ha … one was asleep and the other was playing Angry Birds on his smart phone. All was safe and untainted by Western deprivation. How embarrassing.
After many hours of cooking meth, I ran out of episodes and finally slept. After what seemed like 15 minutes, my neighbors were stirring and a train attendant was turning the lower berth beds into foldaway booths for breakfast. Pretty nifty. Soon I was paired with a horticulturist from a Thai university. He spoke pretty good English and we discussed the native crops of Thailand, as we headed for Chiang Mai … which he assured me was a large center for agricultural commodity trading. Good to know. I toyed with teaching him the climate control tricks for driving a tractor in Vega, Texas … but stopped short. The two monks across the aisle ate silently. My buddy Steve was elsewhere …
And the train not only kept a rolling all night long, it continued throughout the morning. By midmorning everyone was looking at their watches and the names of train stations along the way. Somehow, we were about three and a half hours behind schedule. How can a train be that far behind schedule, without stopping? … I have no idea.
Thank goodness the train bathrooms weren’t too awfully bad and one could freshen up a bit …
More hours went by, so Steve and I pretty much explored the train from one end to the other. There was a breakfast car, an air-conditioned car, etc., etc., Then I found a little treasure of a memory. Two units away from the very front of the train were two passenger cars filled with young women. Nothing … or no one … but young Thai women. But … there was a catch. Every one of them was wearing camouflage. They were all members of the RTA — Royal Tha Army. Dozens of them. I was of course thinking “what an interesting photo opportunity.” So, I “wowed” them with my smooth-talking command of the Thai language … using the three or four words I knew repeatedly. They laughed at me like I was a total ‘tard. Perhaps I was. But, I didn’t care, as long as they didn’t care … and I shot away.
The one phrase in the Thai languages that I should have learned? “Are we there yet?” After many shots, and many trips up and down the aisles of the train, the young military women all begin to straighten their uniforms, brush their hair and apply makeup … except for the “don’t ask don’t tell” types as one might expect … or perhaps not … (Someone give me a political correctness guideline here …)
Know what I sayin?