In 1990 I bought a second-class ticket from Singapore to Bangkok with stops in Penang and Suranthani.
The city was quiet.
The Long Bar at Raffles was closed for renovation.
Gone were the 'girls' from Bugis Street.
I was ready for another country.
To the north was Malaysia.
The early-morning train departed Tanjong Pagar rail station. I bought roti and beer for the seven-hour trip to Georgetown.
The conductor called for the passengers to board and we left the station several minutes behind schedule. Several westerners complained about the delay, but the engineer made up time through the Woodlands and the train crossed the narrow straits into Malaysia.
We passed through immigration without difficulty and reboarded the train for the northbound journey.
The train stopped at Senai, then continued through the ricefields into the jungles of Segamat past the peninsula's mountains to arrive at the Malaysian capitol of Kuala Lumpur.
The Central Train Station had been designed AC Norman and and the "Neo-Moorish/Mughal/Indo-Saracenic/Neo-Saracenic" had been completed in 1897. The train was stopping for a few minutes. The platform was slightly crowded with passengers, mostly for local destinations.
I ran across the tiles to a store and bought two cold cans of Tiger Beer.
The day was getting warm.
I bought another beer at Kluang.
Around noon the train passed through Taiping. THe hill station was reportedly the wettest region of the Peninsular, but the monsoon was months away and we traveled under sunny skies.
A Muslim man sat on the train. I put away my beer. Admad spoke of the Koran.
"Everything known is written in the holy words of Allah. It gives all answers."
Having spent the last six months in Indonesia, I did not challenge his statements.
Strict Muslims have no use for atheists.
Neither do Christians.
The Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal was a short distance from the train station. The trip across the narrow channel lasted twenty minutes. Penang was a beautiful city with ecletic melange of architecture.
British Empire buildings.
And funny hotels.
I stayed a few days extra.
Sara and I had a good time.
But she was heading south and was going south.
We said good-bye at the train station.
The train left on time. Sara waved good-bye. I sat by the window and watched the world got by.
Past Gunung Jerai
Through rice fields.
To Pasang Besar and the Thai border.
Another westerner was heading Thailand
He pointed to a sign proclaiming death for possession of drugs.
"The Thai are serious about drugs."
"So am I."
We spoke on the train. He was traveling with a western world. She was just a friend.
Michael lived in Pattaya.
Maria made a face.
Women didn't approve of that city.
"Come see me some time. It's the last Babylon."
"I've heard of it."
Everyone had heard of Pattaya.
No place on the planet offered such wickedness.
I got off the train at Suranthani
A ferry ran over tourists to Koh Samui.
The day was beautiful.
The weather was warm.
The beer was cold.
The sea at the beach was as clear as gin.
I rode a bike on the bike.
Vee worked a bar.
I was almost sad to go.
The night train left a little before sunset.
The food in the dining car offered a special menu for Thais. We drank Mekong whiskey with soda water and ice. The windows were open to the wind.
I slept good.
The cleaning crew woke the passengers before dawn.
Bangkok was less an hour away.
I held off on breakfast and watched the scenery.
Rice paddies stretched to the horizon.
Steel tracks split, as the train neared the station.
The engine lurched to a halt.
I checked my seat.
Everythng was in my bag or on my person.
I tipped the cleaner fifty baht.
The price of a big beer.
Hua Lamphong wasn't busy.
Almost everyone was Thai.
This was not the West.
None of the trip had been and I would expect anything else.
It was good to be in the Orient.
It was the other side of the world.