Some days you can work really hard at having a good time. You can put pressure on yourself to see everything, do everything, tick all the boxes.
Other days, you choose to just roll with life a little bit; be a passenger, and see what happens.
It’s usually those other days that end up pleasantly surprising you and more successful than the desperate mad-scramble days. Our trip up to Bangkok from Koh Tao was one of those days.
We took the ferry back to Chumphon from Koh Tao to get the night train to Bangkok, but this time found ourselves with lots of time to kill in Chumphon town. We arrived in the late afternoon and our train was scheduled for 11pm. Initially, I was apprehensive about this: what could there possibly be in Chumphon to interest us, but then discovered soon enough that there was plenty going on. We walked out of the station and past the tourist bars. It seemed that most people just stopped there, but something told us to keep walking.
We walked past large administrative buildings and sports grounds, as well as what appeared to be an open sewer or two, and ended up on Chumphon High Street. The night market was gearing up, with Rambutan and meat on display. For those interested in having a hot date, there was also perfume for sale:
After the touristy shtick of Koh Tao, it was great to find somewhere that seemed meant for the locals. We stumbled across a street kitchen with a restaurant in a building.
In the West, you’re used to sitting outside and having your kitchen inside. Here it’s quite common to flip that around. After all, this way you’re able to see the wonderful cooking and food on display before you decide to go in: it’s a great sales tool.
As we wandered back towards the station, I noticed a Thai Pancake stall. I’d never heard of these before, so I spent some time watching them being made. Essentially they are tiny little pancakes cooked on a hot plate and individually topped with coconut cream and other toppings. Each pancake is then rolled up individually and boxes of 30 are sold for about 50 pence. They were moreish and delicious. So moreish, in fact, that I ate the whole box within an hour and felt a little sick afterwards. I have only myself to blame.
I’m a huge fan of Pad Thai, but still I felt that ordering it was a little like asking for Chicken Tikka Masala when going to India. I tried a couple of other dishes here and there, but seeing the Pad Thai stall in Chumphon made me lose all inhibitions about ordering Pad Thai.
This looked like the real deal: cooked quickly, in large batches, and served immediately to long crowds of people. Some drove by on mopeds to place their order before coming back later to pick up their food wrapped beautifully in banana leaf and paper.
After gorging ourselves with culture and cuisine at the night market, we wandered back to the train station. All the boards seemed to say that our train was on time, which was pretty spectacular, but then it became clear that the boards were wrong. There was trouble in the south, from where our train was coming, and there was quite a lot of disruption on the line.
Other trains (presumably also delayed) were coming through, and it was interesting to watch workers on the platform prepare huge batches of food in anticipation of the train pulling in, then dash furiously through all the carriages selling their food. We saw this happen a good few times before the train pulled in.
The trip back was pretty uneventful. On the trip out we had sat opposite a German couple and their young son, Max, who was adorable. They had been travelling for several months already and had managed to get traveling with a kid to work out well. On this trip back up to Bangkok, we were next to a couple of British oiks, who just got hammered on the train, made endless demands of those around them and took some of my snacks whilst I slept!
We arrived back at Hualamphong early in the morning and left our luggage at a lock up in the station. We were asked very clearly whether we had any food in our bags as mice were a problem. Next job was breakfast – I think we wandered for hours trying to find somewhere to eat, but just kept getting distracted by places like this chicken shop:
Or this undertaker’s shop:
We ended up wandering into an art gallery near Siam Square, which was hosting some international competition. This chair was a particularly stand-out piece:
We finally topped off our cultural immersion with a visit to another temple with an enormous solid gold Buddha – the world’s largest gold statue at Wat Traimit.
Back to practicalities, I had a train to catch and needed to get back to Hualamphong to get my bags, then back to the airport, so we haggled with a tuk-tuk driver and raced off.
Within a couple of hours we were sat at the airport drinking beer and watching monks before I boarded my flight to Sydney!