Our original plan after visiting the temples of Ayutthaya was to take a night train to Chiang Mai.  This would have saved us a night in a hotel and gotten us to Chiang Mai early in the morning, refreshed from a night of resting on the train in a first-class sleeper berth, so we could begin exploring immediately.

Things, however, didn’t quite work out that way.

As it turns out, getting a sleeper car in Thailand is not easy to do — especially during the high tourist season when we visited.  On our first morning in Ayutthaya we biked our way back to the train station to book our overnight trip, and I met with a train station agent who, although seemed extremely uninterested in what I had to say, spoke very good english and was very quick looking up ticket availability and prices.

“My wife and I would like to travel to Chiang Mai in a first class-sleeper on Monday,” I said.

The agent rapidly typed hundreds of characters into his computer and, after a moment’s pause, turned his computer screen toward me to show me that there were no first class sleepers available.  Although I was a little disheartened by this I wasn’t too upset as I had read that the second class sleepers, though not as private — four beds instead of two — were still quite comfortable and would be an acceptable alternative.

“What about second-class sleepers on Monday?”

Hundreds of characters later the agent showed me a different screen, a sort of matrix that showed car type and number of available seats by date.  The matrix went across his screen for three weeks and the two rows he indicated were first- and second-class sleeper cars were uniformly zeroed out.

“There are no sleeper cars available, but there are second-class air-con seats available on the morning train every day for the next three weeks.”

After a discussion session with Her, who was guarding the bikes and bags while I went to buy the tickets, we decided to take the nearly twelve hour day train instead of backtracking to Bangkok and flying.  This would be the much cheaper option, would give us a chance to “see the countryside” and would give us a taste of how the locals travel.  We paid the 200 baht (almost US$7 fare) and, tickets in hand, continued our exploration of Ayutthaya.

There is one very important thing to remember when traveling by train in Thailand: the trains in Thailand do not run on schedule.

I am a very punctual person.  My mother used to say to me, “If you are 10 minutes early, you’re five minutes late,” something her father would say to her, and it became a sort of life mantra making me get to places like airports well in advance to account for any possible contingencies that might slow me down.  That habit has carried into this trip, much to Her’s discontent, and I have been making us get to the airport, bus depot or train station comfortably for me and ridiculously for Her far in advance of the scheduled departure.  Any delays in departure time, even if we are waiting at the train station/airport/bus station, make me extremely nervous for reasons I can’t explain.  This habit is not a good one to have when traveling by train in Thailand.

Our train was scheduled to leave at 9:15AM.  By 10:30AM, no train in sight, I was a mess.  Luckily for Her, there was an extremely cute and photogenic puppy sleeping under a food stall at the train station that kept her occupied and away from me while I was in my Mr. Hyde state-of-mind.  When the train finally arrived, over an hour late, a wave of relief swept over me and was soon replaced by a new feeling when we boarded our car and found our seats.

We purchased second-class air-con seats, which meant that the seats were essentially the same as our trip from Bangkok — vinyl, hot, and uncomfortably hard — but the air-con feature meant that there was a rattling piece of machinery in the ceiling of the car that kept the air temperature inside almost exactly 2 degrees cooler than the sweltering tropical heat outside.  And naturally, since it’s an air-conditioned vehicle, the windows were sealed shut.

Our luggage stowed and the sweat beginning to flow freely, we began the slow journey north, and began to notice the extra “passengers” on the train.  A small army of tiny cockroaches would dart in and out of the rust holes that dotted the walls and floors of the train.  We were disgusted, and it seemed we weren’t alone as several of the other passengers made screeching sounds and all the passengers in the car began to get their hand bags off the floor and put their feet on the foot rests of the chairs in front of them.  Having negotiated the window seat after abdicating it to Her on the trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, my small victory became a major defeat as I noticed several of the small roaches crawling along the side of the window. Maybe they were sick of the air-conditioning, too, and just wanted to get some airflow into the car!

With Her and I up as high off the train floor and as far from the window as possible, the train crew began their food and beverage service.  Just as we were leaving for the train station that morning our hotel manager warned us not to eat the food on the train.

“It comes all the way from Bangkok without refrigeration,” she said, “We had a guest eat the food last week and she was sick for 4 days.  We thought we were going to have to take her to the hospital!”

Luckily she told us that as we had a chance to purchase some small sandwiches and snacks from one of the ubiquitous 7-11’s before our train left.  Otherwise we may have had an even more interesting journey!  I passed when offered the free meal, but asked for a glass of water without ice.  I was promptly given a glass of water with two giant ice cubes staring me right in the face.  After drinking ice laden drinks in Bangkok without incident, I threw caution to the wind and drank the potentially poisoned water.  Her passed on that, too, relying on the water supplies we brought with us.  I am happy to report, however, that there were no ill effects from those ice cubes!

After settling in next to our six-legged traveling companions, we began to accept the situation and enjoy the train ride for what it was.  The view out the window was very interesting while there was still daylight.  We passed several interesting towns, including Lopburi where monkeys run wild at the ruins and could be seen from the train, and we occasionally passed giant, golden Buddha shrines built in seemingly random and remote places.  When the sun began to set, we finished up the last of our meager food supplies and I started listening to an audio book on my phone while Her practiced her super power of being able to nap anywhere — absolutely anywhere.

Finally, after an almost 13 hour mind-numbing and butt-numbing (but wallet friendly) train ride from the dark side, we boarded a red songthaew (basically a covered pickup truck with bench seating in the back), overpaid the driver, and started the 15 minute drive towards our delightfully named hotel in Chiang Mai — The Nest.