The beaten tracks
Every time I call my mother, she never fails to try to convince me to consider moving back to our peaceful home town in Phatthalung. She believes that if you are not strong enough physically, spiritually and financially, Bangkok is going to eat you alive. I told her that after the high-profile murder case of Akeyuth Anchanbutr, the image of our city _ where the body was buried _ may not be as "peaceful" as before. I also said my love of Bangkok is too deep and that I am not going to move away from this city any time soon.
Last month, MasterCard's Global Destination Cities Index revealed that our beloved Bangkok was the world's best city for tourism, followed by London, Paris, Singapore and New York. However, there are other sides to Bangkok that are a turn-off for tourists, and residents, that still need to be improved.
Earlier this month I took a week off to visit my family in the South. Usually, I would take an overnight bus but given the rainy season I wanted to avoid a road accident, so I chose the train. When I stepped on board there was a sense of nostalgia. Everything looks the same as what I can recall from 20 years ago, except the ticket prices and food are more expensive. I thought it wasn't so bad to travel by train and a lot of foreigners choose to travel this way. I could finish a book that I have been wanting to read for long time. The slow travel was quite therapeutic, I thought at that time, but later the experience was the opposite.
I left Phatthalung about 8pm, went to sleep, and woke up in the morning assuming the train would be arriving in Bangkok in a couple of hours. I was wrong. The train was still in Surat Thani, which is only halfway to the destination. The staff said there was a technical problem and a cargo train was wrongly stuck on the same line, causing the delay.
The ticket said the arrival time was about 10am, but I actually stepped out of the train at Hua Lamphong at 5pm. I overheard some passengers complaining that they missed their flights.
Of course, who would have expected a delay as unforgivable as seven hours?
The rail system was introduced to Siam during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, and that was before other countries in the region. It was the pride of the country. But unfortunately, more than a hundred years later, we have watched the train systems in other countries catch up and surpass us, while Thai trains remain stuck in the early 20th century.
We may have seen a good move with free trains, which greatly benefits those with low incomes. But the problem of quality and punctuality remains. When tourism seems to lead the country's economy, and with the constantly mentioned Asean Economic Community coming, it is time to seriously consider a facelift for our train system. That's another delay: the State Railway of Thailand should have done that many, many years ago. True, the ongoing debate about high-speed rail requires close scrutiny, but something has to be done, really, because the Thai train system is clanking towards the end of the line.
And along with that, the reputation of Bangkok as a top destination is under threat. It is not only my bad luck to be on a late train because other friends have experienced similar problems, and we have all decided to avoid the train in the future. Imagine if you are a first-time visitor, this will not leave a good memory.
These concerns are nothing new: delayed trains, unbelievable traffic, taxis that refuse to turn on meters or gangs of scammers targeting tourists. But these are things that need to be changed. If we are proud to be the best destination, we need to offer just that to our visitors.
Yanapon Musiket writes about art and entertainment for Life and has a monthly column, Queer Eye, dedicated to gay rights and gender diversity.