The Journey on the Death Railway
I was about to embark on a Journey on the Death Railway and after the debacle in the booking office, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the upcoming trip. Would there be any English? Air-conditioning? Toilets?
It’s not something that is often talked about in travellers circles. For me, much of the time, it appears that other travellers possess huge bladders made of steel. An eight-hour bus journey with no stops? No problem. A 12-hour flight in the window seat without once getting up to go to the toilet? A piece of cake. I am not that traveller. I feel like I need to go to the bathroom constantly and the idea of travelling for eight hours or spending the whole of New Year in a bar without access to “facilities” fills me with dread.
However, I am getting a little off track. We turned up at the train station at 7.30 in the morning rushing to buy snacks – what if there was no food? I am notoriously famous for being “hangry” and basically can’t function if my stomach is empty so I always have a little something stowed away in my bag if I don’t know when my next meal is coming. After stocking up we entered it train. It was far from luxurious: fans instead of air conditioning; hard metal seats and, of course, no sign of toilets. The train slowly filled with tourists. I would say around 90% of them were Thai students with a couple of older Thai couples and foreigners mixed in with the group.
We settled in sleepily for the long journey ahead. As we reached the first stop a Thai man, in a green army uniform complete with badges, stepped up to the front of the cabin. With ceremonial pomp, he pulled a megaphone from behind a chair and proceeded to talk loudly into it. In Thai. Everyone was laughing intermittently, cheering and generally looking excited. Ten minutes and the beginning of a headache later I still had no idea what was going on. Thankfully, he stopped by my chair, bent down and said: “next stop: 10 minutes.” Whatever was waiting at the next stop would have to be a surprise.
The Great Chedi or Cone Shaped Temple
When the train lazily pulled into the station the Thai tourists began to stream out and snake their way into the village. In this case, it was probably best just to follow their lead. There was a bustling food market with stalls full of Thai delicacies…we continued up the hill until we reached the…well…the first stop. Being honest I was still none the wiser about what we were going to see.
I had already reached Thai temple overload after the first few days in Bangkok. The village was called Nakhon Pathom and we were about to visit The Great Chedi. According to Thai historians, a temple has existed on the site since 325BCE. However, the structure is only mentioned in Buddhist scriptures since the year 675. It is the oldest Buddhist structure in Thailand and it is apparently now the highest pagoda in Thailand. The temple was much more interesting because, as it is far away from the usual tourist routes, it is thankfully free of the swarms of tourists that you otherwise find on in Bangkok. It is refreshing to see people using a temple for its original purpose rather than just tourism. I have to say that during the stop at Phra Pathom Chedi I was a little paranoid about the time as the instructions on the train hadn’t been very clear and I was sure that the train wasn’t going to be waiting around for missing tourists. Depending on your interests I would say that the best way to enjoy this stop would be to check out the temple first and then slowly make your way back down enjoying some of the incredible food from the market which you can munch on the next part of the trip which heads to the main event. The Bridge over the River Kwai.