I’ve always wanted to be a red-nosed alcoholic hobo riding the rail cars in the early 20th century. In fact, my entire adulthood of expeditious wandering has been an attempt to skim the unknown, to embrace the time before G.P.S., maps and the pages of legal fine print that now infilter even the most passive of explorations into the great wide open. I’ve felt partly there at times. After 5 or 6 days on the road, I begin to operate on a primal level, a hyper-visceral and active state of existing where consequences are instantaneous. Everyday distractions cannot keep up with the car or my mind. It is within these moments that I have been most content and the most at ease in my life. Being behind the wheel, I am in my element wholly. (Amazingly, I experience a similar such home-away-from-home in the front of a classroom.) Given this, I am instinctively a good passenger. Spending 8 hours on a bus (It broke down twice.) to spend 12 hours on a train is far more appealing to me than, say, you. And that is how I spent March 4, heading to a new unknown by way of the State Railroad of Thailand.
The blatant and aggressive focus on sex and sexuality, the well-worn pathways of tourists and the accompanying trail of local sellers and scammers have almost overshadowed my early experiences here thus far. As I considered this on the bus ride back to Bangkok from Trat, I overhauled my current travel plans to include destinations in the remote Northeastern cities, where the chances of encountering authentic Thai culture and natural beauty less tainted with heavily developed tourist facilities is far greater. After consulting the guidebook, I selected 3 cities with some interesting offerings. And I decided to roam off the beaten track immediately after arriving in Bangkok, by way of an overnight train to Ubon Ratchathani.
Surprisingly, Bangkok’s mass transit stations and trains are secure, immaculately clean and very easy to navigate, with automated announcements of stations and transfers made in English. After a quick over-priced Indian meal in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit section (The area with all the huge and fancy hotels.), I headed to the railway station to make my way to Ubon Ratchathani. The SRT (State Railway of Thailand) station is more rundown then its skytrain and subway system. It has that old New York flair: sprinkled with homeless, rats and litter. I booked my train easily, the last stop on the Northeast line.. almost to the Laos border. Ubon Ratchathani translates to “royal city of lotuses”. I took a 3rd class car, a step up from a Tonka toy, and slept awkwardly with my backpack locked to my leg.
Will this drastic change in itinerary prove to be worthwhile? To be continued…