Thailand: Train to Chiang Mai

We wake up at noon to a phone call from the front desk asking us if we will be checking out. Shit. We slept in WAY too late and now we’re not only late for check out, but late for our train to Chiang Mai!
I have never packed so quickly in my life. I am stuffing clothes and toiletries into every corner of my bag, and running around like a crazy person trying to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. I finish packing before Ilona does, and run downstairs to check out, just praying they don’t try to charge us for another night. She doesn’t think we’ll make it and just wants to go back to sleep, but I’m determined to give it our best shot.
We’re super lucky because the staff are all extremely nice. No one says a thing about our late checkout, (which we managed to do in about 5 minutes) and we are on our way.

On to the next problem. The lady who helped us book our tickets said it takes half an hour to get to the train station by taxi, and it is now 12:15. Train is at 12:45. We’re never gonna make it. We run over to the ticket office and ask her if there is any way we can switch to a later train, but of course, that was never going to happen. She tells us that if we get on a motorcycle we still might be able to make it. We both have huge backpacks and small day bags… we are not exactly prepared to hop on a motorcycle, but I’m not ready to give up yet, so we take our chances and get in a taxi. We ask him to get us to the station as fast as he can, but the traffic in Bangkok is extremely unpredictable. Something beautiful and magical happens, where we manage to make it to the station by 12:40. We give our cab driver a 100% tip (total of 200 baht, or 6 dollars between the two of us) and we start running, literally running, into the station. We get inside and realize we have absolutely no idea where to go, but everyone is so friendly here, notices we’re lost as hell, and offer to help. When we ask someone what platform to go to, he looks at our tickets and shouts, “10! NOW NOW NOW GO GO GO” so we run, again, to the platform and manage to hop up the stairs to the train, and get to our seats. The train pulls away immediately after we sit down. It’s a damn miracle. The last thing I wanted to do was buy another ticket and wait any number of hours for the next train just because we messed up and over slept.

Now I have a 16 hour train ride ahead of me with no AC, scary washrooms without toilet seats, and beds that fold out from the ceiling. The long train ride is going to be a challenge for sure. That’s the problem I have with traveling… I suck at the actual traveling part. One cool thing, is that there are people who walk up and down the train cars with baskets of drinks, fresh fruit, grilled meat skewers, and other stuff. I’m not a fan of eating a meat skewer that has been wrapped in plastic and stuffed into a basket, but the fresh fruit and bottled beverages, I can do. There is probably a restaurant car somewhere, but I don’t feel the need to rush off and find it. I’m just happy to actually be ON the train.

The country side is beautiful the whole way up, and we pass through little villages with people farming what I think must be rice, because it’s growing in those long, flat, shallow water fields. I get to watch the sunset outside my window, and as the sky turns from stunning pinks and oranges to a deep blue, I know that I will soon have to flip down my rickety bunk bed and try to sleep. That is never going to happen on a train full of people in the middle of the night with my bag sitting below me on a metal rack. There are bugs EVERYWHERE as soon as the sun goes down. No mosquitoes, just moths and many other mystery bugs that are swept into the train car by the wind. It gets so bad that I whip out my bug net and sit inside it, with the material draped over my head and around my body. Essentially cocooned in a net. There is not enough room to set it up properly as a tent, so I make do with what I’ve got. It makes me feel better more than it actually protects me from touching any bugs, because they are still crawling all over the outside of the net, but it’s something.

I soon have to move because it’s time to pull down the overhead bunk. Someone comes around to each compartment by 9pm and transforms each set of the seats into a bed, whether you like it or not. We had booked our tickets late and been told there was only upper bunk seating available, which now I understand. At first I was curious as to why people wouldn’t like the top, but now after having to have sleep up there, I can tell you first hand that the bugs are worse (as if that were even possible), there is less room, it’s bumpier, and the ladder to get in and out of bed is downright treacherous. I manage to sleep for 2 hours between 2am and 4am when my body can’t stay awake any longer. Before that, I stuck to lying there with my eyes closed and listening to music, trying to pretend I was somewhere else. My bug net becomes unusable once the seats are changed to bunks, as I have to remove it when I stand up to get out of the way, and then it just becomes a mess of bugs trapped in and out and all around the netting. I can barely manage to roll it up and stuff it back in its bag without gagging let alone try to drape it back around my body. I have to make do without – which feels like the worst thing that ever could have happened. Ever.I slink below the white terry cloth blanket they have provided as bedding, preferring to sweat to death than have bugs crawling all over me, and try to rest as much as I can.

The train itself was fine and our portion of the journey spent during the day light was enjoyable… until the sun went down.  I vow never to ever in a million years again take an overnight train in Thailand. Ever.

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