Awoke in Bangkok, Thailand feeling as if we are in a dream. Walked downstairs for a breakfast consisting of fried rice at the side walk cafe outside our hostel. The foreign smells, the morning sun creeping around the tall buildings that engulf us, the city still calm and quiet with early birds walking to work and women riding side saddle on scooters. Already it is hot and humid but nothing us Texans can’t handle. It’s our last morning in Bangkok for a few weeks. We have plans to make our way to Cambodia today, but not before finding a strong cup of coffee. Bags packed and camera gear ready, we journey off into the unknown.
Awaiting us at the end of the block are a couple of local baristas serving up fresh Thai coffee out of their push cart, wearing huge smiles as they mix coconut milk, spices and coffee by pouring the ingredients from cup to cup. Our new friend and tuk-tuk driver, Jack, weaves our caffeinated crew toward Hua Lamphong Train Station, Bangkok's Main Railway Station located in the center of the city. The station was everything I dreamt it to be. Huge, extremely busy, steaming hot, hanger like building with stained glass windows, 20+ platforms and just as many ticket booths, the usual distorted announcements, and a massive shrine in honor of their late King. We walk right up to purchase tickets for the Eastern Rail, a 3rd class passenger train to the boarder town Aranyaprathet. The fare is just 48 baht (that's a $1.60 ya'll). "I'm livin' my dreams!!!” I exclaim for the hundredth time. To take an ol’ steel steam engine with no AC in a foreign country is bucket list material and we are about to embark on 5 hours of it.
We explore our way to the right train platform, taking in the gorgeous flowers, old vintage train cars varying in rust and color and Buddhist alters all decorate the experience. We wait, sharing the platform with locals in their day-to-day routines. It's a privilege to experience another culture. Our train approaches, screeching in slowly, and then it’s a mad dash to board and claim a seat. Our band of nomads find two wooden benches facing each other, seated next to an open window with the strong sun pouring in, where we will observe magnificent views encompassing 255 km (159 miles) of Thailand’s rural countryside.
The whistle blows and the engines turn and with a jolt we are off. Clickety clacking past buzzing Bangkok, rattling through slums and out of the congestion where the landscape opens up to tall palms and banana trees, with gold temples that appear to be in the middle of nowhere sprouting up through the glistening emarld-green. I watch the picture show out my window as if it were a old film on a television set and the soulful sounds of Bryan’s harmonica it’s soundtrack. We are after all a mere part of the creation. The green pastures and rice fields with shirtless children helping on their family farms. Brahman cattle and water buffalo mingle with white cranes and free range chickens while farmers in wide brim hats tend to their sacred piece of earth, reminding me what it means to be a human. And yet the reality of uncomfortable travel exists but this only adds to the adventure and we’ve never felt so alive. It doesn't matter if these seats and our bodies are hot and sticky, it doesn't matter that my face stings from dried grass whipping around in the humid air. What matters is that we are living in a state of gratitude for the life we have been given and we have chosen a path that pushes us out of our comfort zone, disconnecting from the environment of our regular life or the people in our regular life, challenge or hardship, adrenaline and risk.
I am here, seated next to my best friend and lover as he reads out-loud a hand-written letter from Mama Buse which infuses truth into our wandering souls and reinforces the significance of this journey. I simply open my eyes and look at this moment in time, and I start to feel healed from a sickness I hadn't known I was afflicted with. These are the moments of powerful growth and our whole world opens up.
A breeze blowing through the open window brings me back into my body. Just like the roar of this train, I have this constant engine that keeps driving me towards the things that are unknown to me. We are free to roam the moving train from car to car like a couple of bandits and thats exactly what Bryan and I set off to do. Sharing this train ride with beautiful Thai and Khmer people from all walks of life who routinely make this commute; field workers, mothers breastfeeding their babies, barefooted monks, youngsters heading home from school dressed in uniform, men with missing limbs who have suffered immensely at the hand of their neighboring country and our own. I see faces that have years and years of history wrapped up into one expression. It’s all so inspiring to me and once again I feel the call to communicate through photography this real raw visceral experience where words fail me. And despite the seriousness of all of this, despite that we are experiencing massive problems as a human family, we’re still experiencing each other. We still love and laugh and enjoy life. I mean life is fun. There is so much beauty out of hardship. I love leveraging creativity to produce good in the world. All the things I create will always involve having a conversation with culture about how we can all be better, kinder, and more fully alive –– because, ultimately, that keeps me kind and alive too.
Bryan and I reach the caboose, both making eye contact and shared smiles with strangers. We sit to watch the tracks from our past. We look over and witness a tiny old woman tweeze the hairs from her lover’s chin. We laugh silently knowing that is us years from now.
We arrive in Aranyaprathet as the sun is setting and there is evidence of a rain that must have just rolled through to rinse the land. We take a short tuk-tuk ride to the border and, on foot, cross over into Poipet, a very different world and a story worthy of its own journal entry.