Sunday 1 July 2012

Days 455 to 457: Train from Singapore to Bangkok

I love travelling by train.  It gives me time to really observe the places I'm travelling through.  We are now retracing our steps up the coast of Malaysia towards Penang, but what a difference.  Last time, on the ship, we saw only the Andaman Sea.  Now we get to see the Malaysian countryside.  There is a lot more of it  I really imagined: plantations of palm-like trees, bananas and what I think is rubber.  In the distance there are hills covered in forest, with plantations climbing up their lower slopes.  The villages and towns are a mixture of 'build-it-yourself' houses with patchwork corrugated rooves, nice low houses with old gardens and brand new blocks of flats.  The train is like the country - a bit worn around the edges, but comfortable enough, and the food is good and cheap.  In the evening, the setting sun turned the sky as purple as it was in a jigsaw picture of Malaysia I had as a kid.  I had thought it was artistic license! We reach Butterworth at 21:20, assuming the train is on time.  This is just a short ferry ride from Georgetown, where we were a mere week ago, and many people use Butterworth as a jumping off point for getting there. 

Traditional style house in Butterworth
Street in Butterworth
We didn't really see Butterworth until the next morning.  Our hotel, the Value Inn, is on a rarity: a quiet street, in an old-fashioned kind of neighbourhood.  I have a feeling the fate of houses like the one I photographed is to get torn down and replaced with skyscrapers.  Apart from a few hotels, Butterworth isn't a tourist town at all.It took us a while to find any place to eat breakfast at all, but when we did it was amazing. It seemed to be the place the local Indian population comes for their weekend brunch. I was totally decadent and had mango lassi and Indian sweets for breakfast, but Mike had something like a masala dosa made with semolina and onions and Antonia had a plain dosa.  I helped them with those as well.  After that, we tried to find a shop selling snacks for the train, but after quite a long walk we ended up with only bananas, mangoustines and some plainish biscuits.  I was tempted to go back and buy more Indian sweets but I ddn't feel like walking so far.

Countryside near the Malay-Thai border
The train from Butterworth to Bangkok would be quite comfortable if there was a bit more luggage storage space in it.  Also, the guy sharing our compartment keeps trying to get the conductors to give him our bottom bunk with the cheerful audacity of someone who doesn't realise that his combination of gestures and language with many English borrowed words are easily understood by the would-be victims.  Cheeky blighter. We don't plan to let him get away with it because the lower bunks are wider, more comfortable and more expensive and we asked and paid for them especially.  Fortunately, the conductors seem discinclined to let him get away with it either.  Eventually, we got out of the train at the Thai border and went through two sets of customs before getting back on again. I had been impressed with Malaysia's multicultural ambiance up till now, but I have to admit it, as soon as we crossed the border, there was a whole lot more street life, lots of people playing football and hanging around outside and it generally looked like a lot more fun. 

Bangkok station

We arrived in Bangkok late but quite well rested and started a long and quite complicated trek across town on the subway and skytrain to get to our hotel.  It was probably still better and faster than taking a taxi, but by the time we arrived, we certainly felt like doing nothing for the rest of the day.

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