We woke before the sun had risen to make sure we didn’t miss riding the train in Thailand at 6am. We were leaving from the outskirts of Bankgkok, and would be riding the train in Thailand through the countryside to the Cambodian Border. Being outside the city center, the train station we were departing from was full of locals, and everything was written in Thai. Considering the fact that we couldn’t understand the signage and that we were the only Westerners around, we were just going by our instinct. “Which track will be ours?” I asked Liz. “I don’t know,” she said, “I think it will be on this side because it’s where more people are standing.” Even though we weren’t sure, as with most things in Asia, we decided to just roll with it and see what would happen.
As the station started to fill and the sun began to rise, we were wondering about how to purchase our tickets to the correct destination because there was no one at the ticket window. Finally, the ticket window opened and all the locals lined up. Liz joined the line and a few minutes later she returns to where I’m sitting. She has a big smile on her face and begins telling me how interesting that experience was.
Liz explained that everything was in Thai, and that the ticket seller only spoke Thai. Not really knowing how to pronounce the name of our destination, luckily she had written it down on our paper “cheat sheet” itinerary, so she was able to point to the name on the paper to get our tickets. At least we hoped we got the right tickets. Soon after, we see a train coming our direction. It appeared that we were waiting at the right track! So we grabbed our packs and make our way closer to the track while the train nears our stop.
The first thing we notice is that people, including children, are dangerously packed and hanging off the stairs of the train…while it’s moving! If you have visited Asia before, then you know what we are talking about; and it definitely reminds you that you are in a different world! Since the train was coming from the city center and heading out of town, it was already packed. We looked at each other and said “how are we going to get on this train?” We couldn’t miss it because the next train to our destination wouldn’t come for another 8 hours.
So following the crowds, we pushed our way onto the train and up the stairs, climbing over and around people in the process! We had barely wiggled our way on board before the train started moving again. “Wow, it’s a good thing we didn’t hesitate” Liz laughed. She then managed to squeeze between some people and through the doorway of the car itself. I was not as fortunate.
Sure I was on the train, but I was in between the cars where they connect. So technically, I was standing outside, with no doors on either side and holding onto my balance for dear life as the two cars bounced unevenly down the track. I was nervous to say the least. Between that and the unappealing aroma of the guy leaning onto me, made me wonder how I was going to make it through this 4 hour ride! Luckily, after a few stops I was able to squeeze my way into the actual car; feeling much safer!
The train was packed, so there were no seats for either of us. Liz and I stood in the aisle with many others, holding onto handles or seats to keep our balance on this bouncy ride. Our packs were getting in the way, and we felt bad running into other people with them. So we carefully slipped out of them and placed them on the ground vertically, leaning them against our legs.
Then in the first act of Thai generosity and kindness of the day (there were many), a man a few feet away from Liz got her attention and motioned for her bag so he could put it up on the shelf above the seats. Liz was nervous about the idea of handing a stranger her bag, but realizing the the train was packed and there wasn’t anywhere to run, she handed it over. The man gently placed it on the shelf and motioned for my bag to do the same. Now with our bags safely stowed, we were able to peek out the open windows; admiring the view of the morning sun burning through the haze of moisture that floated above the landscape of palm trees and rice patties. It was incredibly beautiful.
While on the train, locals walk back and forth through the cars carrying baskets of food and drink. People flag them down to see what they have and make purchases. It’s then that we realize we are standing in the area reserved for monks. Some passengers who purchased food and drinks from the local sellers wandering the car would respectfully approach the monk and offer the food in return for good blessings. It was such a beautiful sight to take in.
Over time, more and more people presenting these offerings to the monk. Liz and I were still split a part on the crowded train, but each time we saw an offering take place, we would look at each other across the way and smile. Cultural moments like this are what we enjoy most about traveling to foreign lands.
Then suddenly, Liz received a tap on her shoulder. She turned to see a lady holding a banana out toward her and motioning toward the monk. Without a word spoken, Liz realized that the woman was giving her the banana to offer to the monk herself; so she could participate in their tradition. Luckily, Liz had watched carefully how the ceremony worked.
She took the banana graciously and bowed her head to the woman. Then she turned to the monk, placed her hands together and bowed her head 3 times, holding out her hands (palms upwards) with the banana toward the monk. She then shifted her hands slightly toward the man next to him (because a monk can’t take directly from a woman). The man took the banana, bowed his head at Liz and handed it to the monk. The monk bowed his head toward Liz in thanks and she gave three more respectful nods of her head.
Liz then turned to the woman, pressed her hands together, bowed and said “khob khun ka” (thank you). The woman nodded, then squeezed her way through a few people to get over to where I was standing. She handed me a banana and signaled toward the monk, the same way she had with Liz. So I made my way toward the monk and presented my offering. The woman gave a big smile to both Liz and I as we continued to say thank you in Thai. You can not buy that experience any where in the world. We felt so blessed to have participated in that part of the their culture.
After the train made a few more stops, more people exited the train than boarded, so there was more standing room which made the ride more pleasant. Soon afterwards, we were able to find a couple seats next to a window. This brought a sense of relief for the both of us, since we had been standing & wobbling about for over an hour. We sat down and were able to look out the open window, enjoying the fresh air that cooled our humidity soaked bodies watching the scenic countryside go by.
As the train approached small towns, we would peek out to watch families walking to and from the train. We saw a variety of architecture, temples, and local town markets. We also purchased some orange soda from a man who was selling from a basket full of snacks and drinks. The soda was refreshing and unique tasting compared to the orange soda here in the states. Liz and I passed the beverage back and forth drinking it through the straw they gave along with it.
As we neared the end of the line and to our stop, we honestly didn’t want to get off. This was such an amazing experience and really made us feel like a local Thai, coming from the big city home to the countryside. But we knew that we had another adventure coming up, and that was crossing the border into Cambodia; which ended up being a whole new adventure that took even longer than the train ride from Bangkok to the border! But that’s a different story for another day.
If you have any questions about taking the train from Bangkok to Cambodia, just let us know in the comments below. It is much cheaper (and more interesting) than flying from Bangkok. Or if you have a story of your own about a train ride, please share the link in the comments.
Read About our Sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia