By Graham K. Rogers
Once in a while it is good to escape from the city. Although many take to the roads and run to their favourite resorts, I have a quick escape route. Several times a day, I can hear the train from Wongwianyai to Mahachai as it passes through the area behind my home where many houses are close to the track. The closest station Thaladphlu is about 300 metres away. About the same distance in the other direction is the BTS Thalaphlu station: chalk and cheese.
The BTS line is modern, using German technology in the main (some trains used are from Porsche Design). The metre-gauge line to Mahachai was built just over a century ago and was then used to transport produce into Bangkok. The original terminus was at Klong San but was later moved to the current Wongwianyai.
While BTS is mainly efficient and smooth, the Mahachai line is more laid back as it lurches its way out of the city, through flatlands where the bird populations are high. This high volume of bird life is even more pronounced on the other half of the railway that starts across the river from Mahachai.
This weekend, a friend was staying so I made him the excuse for the trip. I also wanted to take some pictures again. As well as my Nikon DSLR and of course the iPhone 6, I carry a Hasselblad on some occasions. This time I also had a Rolleiflex that a colleague had loaned me, although I am not as happy with this as I am with the Hasselblad.
As my friend is a late night person, I had to prise him from his bed to make sure we did not miss the train. Thai railways sometimes run late, but never wait: except for old ladies unloading bundles from the train. With my sense of time, we arrived early enough to see the inbound train. This gave me some time to take a few photographs round the station, where there is always something going on.
A few minutes later the train arrived on its outward journey. As this was a Sunday, the train was busy, although there were a few seats still available. This may not always be the case.
The run down was uneventful, although in one or two places the trains still buck and rear. The ride is better these days and considerable work has taken place in the last year or so, with new sleepers and several new bridges.
At Mahachai, we left the station and wandered through the busy street market. This is almost never the same on two consecutive trips because of the people.
It was not as busy as the end of year markets, but there was still enough pedestrian traffic to make walking slow.
At the end, my friend bought a sugar cane drink, then we walked to the ferry and I was able to take some photographs before stopping at a noodle shop nearby that does one of the best dishes I know.
Instead of ground meat, the soup has large chunks of pork, and the broth is rich, dark and sweet. Although the shop is open, it is cool and this is helped by a number of industrial-sized fans.
After lunch: the ferry. The river had large amounts of water hyacinth floating in it and this is used by the many egrets that are often here. As this is a major port, some of the ships docked are large.
On the Ban Laem side, I hired a couple of the pedalo operators. I often take photographs of these guys and 100 baht for a guided tour of the municipal area is not expensive. If trade is low, this may be all they have for the day. At one of the temples my friend made a donation and prayed.
We returned to the Mahachai side after about an hour and walked through a park beside the river. As it was a holiday weekend, it was crowded but not everyone speaks Thai. This area is known sometimes as Little Burma with the number of those employed in the fishing industry here. When Aung San Suu Kyi made a visit to Thailand a couple of years ago, this town was on her agenda and thousands came out to see her.
As it was another hot day, we wandered back to the shade of the station, but still had to wait for the train. When the office opened, my friend bought the tickets, but as we still had a while before the departure, decided to take a short walk into the market again where he bought a fresh oyster salad and KFC. By the time he returned I was already in the train and sending him frantic messages to hurry back.
Once in the train, I keep the DSLR camera ready, but the speed we travel at means chances for shots are lower, although sometimes I spot something interesting at a station. As usual I saw lots of birds, including a kingfisher and a shrike, but the size, distance and relative speeds make it highly difficult to photograph them.
Once home, it was time for the Spanish MotoGP races, so I was lost in another world for a couple of hours.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.