Nowadays, it is so easy to miss out on dying parts of our society and culture; the world moves so fast and changes so much. So many historic functions come to a quiet end without most batting an eyelid. I cannot count how many opportunities I have missed to experience a dying part of our unique history and culture. Sometimes we get so caught up with our daily lives that we miss out on experiences that have the ability to momentarily put life on hold. Any stress, worry and anguish seems to disappear and better yet, even heal. I always hear the same old bucket list of far flung exotic destinations; valid though they are, it is often the things that are nearest and most familiar to us, which offer the greater reward.
As fate would have it, I have been using the Sala Ya to Thonburi commuter train for the last few days. My partner and I are moving to a new area and we have been trying to find the best possible route for her trip home. After counting the klicks, adding up the cost of fuel or BTS and MRT tickets, we stumbled upon this ageing commuter service between Sala Ya and Thonburi.
The service runs between Sala Ya and Thonburi station. There are three trains in the morning and two trains in the early evening. The trip takes roughly 30 minutes depending on traffic over the line in the Taling Chan junction area. The trains are diesel Japanese Tokyu Shaper-Hitachi-Nippon Shaper or THN's for short. These trains all had a long history serving the various commuter lines in Japan, before they were bought and refitted by the SRT (State Railway of Thailand).
I found myself sitting and imagining its past usage as a commuter train in Japan. I thought to myself, how many people have an entrenched memory of riding this train almost everyday. I find that special, Just a train, a simple train, is etched in the memories of so many, the bad days and the good days. We can find some sort of solitude to and from work on trains like these, a kind of hiatus in our lives where time can seem to momentarily stop.
The train ride is a revelation of senses; The sounds, sights and smells; the cool humid breeze blowing against your face and the almost rhythmic hypnotic clanking of the train. You just don't feel these sorts of emotions on a sterile, quiet and smooth MRT or BTS train. It is like everything in life, changing for convenience but at the loss of soul.
The view outside goes from semi-rural rice fields to track-side homes made up of metal sheets and anything that is available, there is some sort of strange order and warmth amongst something that looks so chaotic. At Taling Chan junction, you can see the beginnings of a new era in the new Taling Chan junction station. It will soon service the new electric trains running to and from Bang sue and later, all the way to Sala Ya. This will be known as the light red SRT line and along with the dark red line, it will hopefully form a new era for the SRT (State Railway of Thailand).
On arrival at Thonburi station, which has taken over from the original Bangkok Noi station, you are met with another flurry of senses and Thailand at its best and most authentic. The station is small near the banks of the Chao phraya river but with plenty of activity. The Lang Suan train is usually in the far siding with the Ratchaburi commuter train ready and waiting on platform two for its 18:25 departure.
It is at this point, that my partner is furiously negotiating a journey that involves A motorbike taxi, a walk over the chao phraya river, the yellow flag boat, then another motorbike taxi and then the train. As I said, this is purely a reconnaissance mission right now, but we have already fallen in love. If we miss the 18:25 Ratchaburi commuter train, we have some time to wait until the 19:30 Sala Ya commuter train. this is of no bother.
We walk around the market and take in the atmosphere. There are various shops selling meals and drinks for the commuters and a huge market selling mainly fruit and vegetables. I have already latched onto a 25 baht garlic pork with rice dish but the variety and cheap price exemplifies why I love living in Thailand. Is there anywhere else in the world where a meal cooked in a shack can taste so good, be so simple, and cost so little.
We took our food and we sat across from one another on one of the platform benches. A curious platform officer spots one of our empty Singha beer cans and confidently reminds us there is no drinking on the platform, well, it feels good to break a rule every now and then. The Ratchaburi train has long since departed and now only our Sala Ya commuter train is parked next to us. We eat and talk about our days next to the big purring Japanese diesel beast.
By now the station has quietened down somewhat and there are only a dozen or so commuters waiting around. The smartly dressed conductors, platform staff and engineers walk up and down the platform preparing for the end of another day. The conductors proudly walk with their black retro briefcases which they must have had from when they started the job. Smiles and 'sawatdee kraps' seem to be widely available here. Amongst the chaos there is a delightful and surprising tranquility with the buzzing of voices over walkie talkies and the purring of the diesel engine. A feeling you cannot replicate in a modern-day station. Maybe it is all the memories, history and feelings left by past commuters that makes it feel so peaceful.
His majesty, the late Rama IX, spent his last days in nearby Siriraj hospital, which was founded in 1888 by his grandfather, KING CHULALONGKORN or Rama V. I wonder if he could hear the noise of the trains and station...I wonder if it brought back so many warm memories of the times he would take the train to go and visit his people. There is a small part of me that hopes this was the case and in his twilight days, it put a smile on his face and warmth in his heart. Indeed, in his honor, the SRT has erected a clock at the new Bang Sue station featuring only the number '9', quite rightly so!
As the light subsides on another day, the flies disperse to their pits and the mosquitoes appear thirsty for a meal. We move onto the train and watch the platform from the window. the station master rings the bell twice and the diesel beast jumps to a start. We pass out of the station through the track-side homes and then onto the semi-rural rice fields. We sit together holding hands in silence, we watch the neon lit urban jungle city of Bangkok go by through the window in our flickering dimly lit carriage; a moment, stuck in time and memory. The conductor passes through the train sporadically clicking his ticket stamper alerting passages to his presence. A very kind and honest man, I once tried to decline the change from a 5 baht coin, to which he insisted I take it with a beaming smile and meticulous Wai. he is a true icon of what is sadly, a dying era, an era of Thailand I am so glad I was a part of. I will remember the people, sounds, and sights until my final days. These types of memories and impressions, are for me, the most valuable in life, make sure you don't miss them before they are gone!