“Scuse me mate, do you know who won the world cup?”
This was the question a very British-looking man in his thirties, pushing a bike along and looking more than a bit tired out, asked me whilst I was waiting at the Bangkok train station information desk on Monday morning. Unfortunately for him, I was just as clueless as he was, and I told him that I was trying not to look with the intention of watching it when I got back. He seemed disappointed, and I started wondering if I could even keep to my own word.
My train ticket back to Ban Phachi station cost me 19 baht. On the one hand, that’s seems like an amazing price – it’s the equivalent of 34p for a two hour train ride – but on the other hand, as several people reading this will probably know, me and the number 19 don’t have the greatest history of success together. This was proven after I realised that I had infact bought a third class train ticket, the type that Bubpha had specifically warned me against getting at the beginning of the weekend, so as I left the others and boarded I didn’t really know what to expect. Plus I caught a glimpse of the newsreel on the station’s big TV screen displaying that Germany had won 1-0, so that whole ‘no world cup spoilers’ thing lasted for the best part of 15 minutes.
I’ve been told that third class is supposedly the ‘authentic’ way of travelling by train in Thailand, which I was sure was just a nice way of saying that it’s a very hot and cramped experience that you’d want to avoid in the future as much as possible. I was probably the tenth person to get on our carriage, and I noticed that those already on had taken all the seats that were in direct position of one of the overhead fans, so my best bet was to sit where I could only receive a tiny bit of fanning with the open window on my other side to provide the rest. Whilst I wouldn’t exactly have called this a pleasant experience I at least didn’t spend the whole journey in a constant sweat, and I was left with the impression that third class trains don’t really deserve some of the notoriety they have.
We’d got into Bangkok from Kanchanaburi very early due to little traffic on the roads, meaning that I got a much earlier train than I expected to and Bubpha, who was supposed to be picking me up, was still in Ayutthaya getting her computer fixed when I arrived at Ban Phachi station. As I had an hour to wait for her I took the opportunity to wander round Phachi’s market area for the first time by myself; previously I’d only been here with Bubpha on various forms of transport, so I thought it would be nice to see everything on foot.
Thus I learnt an important lesson – if you are an obviously western guy wandering through a small town in Thailand by yourself, prepare to get some strange looks. A LOT of strange looks. Clearly not as many people in Phachi recognise me as I thought did, so to most of them I probably looked like a very, very lost tourist as I awkwardly moved around the market streets trying to find something to drink. Eventually I decided that heading back to the station to wait for Bubpha was my best bet, although even after doing this I was approached by several of the train staff asking me what I was doing here. Luckily they bought my story, or at least thought it would be amusing to leave me to my own devices and watch from afar. When Bubpha finally arrived about 30 minutes later, I eagerly jumped into the car, if only to be around the one person who could actually make sense of my presence in a town that was quite far from anything that could be considered touristy.
Bubpha took me to a local school to meet her friend – I thought we were going there for dinner at first but it soon turned out that she just wanted to show me around. The school in question apparently only has 60 students, but more notable was that both Bubpha and the other teacher kept showing me various masks that were placed around most of the schoolrooms. I didn’t really get what they were trying to tell me about them at first, but soon figured out that Bubpha’s friend clearly made the masks as part-time work – she quoted some prices at me but I couldn’t really tell her that I had about 50 baht left on me after walking around Phachi.
Most of the masks related to Buddhist culture and Monkey symbols, although Bubpha’s friend also showed me a few that had more cartoonish face designs. I couldn’t really work out what they were relating to, only that when she put one over her head to show it to me she looked she’d just stepped out of a horror film.
We did actually go to restaurant after we were done here, although Bubpha kept referring to it as a ‘coffee shop’ so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turned out that it was another open-air restaurant, one that had a small cabin with a speaker system in the middle blurting out terrible covers of Michael Jackson songs that sounded like they’d been recorded at a particularly bad Karaoke night. The place had a nice layout despite this though, and I ate the usual bucketload of spicy food that was given to me. Except that this time everything was served in coconut shells, which was confusingly cool.
The ‘coffee’ part of Bubpha’s description came from the fact that the owners had just released their own brand of instant coffee that was apparently really good. She bought me an iced cappuccino thing and I discovered that she wasn’t wrong – this thing was a fraction of the price of anything from Starbucks and about 100 times tastier. I can’t actually remember the name of what this coffee was, but it’s definitely something I’m seeking out again before going back.
So, in general this was a pretty nice end to the long weekend, especially since I thought that the early train back would leave me with nothing to do. The last few days has given me a lot more motivation for school this week too, even if all the parents will now be confused that the very lost tourist at Monday’s market has managed to find himself a job.