It’s been a fairly lazy day here in Bangkok. I’ve not moved far from the hotel as I’ve been busy editing a big batch of pictures from yesterday when I caught a train from Hualamphong to a place on the outskirts of the city whose name always raises a smirk or chuckle from English speakers: Bang Sue. The trip takes 20 minutes and cost me princely sum of 2 baht for a seat in a 3rd class coach hauled by a rasping Alstom built diesel engine from the 1980s. I went to Bang Sue (stop sniggering at the back!) as it’s an area that’s seeing a huge expansion of rail and metro lines, they’re building everywhere and a walk of a few miles around three sides of a (metaphorical) square allowed me to see a lot of it. Firstly, the underground goes overground, (wombling free) passing over Klongs, past cement factories and (God help us) a ‘Tesco Lotus’ to what will be a substantial cross shaped multi-level interchange station connecting with the Purple line metro. The whole structure straddles a major road junction and towers above the area already but when it’s finished it’ll look tremendous. From here I followed the 90-100ft towering piers of the Purple line along Thanon Krungthep Nonthaburi. By the looks I was getting from locals they don’t get many Falangs here. Then again it could have been that having walked for ages the heat, humidity and the weight of my camera bag had turned me into a damp sweaty mess!
The piers led me to another station on the Purple line at Bang Son which will be the interchange for State Railways of Thailand’s new suburban ‘Red route’ which crosses underneath a few hundred metres farther on. This is another elevated railway which parallels the existing SRT route from Bang Sue (now, I’ve told you once..) to Taling Chan out to the West of the city. After quite a bit of haggling and plan changing this will be an electrified, double track metre gauge line. The new SRT station dwarfs the adjacent old, down at heel one which has been taken over as a workers compound/base and looks more like a squatter’s camp than a station. But I doubt that will be for long. A brand new road is being laid to the South of the route and this will be a very desirable piece of real estate in a few years time.
I followed the railway back towards Bang Sue (right, for the last time..) but decided against following the local practice of using railways as footpaths. Instead I ambled along the landscaped and tree lined Klong Prapra to get back to the station. It’s hard to believe it now, but last November, when the floods threatened to burst through and engulf central Bangkok this area was the frontline and final defence. The newspapers and TV were full of reports of the height of the floodwaters around here. Now, apart from the occasional shop that still has a flood wall outside (those who had the money built substantial brick and concrete ones) there’s hardly any sign of the chaos it caused. The effects linger on in other ways though. All the projects I looked at are months behind because of it as sand and cement became too expensive, so workers were laid off and left the city.
Back at Bang Sue (now will you stop it!) delays meant there was no SRT train for an hour so I plumped for the air-conditioned luxury of the metro back to Hualamphong – although the luxury came at a price. 40 baht instead of 2!
It’s now 19.20 and I’m sitting at a street stall opposite the station replete after a fiery chicken curry with peppers, liberally garnished with the chopped chillies which are supplied as condiments on each table. The street stalls are quiet but the roads are frenetic as Bangkokians try to filter out of the city by car and bus through the nearby expressway. The level of traffic makes crossing the road ‘interesting’ to say the least, but you don’t seem to get as many damn-fool drivers here who see the roads as purely for them the way you do in the UK. There’s also some seriously cool coaches here (you’ll see a picture later). The paint jobs and body styling is excellent. Add a few green lights in the burnished engine bay and you almost have something out of a sci-fi film. Alien meets Plaxton perhaps?
Every so often you’ll get a scooter rider darting through the traffic in the wrong direction like a minnow (or a kamikaze). Sat here at the side of the road I get a grandstand view of all this and more. This is the best kind of TV dinner you could ask for!