Backpackers in South East Asia insists on getting buses everywhere. People look at me in surprise and confusion when they have assumed I’m getting a bus, and I tell them I’m getting a train. It’s inexplicable, trains are clearly the better mode of transport, and in most of the countries fully available, ridiculously cheap and infinitely preferable. I got the train from Bangkok to Ayuthaya for 15 Baht (about 37p), when a bus costs roughly triple the price. I mean, it’s all relative, but even so. But it’s not just the cost, it’s the whole aura and experience of train travel that makes it superior. On trains, you can see into people’s back gardens, see how they really live, on buses, all you see is motorway and the backs of other cars in inevitable traffic jams. Trains have atmosphere. I got the bus to the Cameron Highlands through necessity (there are no trains), it was air conditioned and throughout the journey they played the film of Conan the Barbarian, which is a terrible film, but completely unavoidable when played at loud volume in a contained space. On trains you can walk around, look out the window, read a book without feeling sick, you can even sleep if you pay for a berth which folds out into a bed practically the size of a actual bed. On a bus you are stuck next to someone who, somehow, immediately falls dead asleep, your legs cramp up, sickness is risked and misery always achieved.
Thais take trains. Of course they do, it’s cheap and fun. So when travelling by train, you’re not travelling with a group of people exactly the same as those you went to school with, you’re travelling with the people you flew halfway round the world to see. A train journey is part of travelling, a bus journey is simply something to be endured. The Lonely Planet makes some sniffy comments about how quick the buses are comparative to the trains. This is clearly absurd. I have one engagement in the next two months, a flight out of Bangkok at the end of June, there is nothing I have to get to, nowhere I have to be. It’s one of the whole joys of travelling, one that surely the majority of people share seeing as most people seem to have given up jobs or suchlike to come here. Yes my train from Authyaya was half an hour late, but it was not the end of the world. And, in that half an hour, I saw a goat picnicking with a family, I saw people drying chilis on a roof in the sun, I saw a man in a towel, shaving into an enormous terracotta bowl.
Although, saying that, I could do with moving on from Bangkok. I was here for 5 nights, before a brief jaunt to Ayuthaya, then three more nights, waiting for the capricious Indian embassy to tell me whether I’m allowed into their country or not. In travelling terms, I’m practically living here.