It takes an average of 12–14 hours travel by train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. Buses are a lot faster. Sometimes, Air travel cost is not far from the train fare. But there’s something about train rides I enjoy. For me it’s an easy and intimate way to travel through the landscape. Unlike the far and disconnected view from the airplane window or the sedentary feel in the bus, I can freely move around and enjoy looking at the passing view. It’s my first time to travel through Thailand provinces. And as I always do in different countries, slow travel by railway is always in my list to try.
I thought the train was finally moving after at least an hour of waiting, but it was just my consciousness, slipping and sliding in two worlds. My reality blurred from fatigue and lack of sleep as I lean on the side of an open train window in the cart, oblivious of the passing crowd and vendors at the station. I am going to Pyin U Lwin (pyuu-lin), a cool scenic hill town, east of Mandalay, straight from an almost 8 hour overnight bus journey from Bagan. But I was awake the full day before and the bus ride didn’t offer a chance to sleep. It was already 15 minutes past 6am when the train finally rolled on the tracks. That’s already 2 hours late from its original time of departure. But I was just relieved the 4-hour train journey had started.
I hear the heavy clacking sound of the engines as it starts and the loud honk of the train signalling any living beings to move away from its path. There’s a low grumbling noise under my feet as if something just woke up from a long time slumber. Yes, the Philippine National Railways has revived the Bicol Express and just last night, it started its first commercial run in years. Like a dragon that just woke up, the train howled as it cuts through urban Manila as it heads to Naga City in Bicol.
Among the ASEAN Countries outside the Philippines, I think Malaysia is the one I have frequented most. I remember it being my first passport stamp out of the country when we climbed Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, and since then Kuala Lumpur has become a gateway for my travels in Asia but have never really gone out to explore the city except for climbing one of the nearby mountain peaks of Bukit Tabur before. So when Tourism Malaysia sent an invite for a Familiarization Tour in conjunction to their Merdeka (Independence) Celebration and suddenly my schedule got free on the said dates, I didn’t think twice of course. It’s an opportunity to get to know the country more.
I have been fascinated with our Philippine National Railway (PNR) but never really got the chance to jump in on the train and ride it. I got a thing for trains and I was able to ride a few trains on other countries. There’s just this different joy when riding a train for travel. I was really hoping that the PNR would be revived and alas it has recently been re-opened with brand new trains. So one weekend morning we decided to just ride the new PNR and see what has changed.