Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Storm in a teacup: Penang to Bangkok, 946km, 22 hours

So it turns out I don't need to be Kate Adie. By the time I arrive here the Red Shirts and Thai government have reached an amicable agreement (for the time being anyway). Life in the capital seems to be back to completely normal - huge exhaust filled traffic jams, the scent of roasting meat and Pad Thai from numerous street restaurants and more Tuk Tuk drivers than you can shake a stick at following you around asking 'taxi, taxi, you want taxi?'.

The only thing conspicuous by their absence are tourists. I meet Renske, a Dutch girl who's also travelling to Bangkok on the train and we check into a hostel together. We're the only guests they have and as we wander around the city in the afternoon we see maybe half a dozen other travellers at most. (If you're ever doing this route or want to stay somewhere near to the railway station in Bangkok, Baan Hualampong is a great choice. It's an old Chinese house with wood and tile floors, heigh ceilings and Chinese style wood panel walls...very atmospheric, totally clean and only 5 minutes walk from the station).

The 'avoid at all costs' travel advice issued by various governments all seems a bit of an over reaction now that I'm here.

Renske and I stumble on one of the protest sites. It's almost empty and has the feel of the last day at a Festival. The ground is littered with water bottles and drink cans, there's a small stage with a folorn banner, some young guys sleeping in the shade and a few little red flags still waving.

One traveller we meet tells us that until yesterday the space was filled with men, women and children in what he describes as a 'festival mood'. They offered him free food and he sat and chatted with them for an hour or so. The police presence, at least at this site near Koh Sahn Road, was low key.

The train journey to Bangkok was fab. Air conditioned carriages with generous seats turn into large bunk beds at night. It's £2 extra for the bottom bunk but it is a third or more wider and much more comfortable than the one above, so be sure to ask for it if you ever book a sleeper in Thailand.

After we cross the Thai border a dinner menu is handed out and served at your seat. I have soup, prawns with vegetables, chicken green curry and fresh pineapple, along with a large cold beer for £6. Then I sleep like a baby till the sun comes up and the stewards rattle the curtains that separate the beds from the corridor to wake us up.

The most interesting passenger on this trip turns out to be 8 years old. His name is Gabriel and he comes from Louisianna in the USA. He's the youngest of 15 children and his mum died when he was 4. He now lives with his father, who is ex US Army and sports a large beer belly and long black hair and trades diamonds for a living, in a guest house in Bangkok along with his step mum, a lovely and very quiet Indonesian woman.

Gabriel talks non-stop. He tells the entire carriage his life story, his father's life story and shares with us his views on subjects ranging from Alexander the Great (apparently the greatest leader of all time and a great great great to the trillionth relative of his) to the Latin Kings (his Dad 'hurt two of 'em real bad one time. He didn't shoot 'em cause he didn't want to kill 'em but he kicked their asses.').

He tells me his cousin killed a man with a razor blade; his older brother got him drunk for the first time (for a joke) when he was 5; his Dad always carries at least one gun.

Gabriel speaks three languages (English, Thai and Indonesian). He seems very articulate for his age and supremely confident. Combine that with the pugnacious mindset of the deep American south and you have an extremely interesting (or perhaps challening) mix. I bet we see his name in the headlines, one way or the other, sometime in the future.


  1. And he looks soooo sweet! Well, I suppose they all do at that age. Was the Dad (and his gun) in the carriage with you? Scary.

  2. it's all kicking off here. Thailand may be good place to hunker down with a suitcase full of gold soverigns 'till it's sorted