Travels with My Daughter. Part 1
Tranquillity amidst the bustle of Bangkok Station
Travels With My Daughter. Part 1
Isn’t it amazing when you discover your children for the second time round!
The little impressionable child they once were, or the truculent adolescent they turned into has suddenly become a real, warm and lovely person whom you can after all those years between, relate to.
The first time of course, the child, the adolescent, the young person, you are an integral part of their growing up with all the wonders, pleasures, heartaches and pains that go with those years. You’re part of the problem. The years after they take a partner and have a family of their own, you’re no longer there to react to whatever situation they find themselves in and so they can discover themselves and become their own person.
But I wonder how many people are fortunate enough to discover the person their child has grown into after many years? What character has formed from those awkward years? What sort of person have they become? How do they think? What are their happiness’s, worries, anxieties, goals in life, opinions and their very nature?
How and when did it all change? Or was the change so subtle you didn’t really notice it?
I’m not talking here of there being an absence between the young years and the person in their forties; no, I’m talking of the years that have formed that person into what he or she is today. From your children’s childhood to your own retirement are years where you have grown and developed as a person and so have your children. All those intervening years were packed full of hard work, passion, intensity and very little time to sit and reflect.
Intense, yes, very intense. The years where you loved and worked so hard that they were over in a flash and the grand-children that came in those years are now also grown up and you're an old lady.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have those years, every single little detail on film so that you could go back and peruse them at your leisure? But life doesn’t happen like that. Even with all the technology of today we cannot record every detail or every thought. Nor would we want to. Some moments are too painful to relive, even after years have passed and the memories softened. Others we wish we could live over and over again. The magical moments that we treasure with warmth and affection every time they surface in our minds and hearts.
But all this came to mind one day early this year when my eldest daughter Ingrid, asked if she could come and stay with us for a while. I’d had quite a back problem and I think she’d been worrying about my health and wanted to help me in some way. It turned out to be a two way street and deeply powerful all the way. A rare and profound moment in time that may never happen again, and the more to be cherished because of that.
By the time she had made her preparations and organised her home life, it was the middle of February and I was actually well over my health issues. She arrived looking pale and much thinner than when I’d been with her the previous summer. She too had been unwell and it really did shock me to see the change in her. But she looked good too and was obviously pleased with the slimmer person that had emerged from the chrysalis of the past few years. Elegance in every way is the only way to describe her new appearance; she looked terrific; she’s a tall woman and carries herself with grace. I was very impressed and told her so.
We had made vague plans when she decided to come and visit and I knew her campaign would include Singapore, her home for two years in the mid sixties, and one that she loved and so wanted to revisit. It was so thrilling to make these plans, but to actually share them with her when she arrived was exhilarating! We were like children on the night before Christmas!
The Malaysia that we had lived in would have changed considerably since her childhood. I’d been back once in 1987 and was saddened by our old haunts, they’d become so mean and dirty. The resentment to foreigners was palpable but I didn’t share that part with her. Her memories were happy and full of sparkling bubbles!! Just like the best champagne! This was infectious, - so much enthusiasm!
Sadly, our stay in Malaysia was in the days before the advent of digital photography so we had very few photographs of that part of our lives. All we had were memories and they were awe-inspiring – doubtless distorted a little by time, but nonetheless astonishing for all that. And they were ours. And very special.
In the planning stage we decided on the train route to Singapore, traveling through Malaysia, rather than flying. It would be much more exciting and we would be able to see the beautiful countryside and meet the people as we traveled. It would be a long journey taking probably 2 days or more, but it would be worth it.
There are two ways to get from Bangkok to Singapore; one via Penang and Kuala Lumpur, or the other, the Jungle route through Khota Baru. Both routes were equally as exciting and adventurous and would be nothing short of amazing. Reading about it and exchanging information over the internet decided us on the Jungle route – it sounded so romantic and was probably the last piece of unspoiled primary rain-forest left in Malaysia through which we would travel. The website we came up with was in itself a piece of escapade, even the name was mysterious – www.seat61.com (do have a look at it if you’re interested in traveling to strange places by train, it covers many different countries and carries such a lot of accurate information).
So off the three of us set on the first leg of a journey that would take us the best part of two days. My dear husband had watched us with amusement as we planned our journey and was looking forward to it as much as we were. He'd heard a lot about Singapore over the years and it was on his list of 'things to do before I die'.
Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station is architecturally stunning, - light, airy and full of colour. It bustles with life and optimism. It’s easy to get around and all the staff there are amazingly helpful. Food is their forte – I’ve had some of the best food ever on that station. Oh British Rail – do come and have a look. You could certainly learn such a lot. Everything is freshly made too with fresh ingredients straight from the markets around the Station.
Our abiding memory of this lovely station is the tranquil monk walking across a nearly empty mosaic floor. We were in the upstairs restaurant overlooking the wide open floor below. Ingrid is an amazing photographer and caught the beauty of the moment to perfection.
The journey begins...................
The Journey south
I think from her efforts on Flickr, the first photograph here has been ‘captured’ by many people including myself. It’s caught the very essence of Thailand and links in with an incident that happened several hours into our journey to Sungai Kulok, the most southerly point of our journey through Thailand.
We’d got two whole sleeping carriages to ourselves which was bliss as they had linking doors. Unfortunately you don’t get to see a lot of your fellow passengers traveling this way. However, we’d noticed a serene monk pass our door several times over the intervening hours; he always smiled, bowed and passed on his way. But curiosity must have got the better of him in the end because he came in and sat down with us for over an hour. He asked many questions in flawless English and we did the same. It was surprising to find a Buddhist monk so enthusiastic about football and he knew all of the English clubs and most of the players. He was very knowledgeable about most things and asked us many searching questions. We also found out much about him too. He was in his 60s, had a family, had retired from a city job and had gone to the monastery a few years ago. He certainly came over as a worldly man and not a bit like one imagines a monk to be like. He travelled around Thailand lecturing at monasteries and we gave him our address should he ever find himself at our local Wat. What amazed us more than anything is that we mentioned purely in a passing remark that no food was on offer, and we were now quite hungry as it was past lunch time. We’d eaten all of our snacks. No sooner said than done – he went off to his sleeper and brought us back a large selection of food. Now, in Thailand people give generously to the monks daily, not the other way around, so we felt extremely appreciative to this charming man and wished him well with the rest of his stay in Southern Thailand. He got off at a stop several hours before our destination and we hoped that we would see him again one day. We all felt touched by his presence and by his kindness. ‘Ships that pass in the night ………………’ Some people have a profound effect on you and you can’t really say why. This was such a man and I think we all fell into a quiet reverie after his departure, each lost in our own thoughts.
Our Delightful Saviour
Malaysia and the Jungle Railway
The Border Crossing
Sungai Kulok was our destination and from there to Khota Bahru we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We knew we needed to go through immigration and hoped it wasn’t the same rigmarole as we have to suffer in Jomtien. It wasn’t. We went through and had our passports scrutinized and stamped, then headed off across the Harmony Bridge on the back of motorcycle taxis - much to our hilarity and Ingrid’s horror! The look on her face was just out of this world. The taxi guy just grabbed her arm, propelled her onto his bike with her rucksack, bag and camera and sped off at breakneck speed, leaving us with our respective taxis and howling with laughter at the look on her face! Bye Ingrid………!
She seriously thought she’d been kidnapped and would never see us or her family again. But of course we caught her up on the other side of the bridge and had a good laugh with her.
Her camera hadn’t stopped clicking for the past 24 hours and continued to do so despite the severe looks from the Malaysian Customs officials. Having survived a ‘kidnapping’ nothing was going to deter her from doing anything now!
But we had to find the railway station at Tumpat by 5 pm, and we’d forgotten that Malaysian time was an hour ahead of Thai. We had to collect the tickets today because the train left at 7 am the next morning and the office wasn’t open at that time. The taxi driver realised our dilemma and whizzed us off at a dangerous speed in his battered old car. We hung on tightly and wondered if we were going to make the first mile. But he turned out to be another angel in disguise and not only got us to our destination to collect our tickets but then took us on to Khota Bahru and found us an hotel. We knew most of his family history by the time we got there.
Every person we met on that long journey warmed our hearts and made us realise what amazing people we live amongst. The receptionists at the hotel were equally as sweet and helpful and even gave us a discount on our room, after booking a taxi for us for the morning.
Malaysia is a wonderful country and going to Khota Bahru was like taking a step back in time, to the Malaysia we knew all those years ago. One thing we had forgotten though, being a Muslim country, it had no alcohol, well not on the train or in KB. Oh well, a cuppa char would do nicely thank you. We off loaded our rucksacks and went off in search of sustenance. We’d not eaten since the delightful monk had shared his food with us, so were a bit peckish to say the least. But search as we might, the only restaurant that showed any sign of life was a rather grubby looking Indian street cafe. But the people proved once again to be kindness itself and fed us royally. It was good food but I managed to end up with the ‘trots’ for the next couple of days, much to Ingrid’s delight! I’d drunk a glass of lassi – in hindsight, not a good idea.
A good nights’ sleep after a cold shower brought our eventful day to a fitting close.
We woke early and caught our taxi to the station. Of course, the train was late after all that effort, but we didn’t care. We were on the Jungle line heading for the rainforests and magnificent scenery of Malaysia. And it didn’t let us down. Our heads and eyes ached after a couple of hours of watching the amazingly stunning scenery, waving to everyone along the track and at every stop, but we couldn’t stop looking. Ingrid’s Nikon was red hot under her expert fingers; - every shot was worth its weight in gold. We may never pass this way again after all.
I’d like to say that the trip to Singapore was amazing and uneventful, but I’d be lying! It truly was amazing but I will never complain about the hold-ups on British trains ever again. We were destined to arrive in Singapore around 5 pm, but hey, what are a few hours between friends! We got there at midnight and to our hotel about 1 am! By this time a little jaded, irritable, hot, dirty and very tired. The delays were not just 10 minute ones, I think the longest was 3 hours whilst we waited for a working engine to come up from Singapore, ours having seriously conked out somewhere remote along that jungle track. The only saving grace was a pretty mosque to look at, but no-one came with any food this time and we could have eaten a horse and its jockey by then!!! The restaurant car was headed up by a pair of very truculent guys, the first hostile people we’d met on our entire journey so far. To be honest, we’d probably have all succumbed to salmonella had they cooked anything for us anyway, so they probably unknowingly saved our lives. Thanks guys, keep up the good work! That really is the only down side we had to our trip and to arrive in Singapore was like walking through a magic curtain. What a place! Vibrant, alive and wonderful!
Singapore. Next time………………………..in part 2.
A note on Ingrid’s near nemesis……………
The "Harmony Bridge" across the Golok River connects Sungai Kolok with the Malaysian town of Rantau Panjang. The Thai border checkpoint is about 1km from the railway station; a motorcycle taxi should cost 20 baht. The Malaysian immigration checkpoint is just across the bridge and can be easily walked. Once in Malaysia, you can either catch a bus or taxi to Kota Bharu or Pasir Mas where you can catch trains to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.
The journey South Through the Jungles of MalaysiaClick thumbnail to view full-size
PS This was the most incredible journey but we had a time constraint of just one week for the whole trip. I would recommend taking the whole trip from Tumpat (Khota Bahru) in Malaysia to Singapore in small sections. There are so many fantastic places to visit and explore along the Jungle Railway that it would be worth taking a week or more and stopping off at various places of interest along the way. This would need some serious planning and research but if you have the time, then do it, you won't be disappointed with such magnificent scenery and great people. MK