The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

Special Express to Chiang Mai

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It’s 8:15pm and I’m on the Special Express train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I’m in 2nd class A/C sleeper, and my companions are three young Buddhist monks. Originally I was seated one section forward, but by some mishap a single young woman ended up among the monks and that was deemed unacceptable by the conductor in his banana republic military colonel uniform, so I was asked to swap places and am now among the holy folk who seem happy to sit cross legged on their chairs, and travel with matching brown gym bags (with the name of their temple screened on the side?) and saffron and green soft shoulder bags. The train trip takes about 14 hours, so I should roll into Chiang Mai around 9:30am. This is the same train that I rode to Chiang Mai last year.



A western couple seated close by just ordered a frosty bottle of beer and it looks very tempting, but suppose that it’s not kosher to drink booze in my current company.

Alex didn’t end up joining us last night as he was tied up in endless meetings. Thor and I had an excellent meal at a nearby restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms, an usual name that reflects the fact that it’s a social enterprise run by PDA, the biggest NGO in Thailand, who promotes reproductive health and HIV prevention. It was quite an elegant place, in a large, tastefully-lit outdoor courtyard. A woman in a traditional outfit played soothing zither melodies. The food was really top-notch. I started with a fresh lychee juice, and we shared rich musamun curry and deep-fried prawns covered in dried or fried garlic. Even the steamed rice was flavourful. For dessert, I had my first mango sticky rice – mango slices, glutinous rice and coconut milk drizzled on top – of the trip.

My shoulders were aching after schlepping around my camera gear all day, so I went in search of a thai massage place. Thor had to leave very early the next morning for Singapore, so we said our goodbyes and promised to track each other’s blogs. Finding a massage place that wasn’t simply a rub-n-tug in the Nana Soi 4 area is not easy, so I headed across Sukhumvit road in search of more savoury establishments. I discovered an Arabic quarter and felt myself transported to a completely different city populated by portly Arab men, women in full chador, and curious Thais looking at rotating shwarma. I found a massage place full of men, women and children getting foot rubs, shaves and facials, so I figured that it would probably be OK. I requested an hour on my back, shoulders and head. I changed into a set of Thai massage pajamas, and the masseuse went to work. A few of the full-force elbow digs into my sorest spots caused a few watery eyes and cries for mercy, but overall I think that it did the trick.

I made it home through the mayhem of Nana and slept quite soundly (although I am still wrestling with a cold).

Today was pretty inert. I took care of getting a plane ticket to Luang Prabang at the hotel travel agent, picked up some supplies, did email, and such. I met Thomas Achilles, the regional director of CUSO (now merged with VSO), for lunch at a local restaurant as VSO’s offices are just on the next soi from the Atlanta. He helped coordinate most of my photography projects during last year’s trip, so it was good to catch up and talk about where we were each at. I was also important to talk about Nic Parenteau, the CUSO cooperant that I photographed last year and was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident during the winter. It was meaningful to hear that Thomas had used a number of my photographs in a book about Nic that was given to his family.

Thomas also procured my train ticket for me, and here I am rolling northward. I think that we are finally getting close to the outskirts of Bangkok. Not long ago we rolled past the old Don Muang airport.

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Written by sockeyed

November 15, 2008 at 04:30

Posted in Photography, Travel

Tagged with , , , ,

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