• The Rail Holiday Maker

Bangkok, Hawaiian Shirt, Mid-life Crisis

Updated: Jul 5

This chapter begins with your sole traveller a bag of nerves wearing a shirt he wouldn’t normally be seen dead in at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Thailand operated unusual visa regulations. A visa was required to enter the country to work, but not as a tourist. It had been a relatively hastily arranged trip and yours truly hadn’t bothered to get a visa, opting instead to hunt through the local charity shops in my town for a suitably loud holiday shirt to hoodwink the Thai border officials. The almost-Hawaiian shirt would be discarded at the first hotel (honest!). Deary me, how to turn a simple work trip into something akin to a Cold War spy thriller. Well, not quite, but that’s how it felt in my fertile imagination for those few moments queuing to enter. After all, if it didn’t work this could be a costly and embarrassing mistake.

I made it through. Phew. And my smiling Bangkok guide, Kingkarn, was waiting at the other side to transport me to my first hotel, an opulent international 5* tower overlooking the Chao Phraya river. The remainder of the day was recovery, ahead of a full-on week piecing together a new tour that would take in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, the route of the Eastern Oriental luxury train, but using the state railways. I needed to check out the suitability (or unsuitability) of the trains, whilst choosing hotels and attractions to visit along the route.

To explain the route, after the following day in Bangkok I would take the sleeper train north to Chiangmai. After a day and night in Chiangmai I would take the long daytime train back to Bangkok. The following morning I’d take a flight from Bangkok to Penang in Malaysia. After a day there I’d continue by train from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur. Then, after a night in KL, I’d continue by train to Singapore for a couple of nights before flying home.

So, it would be an early start the next day, touring Bangkok’s hotels and sights, and I was feeling slightly weird. Was it evening? Well, yes. Should I try to sleep? Well, how? So I went in search of something that might encourage rest. Rice wine would do the trick, surely?

On my way back from the Seven Eleven I peered into the many tailor shop windows. Suits made to measure in 24 hours. Interesting. Bearing in mind the fact that I would be returning to Bangkok in a couple of days, maybe I could get myself measured up, collect in a couple of days and return home with a new jacket. The sports jacket in one window looked tempting, with a pleasing green in the check. Rather nice, I thought, so in I went to inquire and barter with the tailor. If nothing else it would hone my negotiation skills a little. Sadly it ended with an impasse, a gulf between us, the tailor and me, of about £5. Neither of us would budge and I was too stubborn to cave in. So off I toddled out of the shop, with no promise of a made-to-measure sports jacket with a pleasing green tinge in the check……whoooooa….hold on a minute!! What the hell was going on there?! I hadn’t even had a sip of rice wine yet. Let’s repeat the words….made-to-measure….sports jacket….with a pleasing green tinge in the check. Was this the precise moment when I became middle-aged?! A chuffing sports jacket?! Pleasing green tinge in the chuffing check?! Punk’s not dead…..he just now wants to dress like his dad….or his grandad!

So the newly-affirmed middle-aged man didn’t venture far that evening. I sipped my rice wine by my umpteenth floor window, watching the boats come and go up and down the Chao Phraya until I nodded off. Bangkok could wait until the next day.


I'm Rob Carroll, tour operator and travel writer. I love making holiday dreams, particularly those involving trains. Imagine a "kind of Portillo in Primark pants" scouring the world, looking for your next holiday.                       Contact: railholidaymaker@gmail.com

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