Arrivals and The Night Train to Mandalay

We are Vivian Appler and Ric Walker and we are writing to you from a series of cities in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). This is a blog dedicated to dramaturgical research for the devised theatre piece, City of Asylum, a devised performance piece by the Pitt Repertory Theatre, directed by Cynthia Croot.

Our job is twofold - dramaturgical research and travelogue. While we are in Thailand, we will be meeting and talking to a variety of people living and working on the border who either are living in exile from the Burmese government and/or with people who are working to improve the lives of Burmese refugees living in Thailand.

While we are in Myanmar, we will be meeting artists artists and seeing as much performance, music, and culture as possible. All of this will help us to create a rich performance piece once back in the United States. However, the beauty of a blog is that it is a performance in itself.

Much of what we see and experience will not be included in the show, so we invite you to read this blog as a performance on its own, that documents our research and adventures on night trains, day buses, wats, and elephants. We'd like this blog to be as interactive as possible, so please join us on this adventure - and participate through comments and questions.


We made it! 

It is now 19 December 2012 and it is our second day in Chiang Mai.  Traveling from Pittsburgh to Thailand has been an adventure already.  We've had several days completely dedicated to travel and adjustment.  We slept the WHOLE NIGHT last night, so I think that jetlag (and other travel-related maladies) is starting to wear off and we are ready to really get started!

We hope that while we're in Chiang Mai, that we'll be able to meet with a few folks who work with Earth Rights International and the Democratic Voice of Burma.  Hopefully we'll get a chance to meet them tonight and tomorrow.

But, while we're waiting, we've never been to Chiang Mai before, so at the moment we are headed out to have a delicious Thai breakfast and Wat Prathap Doi Suthep, which is on a mountain.

Night Train Compare/Contrast


OK!  So we now have two night trains under our belts (more to come – we haven't even started towards Mandalay yet!) so we have a little bit of something to share.  Why night trains? you might be wondering.  Night trains are cheaper and you can save money on a hotel room by sleeping in the car, or at least that's the theory. 

Our first train we took to Chiang Mai from Bangkok.  We caught it at 19:30 and arrived the next morning at 10:55 (an hour late, according to the schedule).  The beginning of the trip was the end of our first full day in Thailand, so perhaps our recollections of this train adventure are more representative of our jetlegged state of mind than the train itself, but we like to think that this special party train was a special delivery for two Pittsburgh wannabe expats on their way to the Northern reaches of Thailand.

After a day of getting sim cards straightened out, catching up with Judy, cracking the Bangkok subway system, and trying not to fall asleep, we found the train station just in time to get our tickets and grab a quick bite of street food before getting on the train.  (Ric had congee, I had chicken green curry noodles – both delicious!)  We were in a hurry, so no photos of this food.  Just trust us when we say it was cheap, fast, and really yummy.  And don't worry – we've been documenting our eating thoroughly, so stay tuned for lots of pictures of exotic eating adventures…

We had two upper berth bunks in an air conditioned sleeper car.  It was COLD up there – if you're ever traveling this way through Thailand, don't get on the train without a sweater !  They give you blankets, but they are blankets in name only compared to the powerful AC. 

On the bottom berth were two French guys trekking their way through Thailand on their back to France after a year of working as mechanics in Australia.  I think they had started their party at about 8 AM and had no intention of stopping!  Maybe it was their party that we crashed… Ric joined Cedric and his crew in the bar car while I took a disco nap.  Then Cedric came back to the sleeper car and convinced me that I should join them at the party.  I had adjusted to the motion by that point, so I dragged myself out of the sleeper and down to the party car and this is what I saw:

Our French Friends!

The blurriness of this photo in no way reflects the condition of the photographer - still figuring out how to use my camera...

Pretty much as soon as I  joined the party, the waitresses started shooing everybody away.  We eventually made it back to our shivery beds, but I'm not sure that's true for everyone.  Cedric and his friend were in their beds when we woke up (early – I think I was up before 6) but there were some guys in the bar (now breakfast) car looked like they hadn't budged since the night before.

Here's what the restaurant car looked like in the morning:


Shrimp Congee (boiled rice soup) for breakfast!

The bar car the morning after


Village out the window

Orange Juice on the Train!

Cow! (to the rightt)

The night train/party train was fun, but I think my breakfast shrimp congee got me the next day.  Ric seemed fine, so I blame my shrimp.  It was a good thing we were staying with Ric's friends in Chiang Mai, or else I think I would have had a long, sick day.  It was either food poisoning or residual motion sickness.  For that reason, I was a little skeptical about what our trip would hold on the way back.

But, I am here to report that the night train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was a very different experience.

The car was cleaner (the other one kind of smelled like beer and cigarattes, although that could have been the guys in the lower bunks…) and even though I found the restaurant car, it seemed like people in there were eating.  It was a smoother ride, the sleeper seats on the bottom bunks were warmer (even though they were air conditioned) and wider – so more room to stretch out!  I think this was a faster train as well.  We arrived back in Bangkok this morning and now we're in a van on our way to Hua Hin, where we will spend Christmas on the beach!

Vivian in the Chiang Mai train station

Ric on the Chiang Mai - Bangkok night train



Originally posted on December 19 and 23, 2012 on