Thailand from the train

‘A slow train in the Orient’

The train always has played a part in one’s imagination since the invention in the third decade of the nineteenth century and still does especially when bridging long distances. England became a pioneer and so to speak the Mother of all Railways thereafter. Cars were not there they came much later; all private transportation was bound to horses with or without a carriage. The pace of time suddenly disturbed by ‘iron horses’ belching black smoke and hissing steam.
No wonder some people thought the end of times was near. Even in literature it left some traces, Paul Theroux and his story: The Great Railway Bazaar, a travel by train around the world as far as this was possible on rails. Agatha Christie; Murder on the Orient Express and written in 1934. A train from London and Calais to Istanbul in Turkey with of course a lot of luxury on board.
The service is no longer there, the last train under this famous name departed on May 22nd 1977. Once in a while there’s a special train for the wealthy under us to revealing the old days without encountering Mr. Hercule Poirot.
There’s one long distance train still running; the Trans Siberia Express from Moscow till Beijing in China, a full eight days behind a moving window if not making a stopover in between. This is the way one could travel by train from Europe to Thailand despite a few missing pieces of track near the Cambodian boarder and between Phnom Phen and Ho Chi Minh City the former Saigon in Vietnam. No fancy trains only ordinary ones and on the way for minimal two weeks of course with changing and delays on certain stations.
De longest distance between three countries in Southeast Asia to short by train is from Chiang Mai to Singapore; 2665 kilometre. Three days and nights and arriving in the morning of the fourth day, however, not any longer at the lovely Art Nouveau decorated head-end station on the Keppel Road. A new station (Woodlands) is now the terminus of all trains near the dam connecting the city-state with the peninsular mainland of Malaysia at Johor Bahru.
If you like to spend some money take the Eastern and Oriental Express (E & O), and let the track disappear underneath while sipping your drink at the half open parlour car in the rear. It goes beyond the scope of this story to mention exact departure times but any one ever longing for a trip like this a handmade tailored timetable always can be produced more-over while there’re constantly changing. The E & O however requires a planning ahead while it runs but not daily.
The Orient, land of the sunrise, contrary the Occident; were the mighty fireball goes under. It sounds like a description of the bible but isn’t, only part of the same imagination and it doesn’t harm the case but maybe an ordinary train will suit as well or even better, less well equipped with gadgets but certainly in terms of money more valuable. A train for the ordinary people, the common man in going from point A till B, the real charm of the railway and beyond any mind’s eye.

Photo above: The E & O Express has arrived at Chiang Mai.
Photo below: Turing the open balcony parlour car so the next passengers can enjoy the disappearing rail to the horizon while sipping their drinks.


About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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