This was our first train ride on this trip, and we decided initially that it was the way to go. Smooth, quiet, scenic, comfortable, and no crazy suicidal drivers or motorbikes to worry about. We click-clacked our way out of the city, heading south into the rural countryside that was rice fields, cows, and not much else. We stopped briefly at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere, then past a really nice golf course and up a bit of a hill. Forest lined the tracks, resembling the dry woods we hiked in for the last couple days, and just as we were zoning out in the sunshine, the train came to a stop. A minute later, a few seats ahead of us, flames could be seen on the ground outside beside the tracks. The dry grass and bushes were quick to ignite, and a serious sized fire was burning in a matter of seconds. We got the attention of a crew member, who nonchalently went to get a bucket, while another guy sprinkled a liter of water on the fire. Somehow they smothered it, hopefully completely. When we finally started moving again, we were rolling backwards - back through the forest, back down the hill, back past the golf course. We came to a stop at that tiny station in the middle of nowhere and just sat there. And sat there. And sat there. An hour went by and they served us lunch. With no idea what was going on, we guessed that either the fire flared up and was too dangerous to pass, or we were waiting for a train coming the other way? Eventually we started up again, past the golf course and up the hill. All seemed to be going well until the train came to a stop again at a spot five minutes past the fire (which was in fact out). Surprise, surprise, backwards we went to the tiny station once again. The crew didn't speak english, so we gathered from hand signals and the dozen trucks full of official guys wearing hard hats that met us at the station, we think that the enging was having trouble pulling the train up the hill. The fire likely resulted from a spark that flew from the overheated engine. It would explain the multiple burn spots we observed on the hill beside the tracks on our fourth pass of that stretch of tracks... So they brought in a new engine, probably from Chiang Mai, hooked on and were on our way past the golf course for the fifth time. This time, we made it. We passed the sign declaring the summit and descended through a long tunnel and out onto the flatlands of central Thailand. Thankfully, we have learned to roll with the punches and enjoy the detours! After all, it was kind of nice to relax all day with a book and give our sore hiking muscles and elephant saddle and bamboo raft bruises a break!
It got dark around 6pm, and we managed to fall asleep for a few hours. When we woke up three hours later, the train had come to yet another stop at a station. The name of the town on a sign said Uttaradit, which we looked up on our map and were disappointed to see that we were less than a third of the way to Bangkok! It was going to be a long night. Our scenic daytime express train had become a painfully slow night train that stopped at every single town. We slept as best we could in the uncomfortable seats, and really weren't surprised to see rural countryside still rolling by long after midnight. Finally, we entered greater Bangkok and came to a final stop at the train station. Our watches said 5am. Our 12 hour journey had become 20 hours. Just as we were climbing into a tuk-tuk to search out a hotel at this ungodly hour, we realized that it had been Friday the 13th all along.