Thursday, February 1, 2024

Travelogue 2024/1: The Green Side of Bangkok (Thailand)

Bangkok is a delightful city, vibrant and diverse. I enjoy visiting it frequently. Amidst the chaos and hustle, you’ll discover the true hidden gems, the most beautiful spots, the friendliest people, the most surprising alleys, and the best-cared-for cats. But sometimes, you have to escape the crowds, the noise, the heat and the grime.

In this travelogue I describe three excursions in Bangkok: two immersed in green and one on the water. 🌿💧

Walking through Bang Kachou, Samut Prakan

Today, we embarked on an excursion to Bangkok’s “green lung,” a vast area enclosed by a river loop. First, we took the bus (number 47 from National Stadium), a very old vehicle with holes in the wooden floor through which you could see the road. But also, there was a screen indicating the stops. Traffic flowed reasonably well, except for one instance where we needed to turn right, but the lane we had to cross remained blocked due to congestion. Another bus forced its way through. After 40 minutes, we reached the final stop.

We started with a cup of coffee at Amazon. The two (!) ladies behind the counter guided us to the restrooms, which were somewhat hidden in an adjacent empty market. We stocked up on provisions at one of the two 7-Eleven stores flanking the Amazon Café. Next, we took a short walk to the pier. The Chao Phraya River was noticeably wider here. On the left, you could see the harbour and sea vessels. We were ferried across in a small boat.

Initially, the area was filled with rental bicycles and parked motorcycles, but soon we found ourselves walking amidst greenery, passing small houses and fields. The footpath we followed for a few kilometres was an elevated concrete walkway—truly beautiful. You could hear various birds singing in the trees and animals rustling in the leaves, although they were mostly hidden from view.

After about an hour, we reached the botanical garden, a meticulously landscaped park. We strolled through the rear section, where efforts were made to restore three types of original forests, including apple mangroves characterized by their small aerial roots shooting out of the ground. It was green, airy, and peaceful, making the heat bearable. At the park’s edge, a passage led to a small café just outside. There, we enjoyed a refreshing cool drink.

All in all, we walked for a solid 2½ hours before returning to the jetty. Including the bus ride, it was a full-day excursion. 🌿🌞

Phi Suea Samut Fort, Paknam, Samut Prakan

Another substantial excursion. It began with 40 minutes on a cold BTS (Skytrain) ride to Pak Nam. The crowd quickly thinned out, while on the opposite platforms, towards the city, many people were waiting. From Paknam BTS, we walked into town. It felt different right away: the air was clearer, with fewer gasoline fumes and more sea breeze. And it felt somewhat less sophisticated and more provincial. We stopped at Inthanin, a coffee shop, for a decent cup of coffee. The coffee shop didn’t have a restroom. But having learned from previous experiences, I understood the girl when she gestured: outside, to the left, to the left. Indeed, there was a narrow passage. And at the back, there was a turnstile where you could insert 5 baht. Behind it were the restrooms.

We continued walking to the market, through the market, and at the back there was a pier. A medium-sized wooden boat arrived swiftly. It was busy as we crossed the river. We navigated between large cargo ships and naval vessels, eventually docking behind Phi Suea Samut Island. We were near the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, where it meets the sea, so the water was brackish and tidal. Under the footbridge from the pontoon to the shore, a mudskipper spectacle unfolded in the mud. We had never seen such large ones, up to 20 cm long. They looked eerie. Usually, they sat still, but sometimes they crawled with their fins through the mud or swam away. Smaller ones, around 10 cm in size, displayed beautiful green hues and occasionally raised their dorsal fins. Occasionally, a crab emerged from a hole in the mud, its disproportionately large claw adding to the sense of awe.

We walked through a slightly smaller market toward the street. Turning right, we passed a row of shops, most of which were closed, heading toward the temple. Through a peculiar, half-decayed building, you could climb the stairs to the suspension bridge over the river's tributary that ran along this side of the island. That small island was mostly a nature reserve, home to mangroves, snakes, bats, and large white birds. A concrete path on stilts led to the southern tip, where a fort stood - guarding the river mouth. The fort had rooms for troops, ammunition, cannons, and periscopes. There was a statue of an admiral and an exhibition with posters about an incident involving the French.

Until then, it had been a reasonably cool morning, but the walk back was quite warm. Returning to the Paknam side, we headed to the OK restaurant, which had garnered some attention on social media. It was nicely decorated, and the owner was an enthusiastic man. Although they promoted vegetarian options, those were somewhat limited.

We walked to the large observation tower. It followed the tradition of watching for ships arriving from the sea. Even though today wasn't clear, you still had a beautiful view all the way from the river to the sea. The first few kilometres were visible, but the high-rise buildings of downtown Bangkok remained vague.

An elevated walkway connected the tower to the BTS station. However, finding the right floor and door in the tower proved challenging. And then we discovered that the walkway was closed. The reason was unclear. So, we ended up walking along busy roads to reach the BTS.

This, too, was almost a full-day excursion.

Three-Boat Tour

Just like Amsterdam, Bangkok is a city with many canals. I devised a route through the city that involves taking three different boats. We started at the Hua Chang pier, just south of the Rachathewi BTS station, but you can also board at the northern end of various Sukhumvit sois (such as 3, 15, 21), or even all the way at the Bang Kapi pier, where the Yellow Line runs.

Through the Saen Saep canal, large boats speed, leaving behind wild waves and blue plumes of smoke. These boats are popular for commuting. At the piers, they are not securely docked but rather pulled against the dock with a rope. Quick embarkation and disembarkation - then off they go. Small houses line the canal closely, allowing a glimpse inside.

We disembarked at the Bo Bae pier, situated right in the midst of a clothing market. Similar to the metro, skytrain, monorail, and train systems, transfer points are not well-coordinated. So, it was quite a walk to the next pier: Yek Lan Luang on Krung Kasem Road. This boat doesn't operate frequently - once an hour on weekends and only during the morning and evening rush hours on weekdays. A small electric boat approached slowly, carrying just a handful of passengers. Serenely, we sailed down the Krung Kasem canal. This canal was wider, with more picturesque banks and busy roads running alongside.

At the endpoint, we had to walk again, passing locks and a pumping station where the canal meets the Chao Phraya River. Here lies the Thewes pier. Boats dock here by reversing against the floating jetty. Dozens of large boats ply the river, serving as crucial public transportation. There were also plenty of other boats - tourist boats, ferries, cargo ships - so it was bustling, requiring skilful manoeuvring by the captain and sometimes wild rocking in the waves. We sailed along for about half an hour. Along the way, we passed various landmarks such as the Royal Palace and Wat Arun. You can disembark there or stay aboard a little longer. From the Marine Department pier, you can walk through the southern part of Chinatown. Alternatively, from the Sathorn pier, you can take the BTS back to the city centre.


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Travelogue 2023/4 Satun (Thailand) - Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)


We stayed for two weeks in Satun, that small town in a remote corner of south Thailand. This time it started less quiet and dusty than we were used to. The 27th Master Athletics Games were being held here, with participants from 13 countries - mainly Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Iran. For that, a grand night market had been set up with countless food stalls - nice - and a stage with loud music that blared through the whole city until late at night - not so nice.

During the first week, we shared our resort with 22 civil servants who had come from Bangkok to issue passports. Our receptionist had only just managed to keep a cabin for us. It was a young group who chatted very quietly in the evening before going to bed early.

There were also more foreign tourists in Satun than in previous years. Up to 10 a day. Because the boat to Langkawi only went once a day now, people from eg Krabi had to spend the night here instead of being able to continue the same day.

It didn't matter to us, we had wonderful days, where our main concern was where to drink coffee and where to eat.

There was no sleeping in, from half past six there was a concert of birds trying to drown each other out. One with bright melodies, the other with screams.

We took morning walks through a spooky mangrove forest, where crabs and mudskippers moved through the mud of tidal streams when the tide went out. We walked through the countryside with plantations of rubber trees and oil palm trees. We passed karst rock formations where monkeys were swinging between the trees.

Other mornings we had a choice of several nice coffee shops. Only the opening times were quite irregular so more than once we stood in front of a closed door.

For lunch we usually went to one of the two vegan lunch restaurants: Chinese buffet with lots of tofu and seitan dishes.

Twice a local friend took us out for lunch. Then we were picked up by a car with a driver and came to restaurants where we would not have been able to order something vegetarian on our own. Really something different.

In the afternoon we sat on our porch or by the pool. No shortage of animals there either. In addition to the various house cats, there were squirrels, iguanas, birds of prey, lapwings, sparrows and butterflies. A little further on was a large bright blue bird, not a kingfisher, but what was it?

At half past six the sun set and from the distance came the sound of several mosques, just out of sync. It seemed as if they were singing a quadrophonic canon. Moments later, the sound of thousands of crickets and a few frogs with deep bass voices began.

We cooked dinner at home a few times, in the kitchen of our resort. But my favorite restaurant is a curry restaurant where the waitress recognized us after three years, and even knew what my favorite dish was.

That was typical of the many heartwarming friendly smiley Thai we met.

From Satun to KL

In the last 8 years we have crossed the Thai-Malaysian border 6 times. Each time in a different place or with a different mode of transport. A new border crossing could still be added to the list.

The first stage was a very short one (as we also started with short stages in Kerala) of 40 km to the Thale Ban National Park. There we stayed in a beautiful spot in the shadow of the huge wall of a karst mountain. A stream with some waterfalls ran through the garden. In the garden there were coffee plants that had grown into trees and then had been cut back. The flowers smelled wonderfully sweet.

The owner had arranged a car for the next day to take us across the border. The car had both Thai and Malaysian license plates; the driver spoke both Thai and Malay, and he knew just about every border official and police officer we met along the way (and there were quite a few, but they were all equally cheerful and friendly).

We crossed the border at Wang Prachan, and were dropped off 20km further at Padang Besar station. There we took a slow train south. The local trains also run quite fast here, up to 120 km/h. But after fifteen minutes we heard a few loud bangs and the lights and air conditioning went out for a while. After that we barely trudged through the beautiful landscape at a walking pace. We missed our transfer and ended up arriving in Taiping two hours late. There had just been a tropical downpour. All we could do was looking for our hotel (which we still knew from 8 years ago, and luckily they still had room) and getting a bite to eat.

The next day all trains to Kuala Lumpur were already fully booked, so we had to take the bus. Unlike the train stations, the bus stations are located way out of town, so we lost a lot of time with pre- and post-transport. The bus itself was spacious and comfortable and took a nice route through the mountains.

All in all, it had been a couple of long and tiring travel days. But luckily we still had four days in Kuala Lumpur to recover. The pleasant hotel room with a rooftop swimming pool did help. So we had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the excellent coffee and food, and to explore hidden backstreets in this mega-city.


How we got to Satun: The Jungle Railway (MY) and Pattani Sultanate (TH), by train  

Practical information about Satun: Lily's Mini Travel Guide | Satun, Thailand | Border crossings Malaysia - Thailand

Monday, February 20, 2023

Travelogue 2023/3 The Jungle Railway (Malaysia) and Pattani Sultanate (Thailand), by train

The Jungle Train

The main railway from Singapore to Bangkok runs along the west coast of Malaysia. But there is a branch that takes a more central and eastern route. It branches off at Gemas and rejoins the main line in Hat Yai (in the south of Thailand). At the time of construction, this was still largely jungle, hence the nickname. The center and east is still the less developed and more conservative part of the Malaysian Peninsula.


Gemas is a small provincial town with three x three blocks of shops. Cars drive around all the time, hardly anyone walks here. Yet there was a decent hotel and a vegetarian restaurant - only open for lunch, but they were willing to cook something for us. We saw the most extraordinary phenomena when we took an evening stroll: thousands and thousands of swallows had perched on every telephone and electricity cable that hung over the road, and also on many edges of facades. Always at exactly 15 cm distance from each other. In the twilight you saw all those little black balls with a white belly sitting next to each other. Fascinating.

The first stage was to Kuala Lipis, about 275 km in 5 hours. This railway line was recently refurbished, and new a/c trains were running. Still diesel, still single track.

With about 60 km/h we drove through a green world. Many rubber and palm oil plantations, some neglected. In between were plots where nature immediately blossomed. Streams with swirling brown water, and pieces of flooded land. The rainy season had just ended. ...nearly endless palm plantations... Sometimes on both sides so close to the track that the branches touched the train. It seemed as if you were actually inside the plantation, as if you were walking under the palm trees.

Kuala Lipis

Kuala Lipis once was a gold mining town. And the old center still has a wild-west feel. The British made it the capital of the state/sultanate around 1900. When the railway line came to town in 1922, development took a leap and a handful of colonial buildings were built: railway station, British residence and state mosque. And a row of stone houses in the main street between the station and the river - in your mind's eye you can still see the cowboys and covered wagons driving through.

After independence, the capital moved to the coast and Kuala Lipis became less important. Urban expansions look very unplanned: separate areas where a mall and houses are built, at a considerable distance from each other.

We walked around a bit. Along some roads lay a narrow strip of jungle. One step into the jungle and it is dark, uneven, the soil full of smelly decomposing organic material, and the noise of a thousand of insects. Two steps into the jungle and you risk getting lost.

The second stage was to Gua Musang, about 75 km in 2 hours.

Still plantations along the way, but more and more wild green in between.

In the last stretch, straight karst mountains appeared in the landscape, with bare steep rocky sides, sometimes sloping slightly forward, bushes and trees in cracks and on top.

Gua Musang

Gua Musang has almost the same layout as Kuala Lipis. Three old streets between the station and the river, and new neighborhoods at a considerable distance from each other, all geared towards car traffic. Only the colonial buildings are missing. Instead you have the karst mountains that rise vertically, a dominant one right behind the station.

On the platform of the old train station we turned right, heading south. At the end of the platform, we went down the stairs and crossed the railway. A path led into a very small kampong of shabby wooden houses. It almost seemed deserted, but there were some children milling around, watching us shyly. We followed the path between the houses, also in a southerly direction. We crossed a stream via a narrow concrete dam. Shortly after that we turned left and crossed the stream again via a slightly larger concrete dam. I thought it was too narrow, until I found a stick to keep my balance. Now we were just 10 meters from the rock wall, with a jagged edge of jungle in front of it. There was a sort of path leading up between the gigantic trees. With the help of ropes you could go further up. Immediately surrounded by huge leaves and fallen branches. There was a ladder that you could climb to go into a cave. But we didn't. This was already a beautiful piece of jungle walk, however small and short.

If you want to make this walk, make sure to assess the risks.

Early in the morning for the third leg of the Jungle Railway, we boarded the night train that had left the Malaysian-Singapore border the night before. This was an older train that wobbled and rattled more. We wanted to have breakfast in the dining car, but the toast had already run out. It was still too early for fried rice, moreover it was not vegetarian. So we enjoyed the view with a cup of coffee. The landscape with the rising sun and rising morning mist was beautiful.

We rode out of the mountains and into the flat delta. Suddenly we were riding between green rice fields. After 5 hours and 200 km we reached Kota Bharu, a big city. Heart of the conservative Islamic northeast. You saw many facades inspired by Arabic motifs. Malay, Chinese and Arabic were the most commonly used languages ​​on facades and signposts, while English and Tamil had receded into the background.

It took a day for the city to unveil its charms to us. There were still pieces of old kampong between ugly high-rise buildings. Some houses were old and dilapidated, others still looked well maintained. It was wonderfully quiet and peaceful. A few houses must have been villas in their day: large, beautifully designed, with hexagonal extensions and verandas. Now sadly somewhat neglected. They would just be salvageable if someone would pay attention to them now. But a little further on their fate had already been announced: new houses.

Pattani, in the deep south of Thailand

From Kota Bharu we entered Thailand. Trains no longer run on this stretch of railway line, so we had to take the bus for an hour. The border was a classic: first the formalities to leave Malaysia. Then walk through no man's land  across the border river, parallel to the unused railway bridge. Then get the forms and stamps to enter Thailand.

In Sungai Kolok we got back on the train, to Yala (120 km in 2 hours).

If you want to take this train, make sure to assess the risks.

For centuries, Pattani was one of the Malay sultanates. Its heyday was in the 16th century. In the 18th century it was conquered by Thailand. For a long time it remained Thai in name but actually independent. At the beginning of the 20th century it was divided by England and Thailand into a Thai and a Malay part. On the west side, Thailand also gained Satun, and it gave up its claims on other sultanates - which became part of British-occupied territory and later Malaysia. This was a treaty between England and Thailand, the Malaysian sultanates who were involved had nothing to say.

Thailand introduced Thaiification programs in the part allocated to them, which did not go down well and resistance movements arose that wanted autonomy, especially in the former Pattani. At the beginning of the 21st century, they were taken over by ISIS-like groups that want to establish an Islamic Caliphate, have become more violent and aim for chaos and lawlessness, in which their criminal activities flourish. They are now also turning against the local population because they consider them not strict enough in their observance of islam. Police officers and posts, Buddhist monks and monasteries, teachers and schools, and trains and railway lines are particularly targeted by attacks.

Despite that, daily life is generally quiet. It is a pity that the official travel advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is "red", which only further isolates the area. Red here cannot be compared to the red for Syria or Afghanistan, for example. As an outsider, only the heavily armed soldiers who travel on the train stand out. (*)

We had been following the local news closely for a while. Currently, it seemed relatively quiet and safe for foreigners to travel through Pattani. We made two train journeys with a stopover in Yala.



Yala is a vast, quiet, green city. There is a large district with all provincial institutions, built in circles around the city pillar. The roads are quiet and wide and lined with trees. The spacious layout means you have to walk quite a distance to get around.

The city pillar is located in a temple in the middle of a round park with fish ponds. Feeding fish is popular, and the fish will swim towards you as soon as you stop on the bank. Hundreds of mouths snap above the water. The rear fish push so hard that the front ones are lifted above the surface.

Bells hang from the temple and tinkle softly in the wind. Inside, a few people are doing puja. Pieces of gold leaf flutter from the statue of a monk.

Everything looks peaceful and quiet. Muslims also feed the fish, even though it is a Buddhist tradition. And from under a headscarf the big, warm Thai smile radiates just as bright.

From Yala we took the train to Hat Yai (another 120 km in 2 hours), where the eastern branch rejoins the main line from Singapore to Bangkok.


(*) 6 weeks later the Dutch government changes the travel advice from “red” to “orange”. But throughout 2023 there were still quit a number of attacks and bombings on police posts and the like. 

How the journey continued: Satun (TH) - Kuala Lumpur (MY)

Practical tips to make this trip: Lily's Mini Travel Guide

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Travelogue 2023/2 North Kerala Coast by train (India)

Travel in India

"Nothing comes easy in India. There are always unexpected complications. And even the shortest walk on the street becomes an adventure."

Despite massive modernization in India, those statements have remained true for the past 30 years. Sometimes it is tiring that you always have to pay attention, you always have to adapt to a new situation, you always have to process new impressions, you always have to filter out what you do and don't want to hear, you always get talked to (however friendly). But you also get a lot in return, you see fantastic things, experience the strangest things, talk to special people.

For two weeks we traveled down the coast of North Kerala. Mostly by train, mostly fairly short journeys. We took slow regional trains, sometimes with a seat, sometimes squeezed together standing in the hallway. Open windows provided much needed ventilation. Our trains ran on time or were delayed by up to half an hour.

Arab influences

For more than 2000 years there have been trade routes between Arabia and the Malabar coast. As a result, the first Christians were here in AD 50 and the first Muslims in AH 10. The smaller coastal towns are still predominantly Islamic - vegetarian food is less common here than in other parts of India. Maybe because of that old commercial spirit people are more open than I'm used to in India. They spontaneously smile at you and welcome you to India.

Besides those ancient middle eastern influences, there are also newer ones. Today, hundreds of thousands of Indians work in the Gulf. With the money they earn there, they build large modern houses. Every village, every town has sprawling suburbs with beautiful villas. And you see it in the many shawarma shops, the mint drinks, the gold shops.

At a tea stall we spoke to some young men who were constantly traveling back and forth between different Gulf states, trading in expensive cars, gold and whatnot. Real wheeler dealers. In a garden restaurant we spoke to a man who had worked in Dubai for 20 years at management level, who was now taking early retirement and had bought a plot of land in the interior of Kerala with the money he earned, where he started farming as a hobby. In both cases they paid for our drinks.

Forts, backwater and beach

The Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, the French and various regional warlords fought each other for centuries for influence over the prosperous coastal strip. You can still see many cultural influences, the most tangible are a number of forts. We visited five. That varied between a search for some overgrown remains of a wall, and a large restored complex with walking paths, bastions and lookout towers.

Most forts have stepwells, where you can descend to groundwater level. They are less beautifully decorated than in North India, but functional if your fort is besieged. Some have (secret?) tunnels to get to the sea.


Kasargod was a bigger place than expected. We settled on the edge of town, near the new bus station. There were hotels and restaurants, and quite surprisingly a group of food and drink stalls where young people gathered after school. Even boys and girls mixed with each other.

The thoroughfares were congested with dirty and noisy traffic. But as soon as we turned into a side street, we walked through a rural area. From endless noise and hooting to almost serene silence. Finally we got to the place we were looking for, where the ruins of Kasargod Fort are supposed to be. Everything was overgrown and with difficulty we recognized the remains of a bastion and a watchtower.

5 km outside the city was the well-maintained Fort Chandragiri. The perimeter of the fort was still completely intact or restored. Thick high walls surround a field the size of two football pitches. There was a footpath along the inside of the outer walls, with a number of bastions. You had a good view over the river, the estuary and inland - a good place for a fort.

We had gone there with a rickshaw "the long way 'round", but we walked back, just like the locals, over the railway bridge over the wide river into the town. It was a long walk, and in the meantime it had become quite warm and we had run out of water. When we arrived at the almost 1400 year old Malik Deenar Juma mosque it was immensely busy there. Today was the last day of a festival in honor of Deenar (who also founded the Mangalore mosque we visited), and people had come from far and wide. We were warmly welcomed and a friendly gentleman fetched us a few bottles of water.


In Bekal we lived in a kind of mini-resort, literally in the shadow of the fort. The peacocks walked between the coconut trees. Close by was a beach where you could sway in the waves of the Arabian Sea. And within walking distance was a lunch restaurant where they twice cooked an evening meal especially for us. Sublime home cooked meals. The lady was from Bangalore and felt anything but at home in this small hamlet, where they lived because her husband had to maintain the family temple.


In Payyanur we made a long trip over the backwaters - river arms and lagoons separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land. Surrounding it are small communities and coconut plantations. When we looked for information about departure times at the jetty, we were treated to fresh coconuts by the neighbors. Normally you drink them with a straw, without that it became a huge mess. We saw a video of it the next day on the phone of one of the crew members!

We were on a ferry that zigzagged back and forth between several jetties. Most people just crossed to the other side, but we eventually covered about 10 km as the crow flies. Some parts it was just us and the five-man crew. The views, the water birds, the fishing boats, the palm-fringed coastline: it couldn't get more beautiful than that.


In Kannur Fort we got a personal tour from a local policewoman. She came towards us when E leaned over a fence. Instead of whistling her back, the two ladies climbed together over the walls and battlements of the fortress. She knew quite a bit about the history, and the three of us studied the tombstone of Susanna, the young wife of the former Dutch commander. The text was in weathered old Dutch. The policewoman had an older photo on which the text was less weathered. Finally we managed to decipher everything. We promised to record it and send it to her.


Kozhikode was by far the largest city in North Kerala. Busy but also with a more metropolitan atmosphere, e.g. at the tables on the lawn of our hotel and in the mall. In the oldest part of the city you will find 14th century wooden mosques with beautiful carvings. As in Mangalore, the old districts along the coast were the oldest and poorest. We also visited theold Tali temple and the archaeological museum.

Kozhikode was our last coastal town this journey. From here we went inland. Via Palghat and Dindigul (two more forts!) we reached Trichy.
Practical tips to make this trip: Lily's Mini Travel Guide

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Travelogue 2023/1 Amsterdam-Dubai-Mangalore-Kuala Lumpur by lowcost carrier and narrow-body

From Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with one-way tickets booked separately, with low-cost airlines, with small planes? Yes, you can, with stops in Dubai and small airports in South India.


A one-way ticket to Dubai with Transavia was so cheap that we didn’t mind the early departure. Although I wasn't so sure about that when we were waiting at the gate at 5AM. We had spent the past 1½ hours looking for security and immigration counters that were open. It makes sense that not everything is open at night, but there could have been better signage...

It was strange, flying for 7 hours in a narrow body aircraft without service. But the staff was very friendly and everything went fine. We just had not expected to be dropped off at a low-cost terminal in Dubai. Kind of an old shed. No metro here, as in the shiny terminal across the tarmac. It took a while to find out how to take the bus into the city, but in the end that worked out well.

At dusk we walked the last bit to our hotel.


We concentrated on Deira, the old town on the north side of the creek. Well, not all was old, our hotel was at the site where the fish market used to be.

Across a major road was the Gold Souk, which is a maze of ancient streets and lanes.

You have the hypermodern Dubai with skyscrapers and shiny malls. You have the new construction like in our neighborhood, which is quite tasteful. You have the 60s-80s buildings along the main streets in the old city, ugly concrete buildings of 3 to 4 floors that contain all those gold shops. And you have the small alleys behind them where they forgot to demolish the houses from the time they used mud as a construction material.

We walked a bit along the gold shops that were on the tourist route, where you were constantly harassed, and then entered the smaller streets of the perfume market and the textile market. It was very pleasant and peaceful there. We were admiring the colorful dresses in a shopwindow when a lady approached us and said that this was a great store. Under her black robe you could see the edge of such a colorful dress. When I made a remark about that, she opened her black robe wide to allow herself to be admired.

In the area in and around the Gold Souk, most residents, shopkeepers, restaurant staff and gold traders are from Kerala. We got talking to a salesman who came from Kasargod - the first town in Kerala that we want to visit. We immediately got his cousin's phone number.

All in all it was a nice trip around the back of the Gold Souk.

The great thing about Dubai is the mishmash of half the world you see. Tourists from half the world, workers from half the world, everyone with their own clothes and their own habits. An Arab lady all covered in black; a Philipina in shorts and a tank top; a stout lady in an African dress; a Russian with too flashy clothes and too much make-up and too bleached hair.

Food is also available from all over the world, we ate Indian and Iraqi.


For this route we had bought a one-way ticket from Air India Express. It was only a three-hour flight, again with a 737, but due to time difference and delays, we arrived in Mangalore at 6PM. It took a very long time before we could enter the country. Not because of bad will, but because of ignorance. It seemed that so few foreigners entered the country here that the officials were unfamiliar with the procedures and the equipment.

Once in the city and in our hotel, we were a bit overwhelmed by the huge transition from organized Dubai to the total chaos of India. After six years we had forgotten how dirty everything is, how everything once broken, stays broken, how big the holes are in the road and that there are even bigger holes next to the road, how you are constantly submerged in noise and air pollution. Mangalore seemed to have all the lesser sides of India, without the mysticism of Junagadh for example or the atmosphere of a city like Mysore.


The next day we were able to discover a few gems in Mangalore.

In the morning we walked through the oldest district, where it was very busy with carts and lorries loading and unloading goods in the narrow streets, to the river. We took a ferry to the other side. There was a long and narrow peninsula between the river and the Arabian Sea. It had a village feel, there were more cows, goats and cats on the street than cars, and the houses seemed to be built on dune sand. We zigzagged through narrow alleyways until we reached the beach: miles of white sand. Birds and fishermen hunted for fish.

In the evening we visited the third oldest mosque in India, almost 1400 years old. Built in the year 22 of the Islamic era, only 5 years after the death of the Prophet. This could happen so quickly because of the existing trade routes between Arabia and the Malabar coast. The oldest wooden part was somewhat hidden behind a newer hall. An old man said that women were not allowed to go to the back. But when I got there and got talking to some of the elders, they were okay with me to go and fetch E. She made an impression by knowing the name of the father of the sultan who renovated the mosque. Together we admired the ancient architecture and lavish carvings. Very impressive.

Trichy-Kuala Lumpur

We traveled by train and bus from Mangalore to Trichy (*).

We had selected the flight from Trichy to Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia because it was a day-time flight. But after our booking it was canceled and we were transferred to a night flight. The small airport of Trichy was easy to reach, quiet and well-managed. It had as many flights to Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpar as to Indian cities. On board the Airbus 320, another narrow-body, the East Asian flight attendants caught the eye. And the uncomfortable chairs. Suddenly four hours of flying was a long time. Of the three flights, this was by far the least comfortable.

It was an interesting experience: with one-way tickets booked separately, with low-cost airlines, with small planes from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All in all a successful experiment.


(*) How we traveled onwards from Mangalore: North Kerala Coast by train
How we traveled onwards from Kuala Lumpur: The Jungle Railway (MY) and Pattani Sultanate (TH), by train

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Slow Train from Trang to Bangkok

The train is a wonderful way to explore Thailand. It is convenient, takes you from city centre to city centre, and offers the most stunning views along the way.
This is my journey from Trang to Bangkok.

Stage zero: Trang – Kantang – Trang

Trang is another quiet provincial town. It sees quite some tourists passing through to Andaman Sea islands, but few stay. They miss out on a small night market, some traditional Chinese coffee houses (Copi, Sin-ocho), a modern clocktower, a lively Chinese New Year and the colourful Underwater Wedding festival and parades.

Some ten km south of town are botanical gardens with a stunning canopy walk, a rare patch of original forest.

30 km southwest, in the mouth of the river Trang, is the old seaport of Kantang. Connected by railway it is potentially an important harbour for east-west cargo, but its glory days are long gone. There is one daily (nightly, actually) train connection between Bangkok and Kantang.

You can join that train from Trang for the last hour. As most people get off in Trang, there are hardly any passengers. It was odd, being on that enormous train almost by ourselves. It’s a smooth ride through flat rural land, quite beautiful and very green.
The Kantang station is the original century-old wooden building, still brightly painted, with the original ticket windows and signs. One room is a small museum, an outbuilding now is a nice coffee shop: the Love Station.

We walked to the former residence of Praya Ratsadanu. A century ago he was a local entrepreneur who introduced the rubber tree to Thailand. The impact is still visible throughout large parts of Thailand. It’s the most grown crop nowadays.
His house was a two-storey wooden villa with many verandas, airy and undoubtedly very luxurious for the time. It was poorly maintained, but still had some old furniture and old photographs. The dining table on the back porch was quite impressive. It was surrounded by lush forest with the deafening sound of crickets.

To catch the same train back to Trang, you have to make it a very quick visit. If you want to explore more of the town and the harbour, you have to go to the (shared) taxi stand at 140 Ratsada Rd, or stay the night.

Stage one: from Trang to Chaiya

If, like me, you are not a fan of night trains, you have to use the Kantang – Trang – Bangkok train to cross from the west coast to the east coast and get off when night falls. I had a second class ticket that gave me an old wooden carriage but with comfortable modern seats. For hours we passed rubber plantations, banana groves, jungle, huts and hills.

At Thung Song Junction we joined the main line from Bangkok to Hat Yai. Surat Thani is the first major stop, and a possible stopover, but I rode a bit further

After 230 km Chaiya is a small town with just two streets, mainly with wooden houses, mostly shops. There is one hotel and one place to get egg fried rice. At 7 everything is closed and dark.

In the morning I had enough time to visit famous Wat Phra Boromathat. There are clear similarities with temples and chedis in Central Java. This once was part of the Sri Vijaya empire, that comprised Sumatra, Java and the Malay peninsula.

Stage two: from Chaiya to Prachuap Khiri Khan

For the next 300 km north it is best to take the special express #40. It is a Rapid Diesel Car. No locomotive and only three coaches, each of which seemed to have their own diesel engine. More modern and faster than yesterday's train, although the seats were older. A/C. There were quite some western tourists on it, about ten in my carriage. Lots of rubber plantations along the way, and also pieces of uncultivated land.

Train number 40 is the only day train from Surat Thani to Bangkok and sells out quickly, so you may want to get your ticket in advance. I am still confused when you should, when you must, and when you can buy advance tickets. It seems to vary per stretch. Tickets are definetly more expensive in advance, with rapid surcharge and a/c surcharge.

Construction was going on along the track between Chumphon and Prachuap Khiri Khan. You saw large sand beds, ramps and new concrete sleepers in the grass. Culverts were dug, iron bridges forged, concrete flyovers erected, skeletons of station buildings appeared. Train travel in Thailand was about to change.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is situated on a fairytale-like bay, a half circle with pointy rocks on the ends that protrude into the sea. It hardly has any tourist facilities. No strip with bars and restaurants that are specifically aimed at foreigners. Still there are hundreds of tourists in town.

It’s a nice walk to the next bay to the south. The beach is actually inside an airforce base!

Stage three: from Prachuap Khiri Khan via Nachon Pathom to Kanchanaburi

From Prachuap Khiri Khan you can take the rapid #40 again and arrive in Bangkok at around 21h. But I did it the long way.

I took the slow train north, 255 km to Nachon Pathom. It is fun and there’s a lot to see, but it is also slow and hot. The open windows provide a warm föhn wind.

The rubber trees were gone. They were replaced by pineapples, coconuts, vineyards, fish ponds and the first rice fields. Towns, villages, bamboo huts. In Hua Hin, more tourists got off than on. The journey was long and hot. Sometimes a long wait for an oncoming train. The train slowly emptied, unlike what you would expect getting closer to Bangkok..

The train schedule forces an overnight stop in Nachon Pathom. If you want to avoid that, you can get off at Ratchburi and take a bus to Kanchanaburi there. Get off at Chulalongkorn Bridge and it’s just a short walk to the bus stop in front of Numsin Hotel. Be careful getting off, as the last carriages may halt where there is no gravel path next to the train and the ramp is too steep to stand.

Nachon Pathom is a pleasant and thoroughly Thai town. The downside is that there is no decent hotel near the train station, and there is nothing to see but the huge Phra Pathom Chedi.

The most lively place at night was the train station, with tourists who came from Kanchanaburi waiting for a night train south.

The next morning I took the ordinary to Kanchanburi. It was another third class train, mostly filled with locals and food vendors pacing up and down the aisles.

Stage four: Beyond Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is an excellent base to see nature, waterfalls, caves, elephant camps and tiger gardens. But it is most famous for the Burma railway. One of the key passages was the Bridge over the River Kwai, as in the movie with the same name.

I walked from town to the Bridge. You can pass underneath it via a small park, in the shadow of the bridge itself. I heard the whistle of a train. Yes, there was one coming. It turned out to be the Eastern & Oriental, the super-deluxe train from Singapore to Bangkok, which made a small detour to catch the Bridge over the Kwai. It just drove over it, and then back again.

I made a daytrip by public bus to Hellfire Pass, a notorious part of the Burma railway. There was a small museum with information panels about the construction of the railway by prisoners of war. Outside was a walk, first a long staircase into a valley, where I walked in a bamboo forest. Hellfire Pass was a piece of rock "just" 100m and 30m deep, hewn out of the rock by hand (!) and dynamite. After that I walked a bit further on the railway track bed, sometimes flat, sometimes parts were sagging and I had to climb and descend. The gruesome history is impressive and a strange contrast to the beautiful bamboo forest, which stretched all over the area, and where there was a continuous concert of crickets and other insects.

On my travels I visited several Khmer temples, satellite cities of the famous Angor Wat. Prasat Muang Singh is the westernmost Khmer site and far from the others in Cambodia and Isan. Also relatively far from Kanchanaburi, 40km, and the only public transport is the train. It only runs a few times a day and there is just one combination of return trains that can be done. If the trains are on time.

According to a sign in the station, the train would arrive 10 minutes late. That should leave me just enough time. Three special coaches for foreigners at tourist price (100b) were already waiting, because this ride also did the passage of The Bridge. When the train arrived from Thonburi, the locomotive was disconnected, it picked up our carriages, drove forward, then back again to connect to the coaches from Thonburi. So we became an extra long train.

We drove over The Bridge very slowly. After The Bridge, the tracks followed the valley of the Kwae Noi. Lots of agriculture, rice fields, corn, bananas, and crops that I did not know. Occasionally unexplored tracts of land with the bamboo bush that was so characteristic of the Hellfire Pass. Villages, Buddhist monasteries, schools, children and farm workers waved to the train. Sometimes we had a view of the river, which was quite wide despite its name. With a fifteen minute delay we arrived at Tha Kilen station. I was the only one who got off and walked the km to the entrance to the historic site. The site was beautiful, and I could even get lunch. But I had to hurry to catch the train back. And at 37 degrees, that's not what you want. Back through the gate, the access road, through the village, the station road. With 5 minutes to spare I arrived at the station. Time to buy a cup of coffee before the train arrived.

The final stage: from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok

There are two daily slow trains from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok. The terminal changes over time. They used to run to the old Thon Buri station (then called Bangkok Noi) close to the river. Then a new station more inland was built. These days it may be more convenient to get off one stop earlier at Jaran Sanitwong to connect to the Metro. And one day all trains will terminate at the Bang Sue Grand Station. That will be the new era of train travel in Thailand, with double track, and electrification and fast trains.


Thailand, February 2015-16-19-20 – Amsterdam, May 2022



The Slow Train from Bangkok to Hat Yai

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