To get to Bangkok we took the 8:50 out of Chiang Mai, the #8 train. The small, air-conditioned three-car train takes about ten and a half hours to make the 700 km trip. The train only offers second-class seats, so there isn't anywhere to walk to, no restaurant car or observatory car. The ticket includes a meal though you might, no you should bring something to eat to tide you over till Bangkok.
The trip is long and not particularly comfortable. Despite its promising appearance in the website photos the train has seen better days. The seat padding is worn out. Paul's seat kept spontaneously reclining. The tiny toilet is a hole in the floor. And the poor train slows and struggles at the least incline, which didn't inspire confidence we'd make our destination. But it did, of course, finally get us to Bangkok.
I've left the best, or rather the worst, for last. The meal. I could describe it as worthy of a Survivor challenge. It appeared to be an invitation to food poisoning. It made Air Canada's offerings haute cuisine. Ha ha, I can laugh now.
We were served rice and two mackerels, one sweet and one spicy, all pre packaged so, said Paul, it must be safe. First off, looking at the local rivers I don't think I want to eat any fish. I won't show you the actual mackerel or you'll think I needed my head examined for having eaten it, which I did. It was very spicy, the crunchy chunks of fish absolutely disgusting looking but I was hungry and I wanted it out of my way asap as I also feared the nasty brown fish sauce would spill on me—the rickety tray tables looked ready to go—and then I'd smell of fish all day. I'm writing this, oh 12 hours later so I guess my decision was ok, no signs of illness. Yet.
As to the scenery, which is one reason to take a train versus a plane, it was interesting for awhile. Leaving Chiang Mai one got occasional glimpses of the outlines of hills, the smog obscuring details. We saw lots of birds, rice paddys, fields of sugar cane, water buffalo, cows, fields of solar panels, temples everywhere, big hilltop buddhas, rice fields burned, and endless little villages.
We were awfully glad when we pulled into Bangkok, in the dark night, where we availed ourselves of the train station bathroom and then walked out into the car-packed streets where we made death-defying runs to cross, then to look for our curious little hotel. But that's a story for tomorrow.
The from-the-train photos kind of suck because they are taken through dirty reflect-y glass and the train is moving, albeit slowly, but I figure sometimes a crappy pic is better than none.