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WINGING IT
What's the difference between a pigeon and a train?

Last call for Bangkok. All aboard.

In these times of political and financial crises, finding a light-hearted story to report on in Thailand has been about as easy as finding a red shirt at a PAD rally. Nevertheless, Naked Farang’s intrepid reporters have delved beyond the doom and gloom to discover the answer to that age old question: What is the difference between a pigeon and a Thai express train?

Let’s start with the pigeons. Reporting on a race from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on December 11th, The Daily XPRESS informed us that of the 700 feathered rats that had originally left the northern capital, only 150 managed to complete the 575 km journey. The others were assumed to have got lost, become ill or exhausted, fallen prey to predators, or simply not been bothered with racing halfway across the country just to end up in a cage, deciding instead to make a break for freedom. Of course, many may have also been worried about flying into a city that has only just recently, and somewhat hastily, reopened its airports without going through all the necessary international standard safety checks after being occupied by mobs of quasi-terrorist grannies.

Nevertheless, 150 birds did complete the course, with the winning pigeon being owned by a Belgian national. For his pains, the bird earned his master a trophy to be presented by His Majesty the King and a cash prize of 1.02 million Baht (22,000 Euros). The bird himself got absolutely nothing. No wonder the other 550 never bothered.

So what does all this have to do with trains? Well, the fastest pigeons covered the 575 km distance between Chiang Mai and Bangkok in roughly 9 hours, which means they averaged speeds of almost 64 km per hour (approximately 38 mph). Not bad considering the bus takes between 10 and 11 hours and the train even longer.

The Thai railway system belongs somewhere in the hinterlands between nostalgia and modernity, failing miserably to qualify for either. For a start, some of the carriages are 90 years old and have definitely seen better days.

In fact, there was a bit of a stir earlier this year with an outbreak of bedbugs in some carriages. Transport Minister, Santi Prompat, didn’t let the absence of evidence cloud his bigoted vision as he stated, with all the tact of a bull elephant in a massage parlour, that the bed bugs had probably jumped onto travellers’ backpacks during forest treks and then found their way onto the trains. Bed bugs neither live in forests nor have the ability to jump, but such facts are mere trifles that shouldn’t be allowed to divert from the serious government business of blaming foreigners. Sawittee Malaipan, an entomologist from Kasetsart University, really should have known better but jumped (entomologists CAN jump, apparently) on the xenophobic bandwagon by claiming that some foreigners, particularly refugees and tourists, didn’t like to take baths and so attracted the bugs. In point of fact, the bed bugs, unlike Santi and Sawittee, are not discriminatory and will bite anybody who emits warmth and carbon dioxide. It is an improperly cleaned bed rather than crusty backpackers that harbour the parasites.

And then there is the issue of speed – or lack thereof. In addition to the aged and decrepit locomotives, the rail lines in Thailand are all narrow gauge, severely restricting the speed at which the trains can safely travel. To make things worse, the lines are single track, leading to long delays during each journey when trains have to wait in sidings to let those coming in the opposite direction pass. All of this explains why a journey that would take 5 hours in Europe, takes more than double that time in Thailand. This is why pigeons are faster than Thai express trains.

Despite all this, I have a soft spot for train travel in Thailand. It’s more comfortable than the buses, and it’s certainly cheaper than flying. An overnight train ride from Bangkok to Surin, for example, in an air-con sleeper car costs around 600 baht (less than 10 pounds sterling). For this, you get your own bed (usually free of bugs) and you get to wake up at your destination richer and fresher than if you had flown or taken the bus.

While the service onboard is not quite on a par with the Orient Express, Thai trains do offer something that their more luxurious counterpart does not – the bucket man. Vendors roam the aisles selling both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks all kept chilled inside an ice-cooled bucket. Hardly high-tech, but effective and welcome nevertheless.

I have travelled the lengths and breadths of Thailand by train, and overall it has been a pleasurable experience. Getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the various cities of Isaan, or the beaches and islands of south-east Thailand all merit an overnight train ride. If you’re in a hurry, make like a pigeon and fly. If time is on your side, however, take the train.

Paul Snowdon – December 14, 2008

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Have your say...

Albim
14 Sep 2015, 14:31
Ahhh,I'm going to cry.I am so,so,so,so happy for you!I am so grateful you have seoomne who makes you happy,for knowing that you're taken care of,makes me happy,too.Thank Johan for me!You guys give me so much hope,and make me believe in the concept of family.The kids are blessed to have such amazing parents.May you have the greatest of days,and many,many more good days to come!xx
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