The year got off to a good start at the promontory. The spectators were treated to a dazzling display of fireworks ushering in the new year, cheering and filming as the pyrotechnic display danced to the music accompaniment. For most revellers, celebration ended after the fireworks, or at dawn, when they hit the hay. Back in my room, I poured over the last bit of data and finished the final preparation. For me, celebration had only just begun.
Dawn is approaching in 2 hours. I have better use the remaining time to catch a wink. Hit the hay. The date now is 1 Jan 2010 and I have a mission at 6am.
The mission would not end until midnight of 8 Jan when I was back in my room once again. It was a fruitful and fulfilling solo trip that had me travel all the way from Singapore to Chiang Mai by train. This overland trip held much geographical and historical significance for me. Added to that was the desire to try Thai trains (it would be my second time) and the things that go with it:
- sleeper berths; how they compare to the ones in Malaysian trains
- the legendary buffet coach (abysmal disappointment in Malaysian trains)
- making of bed by train officer etc.
Admittedly I was 'psycho-ed' by Peter who told me his great experience on Thai trains as compared to Malaysian ones. He was referring to the food mainly. We will see when I blog about it.
Chiang Mai is at the northern end of the Thai-Malaysian railway network. Singapore is at the southern end. My Singapore - Chiang Mai trip was a journey from the southern-most point to the northern-most point connected by railway on mainland Southeast Asia. Interestingly, once the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link project is completed with the Cambodian missing pieces filled in, we can all travel from Singapore to China and even to London by train.
776.25 km-post at Buona Vista. Picture taken in October 2008. Where is the 0 km-marker then?
From Singapura to Butterworth. Tanjong Pagar Station is 784.50 km. Note the 0 km-marker near the right edge in the Butterworth picture.
Kilometre markers along the Malaysian railway. Image credit: www.keretapi.com
Another "geographical achievement" was to trace the kilometre markers in Singapore to their origin at Butterworth - the zero point or zero marker. My train to Thailand stopped for some time at Butterworth station. The sky was still dark but did not damper my enthusiasm as I strolled to the station entrance in my pyjamas. Not far from the banner "Selamat Datang Ke Butterworth", I found the zero marker literally at the beginning of the line.
To reach Bangkok by rail from Singapore is a relatively straightforward affair: A train departs Singapore every morning at 0745 and arrives Butterworth at 2150 the same day. The next day catch the International Express departing Butterworth at 1420 which will arrive in Bangkok mid-morning next day. Thus Singapore to Bangkok by rail is a 50 hours journey over three days. If not for the stopover at Butterworth to change train, the journey would be only around 34 hours.
5 train tickets from KTMB and SRT to reach Chiang Mai from Singapore: Singapura - Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur - Padang Besar, Padang Besar - Hatyai, Hatyai - Bangkok, Bangkok - Chiang Mai.
The simple plan was thwarted by the public holiday on Jan 1. Tickets were sold out for the International Express so I went creative and broke the journey up into more legs. A night was spent in Songkhla of much historical significance. The coastal town next to Hatyai saw the main wave of Japanese landing (the other was Kota Bahru) which later swept down Peninsular Malaysia and conquered Singapore. My "reverse journey" would take me from Singapore to Songkhla to find the invasion beach.
Altogether for my 7D6N trip, four would be spent in the train, one in Songkhla and one in Bangkok. I will blog more about the trip in future.