Bangkok to Nong Khai

by Travel Paulie on January 14, 2010

As I start to write this, I’ve been in Nong Khai for about an hour and already I feel the journey has been worth while.  It all started over 13 hours ago…

To get to Nong Khai there are a variety of paths you can take – all the most obvious forms of public transport except boat.  I chose the over-night sleeper train that brought me right into Nong Khai town.  Alternatively you can take the bus, and you can even fly, though flying is not direct to Nong Khai, but to Udon Thani afterwhich you’ll need to take a 60km bus journey.

I used the site here to fill me in on all I needed with regards trains and took myself to Hualamphong station the day before to get the ticket.  Totally painless.  I went all out and booked myself the 1st class sleeper compartment at 1317 baht.  A little bit more than the 2nd class, but I’d rather have had a safer (since it is a private compartment) and more comfortable night sleep so I’m not a complete sleep-deprived dodo in the morning.  Or so I thought…

So I boarded the train only to realise that each compartment is shared with one other ticket holder – that is, one of you is on the lower bunk, the other on the upper.  Clearly this should have been obvious to me since it did have lower printed on my ticket, but I’m a little slower than the average bear sometimes.  My bedding partner was none other than a monk from Nong Khai and my initial reaction was dread that I was supposed to honour and observe some polite mannerisms that I don’t know about yet and therefore am likely to cause grave offense.  Well, those fears were quickly dispelled after we got chatting.  His English wasn’t great, but it was far superior to my Thai and we made some decent progress with the aid of a notebook and some terrible drawings.  Take a moment if you will and see if you can illustrate the meaning of “Prisoners of our Thoughts” on a piece of paper.  If I can at some point, I’ll scan the page(s) we used to communicate and show you how it’s done 😀  It brings me right back to my early days in Japan where I wouldn’t go anywhere without notepad and pen.

I came to learn that I was sitting with no-less than the director of a high school here in Nong Khai.  I know the name and where it is, and the floor within which he has his office.  I also know where to find his temple (Wat).  He learned from me also about my volunteer job plans, where to find Ireland on the globe, and lots of useful English 🙂

After about an hour into the journey, very suddenly he stood up and indicated that we should convert the seat into the bunk beds, and I wasn’t going to argue with him.  When a man in orange robes indicates to do something, you do it.  So up I jumped and the steward popped in and made up our beds for us.  Lights out and I’ll see you in Nong Khai then.  Or so I thought.

It was lights out alright, but sleep was to remain elusive.  Anyone experienced with bullet trains in Japan, or the equivalent elsewhere in the world, might expect something close to this – it’s nothing like it.  By nothing I mean… zilch, nada, zip, poo-poo, bleugh (I’m making words up now, but you get the idea I hope). Don’t get me wrong, (Clickity-clack!) while most of the railway track in this journey was (Clickity-clack!) in a terrible state, there were some better parts that were just ‘bad’.  And (Clickity-clack!) when you’re used to terrible, ‘bad’ is ‘good’.  You lie awake (Clickity-clack!) waiting for the ‘bad’ so that you might get yourself to a stage of (Clickity-clack!) slumber where it doesn’t matter (Clickity-clack!) how bad it gets because you’re asleep already.  Clickity-clack! Clickity-clack!

Somehow I managed to steal an hour here or there, but mostly it was tossing and turning.  About half way into the trip, it did get significantly smoother… I think they had refined the distance between track sections making it much quieter, but it was by no means consistent.  At around 5am I had the fantastic idea to put on my noise canceling head phones and was amazed at the difference.  Highly recommended!

Next thing I knew then was I was waking up to being whacked on the leg by the monk – he had decided at 7am it was time to get up and have the beds converted to the seats again.  Not being a morning person, not having any decent sleep to speak of, and being violently woken up combined to leave me in quite foul humour for about half an hour while I adjusted.  Then we were chatting again, I had breakfast, and feel asleep again for the remainder of the journey until about 10am (90mins late).

When the train pulled up to the station, he shook my hand and scuttled out the door and I figured that regrettably it would be the last I’d see of him.  But then the true gem of the whole journey emerged while I was haggling with tuk-tuk drivers charging me 3x the going rate.  A man appeared from nowhere and took me by the arm and pointed to his car… and yep, inside was my monk-friend waving me on telling me that he’ll take me to the volunteer centre.  Quality.  So I took a ride with 3 monks, a cute little novice, and the driver, and they together worked out from the map where the place is and dropped me off.  Seriously awesome and makes the whole sleep-deprived ordeal worth every minute.

So right now, I’m killing a bit of time until lunch at the Open Mind Project HQ, after being shown my room.  So far so good… the whole “play it by ear” thing is working it seems.  Trust the system. 🙂

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave January 14, 2010 at 14:23

Enjoyed that. Can’t wait to hear more of the OMP. Enjoying the keeping up to date… keep ‘er lit sunshine!

Not long to the big 3, 0!


Jo January 14, 2010 at 18:24

Well Paul, it’s sounds like you have had very interesting start to the ‘play it by ear’ journey. I hope it continues to work out for you, which I’m sure it will all the while you have your notebook! :p


Laura January 19, 2010 at 01:51

You couldn’t make it up really, could ya?! Looking forward to next instalment Paul! Laura


Cazza January 19, 2010 at 15:42

a great read Paul – have bookmarked yer site now to keep up to date on progress – sounds like yer having a great time on these travels.


paulgoodchild January 20, 2010 at 11:14

Glad to hear y’all liked that wee story! 😉 I’ll try to write some more updates soon… time just seems to flit away from ya when you’re in the sun 🙂


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