Posted by: Michelle | April 16, 2010

On the Rail

NOTE: For a little change of pace, I’m writing about a couple journeys I already took, instead of ones I hope to take. This post has been entered into the Grantourismo-HomeAway travel writing competition, sponsored by HomeAway Holiday Rentals.

15 hours. No air conditioning. HUMID. This was not a train ride in America, nor Australia, where I had just finished a four-month study abroad program. My friend Katelyn and I had decided to extend our journey another couple weeks to backpack through Thailand. We spent one night in Bangkok and were now on an overnight train to the northwestern city of Chiang Mai.

Usually a long, hot train ride would put me in a bad mood, but this time I was just excited. After years of carefully planned family vacations and organized group trips, this was my first time traveling with just my backpack, no hotel reservations, no itineraries, no plans. Katelyn and I got advice on where to go, stay, eat and shop from fellow travelers and locals we met along the way, and we ended up with the most incredible two weeks of our lives.

This train ride was the beginning of it all, and I felt my heart beating faster as I watched the scenery fly by us. Some of the fields and lakes looked familiar and could easily have been scenes from my native Connecticut; but then we would pass a village and I knew I was far from home. These small settlements had a variety of rudimentary dwellings but always one exceptionally ornate building – a wat, or temple. My eyes were glued to the window as I eagerly took in every detail of the journey.

Beautiful sunset out the window of the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

The point of traveling is getting to a destination, but we often underestimate the journey, how we get there. My transportation throughout Thailand included planes, trains, vans, buses, motorbikes, cabs, tuk tuks, songthaews, elephants, ferries, and longboats, to name a few. Each of those journeys, whether they lasted a few hours or a few minutes, contributed to my experience as a whole.

Katelyn and I were so proud of ourselves when we successfully navigated the public bus system in Bangkok to get to the train station. Then we had a lesson in Thai culture when an alarm sounded in the train station and all of the hundreds of people waiting for trains stood to sing the national anthem. I have come to realize that “getting there” is half the fun of traveling, and if you pay attention you can get more out of the journey than the sightseeing.

Me on the city bus in Bangkok



  1. Totally agree with you that the ‘getting there’ is just as much fun as ‘being there’.

    Thanks for entering our competition! Good luck!

  2. “Making it up as you go along” is definitely one of the keys to successful travels. You can use all the guidebooks in the world but you when you do you sometimes focus on that and lose sight of the new world around you!

    That trip looked amazing though, I’m definitely trying to hit up those spots when I’m older.

  3. What a fun way to travel! And I love the sunset!!

  4. I really appreciate all your comments! Thanks for having the competition Lara! And great point about the guidebooks Shaun!

  5. what a great journey, and i am sure it completely impacted your life more than you can ever know – travel does that to us. i am intrigued by all the varied transport that you took – wow!!

    good luck!

  6. Thanks for your comment jessiev. It really is incredible how much travel can change your life!

  7. […] Safety Parody As I wrote about in a post last week, the journey can be just as great or even better than the destination when you’re […]

  8. Just thought I should let you know that this month Grantourismo is running a new competition with the theme ‘Food and Travel’, so if you have a memorable food experience from your travels please feel free to share it with us. We’d love to hear from you again!

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