THE TRAVEL GAME
Tracks across the Kingdom Across the length and breadth of Thailand then all the way down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore, a network of railways stitches together the Thai Kingdom and connects with its near neighbours. Sometimes charmingly old-fashioned, the State Railway of Thailand nonetheless has reached across the Mekong with an international line terminating on the outskirts of the Lao capital, Vientiane. The SRT now also offers a falang-friendly online booking facility. Here's how to know to enjoy this eminently civilised and companionable mode of transport in the twenty-first century. Sample image
Street Smart: Tha Pae Road, Chiang Mai Busy enough in its own right, the old capital of northern Thailand remains deservedly popular with visitors in search of a more manageable metropolis than Bangkok. Tha Pae Road links the Ping River with the moat encircling the old city wall and is lined with several historic Wats or temples, plus a number of smart cafes and antique dealerships, often housed in traditional timber shopfronts or in colonial-style stucco villas. There's even a selection of surprisingly good bookstores. Sample image
Pai in the sky Three hours west of Chiang Mai, the Thai hill town of Pai offers a delightful retreat for travellers of all ages. Not too big and not too small, sleepy yet surprisingly sophisticated, surrounded by densely forested hills, Pai is too tempting to let the backpacker brigade have it all to themselves. Rent a riverside cabin for a few dollars a night, dine out on khao sai, Lanna-style noodles with curry then bar-hop until the lights go out. Explore the back roads and ethnic minority villages by motorcycle, with or without a local driver. Sample image
Why Wong Wian Yai? The State Railway of Thailand has almost forgotten its short, single-track branch line linking this tiny station, almost buried under hawker stalls in suburban Bangkok, with the bustling fishing port of Samut Sakhon, better known as Mahachai, southwest of the Thai capital. That's reason enough to ride the new Skytrain extension across the Chao Phraya to Thonburi and jump aboard a third-class train.
Royal Barge Regatta Storm clouds rumble ominously, yet defer to divine will - or so it seems - as a spectacular riverine pageant moves inexorably down the Chao Phraya, a slow-motion procession of richly-ornamented royal barges. Successive events marked the sixtieth jubilee of the accession of Thailand's late and much-revered monarch.
A Phuket to Ride What are the attractions of Phuket? Golden sandy beaches, bargain-basement shopping and vibrant nightlife: yes, but don't forget the royal wildlife reserve, the mysterious half-buried Buddha or the stage show featuring thirty live elephants. In Asia you donít always think of taking the wheel, thanks to unpredictable traffic, inscrutable road laws and readily-available transport alternatives, but in the Thai kingdom's most-visited island there are quite a few sights you might never discover any other way.
Journey by train on the real orient express south down to Singapore at a tiny fraction of the price and five times the fun. Rice paddies, rubber trees and rainforests of glide past the window of your comfortable sleeper train.
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