All Quiet on the Eastern Front

After the bombings on New Year’s Eve, Thailand is a different country. It’s not that people here feel unsafe or that everyday life has changed. It’s just that as in the case of any act of terrorism, the government has been forced to raise its guard. The nascent post-coup government, whose rule the bombers may well have been protesting, now has to work hard to appear in control. With many parts of the country still under marital law (instituted three years ago) and over 1900 dead in the insurgency-ridden south last year, this is no easy task. Now that unrest has manifested in Bangkok, additional security measures have been instituted. Unfortunately for us, a casualty of the crackdown was the cross-border train service to Malaysia.

Of course, we discovered this the hard way, or I should say, Tom and Asher discovered it. The dynamic that we’ve established dictates that Tom is the errand man and I am the keeper of the everchanging domicile. This means that he shops for snacks, books, gadgets, shoes, and any other necessary items and journeys to bus and train stations to purchase tickets, while I find hotels and take care of laundry, schoolbooks, backpacks and all the miscellany that spews out of them every time we move into a new place. Now if you know me, you probably commiserate with poor Tom; rarely can he accomplish his tasks without incurring some sort of questioning from me. “Are you sure that’s the best one?” “Was that really the lowest price?” “Wasn’t there another bus the same day?” It’s not fair and I should stop, especially since I don’t particularly want to run the errands myself, but we all have our weaknesses right? I’m working on it.

While in Chiang Mai, Tom and Asher, who was in need of an outing, went to the train station to buy our tickets for from Bangkok to Penang, Malaysia. He knew the train number and departure time, but even so the agent, who spoke limited English, told him there were no tickets available. He called me to verify the details and attempt to figure out what had gone wrong. Could they really be sold out? That didn’t seem to be the problem. For some reason the system wouldn’t let the agent book us to Malaysia after January 10. Our travel date was to be January 13. I told Tom that everything in print and online showed the train number I had given him. Finally, after three different agents and a phone call, he learned that cross-border train travel had been cancelled in the wake of the bombings. I jumped online to check flights to Malaysia, so maybe we could still take the train from there to Singapore (we were looking forward to the train—it’s really nice). The fares had skyrocketed and I panicked. I checked the fares to Singapore and they were still cheap, so I booked…fast….before the airline decided to raise them as well.

We ended up taking the train from the Lao border to Bangkok, our chosen destination for celebrating Kieran’s 7th birthday and the pickup point for our Indian visas. We noticed some subtle changes in the city. Upon our arrival the train station was heavily guarded by police (or military–I’m never sure). The river, which was right outside our hotel windows, was being patrolled by additional security boats. MBK, our favorite mall and the site of Kieran’s Asian birthday extravaganza–McDonald’s, bowling, video games, and a movie–is now searching taxis and trucks for bombs and warning guests they may be searched by security personnel as well. None of this phases or frightens us. It’s part of the new world we all inhabit.

We’re sorry we’ll miss Malaysia this time around, but are eager to move on to India, our new home for the next seven weeks. It seems hard to believe we’ve been gone almost five months, and spent almost four of them in China and Southeast Asia. India will be a new chapter in our travels and almost certainly a shock to our systems, which have grown accustomed to life on this side of the Bay of Bengal. Stay tuned to see what happens…

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