Off the Rails - Thailand 's overnight rail service from Southern Thailand

Thailand 's overnight rail service from Southern Thailand to Bangkok is frequented by time-poor travellers, usually returning from the islands of the east coast. More interesting is the insight into life beside this important transport system, which it seems, can only be experienced by this mode of travel.

Starting the journey one expects to see more of the same beautiful lush but flat land first appearing for miles, with occasional passing of towns, houses and crossings.

As it grows dark, the lights of crossings and houses illuminate old faces, smoking against a variety of buildings. A group of teenagers gather in a parking lot, all driving scooters, some laughing, others arms are crossed as they prefer the role of spectator.

After the beds are stowed away in the sleeper carriages, and guests woken to greet the morning, the true vibrant life of this rail-side existence is apparent. It is six-thirty am and the city is already awake.

Just out of Bangkok the corrugated rail-side villages come into view as people start their daily routine. It is a different life from other shacks in the heart of the city, as the inhabitants are under constant scrutiny by the wide-eyed onlookers watching their movements in bored fascination out of carriage windows.

Smoke billows out of one of the poorly joined roves and a young Thai man sits preparing vegetables, which will later be available char-grilled at one of the hundreds of street vendors.

An old man with a weathered face and hand-rolled cigarette sits to watch as the train passes. It is a sight he is obviously accustomed to, his blank expression scours the carriages to find a point of interest. However, it seems he has seen this phenomenon enough to loose interest in the anonymous faces passing at a dizzying speed.

Like many parts of the country, stray shaggy dogs litter the tracks with forlorn hungry faces. They scour the littered rail lines for mere morsels beneath the multitude of dumped mattresses, broken chairs and other littered items scattered in a ditch between the two rail tracks. One has a balding back, with scabby ears and looks weak as it hobbles around in search of food.

Further into Bangkok a stretch of station pavement is converted into a makeshift exercise yard. The locals jog, walk and stretch on the two metre wide concrete slab. They walk dogs, healthy and well-fed, a sharp contrast to the hobbling balding misery seen further out of town.

The lack of space along these rail areas has made these people resourceful and it seems there is no taboo about the danger of trains here.

Children's play equipment is visible between the tracks, a shock to Western over-regulated eyes. At first glance, its seems to blend into the scattered rubbish, closer inspection reveals it is perhaps used by the children of the shanty shacks, imbedded into the ground without signs of decay as other rubbish.

Flashes of Buddhist shrines erupt in colour between buildings and rooftops, decorated in flowers and lays, they illustrate the pious nature of these people.

One cannot help but respect this simple life carried out by people under the watchful eye of tourists, commuters and locals. It is a journey and cultural insight of Thailand not expected, though thoroughly appreciated.

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