Chiang Mai Trip - Back to Bangkok
Waking up to cool drops of water hitting my face may have been the nicest part of the trip. The day had been quite hot and the train was extremely humid. It was just past midnight so that meant I'd been sleeping for roughly 30 minutes. When I opened my eyes I noticed that the car was completely swarming with insects, primarily little gnats, mosquitos, dragon flies and crane flies. After being freezing cold in the A/C car on the way up to Chiang Mai I decided to travel 2nd class fan car not particularly thinking through the logistics of the situation. The lights are never turned off in the cars at night and at 30 degrees with 95% humidity all the windows were opened as wide as they go. As the sun began setting at around 6pm the insects started filling up the car. I loaded up with bug repellant but unfortunately that just caused the bugs to stick to the repellant.
It was then that I noticed it wasn't just droplets of water landing on my face, but also a few of the gnats had begun dying and falling onto me as well. I checked the time at it was now 12:10am... scheduled arrival was about 4:30am, but since the train was 4 hours delayed coming out of Chiang Mai I'd be looking at more like 8:30am.
The car I was in looked like it would have been beautiful when it was first built, wooden paneling throughout, upholstered separated seats. But over time the wood had begun to deteriorate, the ceiling fans were mostly rusted out and the grease had started to turn tar-like which didn't help, the upholstering on the seats were mostly warn through and probably about half the seats on the train were broken, either permanently fully reclined or just lopsided. Since the train was only a quarter full at best it was still comfortable enough for everyone.
Of course I could have easily flown back to Bangkok, but I love trains and it's a great time to get some reading and raw thinking done. Kinda like in the bathroom, only longer and surrounded by more people. I've also been trying to travel more like locals travel in recent trips if possible. I was perfectly content with the state of the car, it was even a bit comforting. The Thai's on the train were extremely friendly and helpful too (I couldn't actually figure out how to open the window or rotate the seat when I boarded without their help :) ).
I've been trying to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone a bit more recently and actually almost opted for the 3rd class car. When I noticed the number of cockroaches scurrying along the floor harvesting the insects that had missed me on their fall to death I had definitely been successful in escaping my comfort zone. All of the rest of the passengers had come prepared with shoes, socks, pants, jackets and towels to cover their face with. With my sandals, shorts and t-shirt, I definitely felt underprepared. I thought to myself I could just put a shirt over my face and try sleeping. Normally insects don't bother me, I'm one of those lucky people who never gets harassed by mosquitos. But, as Sam knows all too well, once the bugs hit a certain threshold I start to freak out. The average external observer would never notice this but my mind goes berserk at the thought of bugs crawling on me, particularly while I'm asleep.
No matter how hard I tried to focus I wasn't going to be sleeping that night. The inside of the train was a full swarm of bugs. I knew the sun would start rising at about 5am at which point the insects would either be mostly dead or have left and I decided I'd sleep then for a few hours before our arrival into Bangkok. I read my book and listened to music for the next few hours, covering up as much of my skin as possible and keeping my entire body and belongings off of the ground. At one point in the night I picked my bag up from the ground and a dozen or two roaches ran from underneath to find new cover.
Around 2:30am a German guy stumbled through the train looking for someone to share his whisky with, as I was the only other white person on board he naturally decided to stop and harass me a bit. The offer was tempting, but adding a mini-hangover to my day didn't seem too appealing at the moment. We chatted for a minute until a Thai guy burst into our car and yelled at him in Thai, the only thing I could understand was "my whisky!" Apparently the German thought the Thai had left the train when he'd only gone to the toilet, dude had taken his whisky to find someone else to continue getting drunk with. Upon returning from the toilet the Thai was obviously upset to see that his booze had been taken, and now mostly finished. Fortunately the German offered to buy him another bottle and the friendship was immediately mended :).
The sun began to rise, and though the flying insects were now mostly dissipated and the cockroaches, mostly about 0.5-1.5cm in size had covered the floor cleaning the remaining insect carcasses. It was no matter though as they left me alone on my chair as long as I didn't lean against the wooden wall. The train had been stopped for about 30 minutes in what appeared to be the middle of a lake. The tracks were barely high enough to make it through the flooding that had been plaguing the country. I thought I remembered this area from the ride up north. I closed my eyes and fell asleep with my music still playing.
I woke up to people on the train talking far too loudly with each. Few people had been talking the previous evening and now, when I wanted to sleep it seemed like everyone had decided to pipe up.
It was 8am. I looked out the window and the train was still in the same place as when I closed my eyes. It hadn't moved. FUCK! I felt absolutely disgusting. My skin was covered in a layer of sweat, bug repellant, dead gnats, and a thin layer of dirt from the dust of the train tracks. I still had cell signal and decided to send a string of profanities to Sam. I was in a state of complete despair. I couldn't believe it, I was actually trapped. There was water surrounding us for miles, I couldn't have got out to find alternative transport if I'd wanted to. We were actually stopped at a rural train station which itself was now an island. The train wasn't moving and I had no idea when, or if, it would again. I was unable to communicate with anyone on the train enough to have any idea what was going on. But regardless, it was more likely than not that they had no idea either. Were they waiting for something? Could the train drive in reverse all the way back to Chiang Mai? I couldn't bear the thought of having to spend another night on that train. Everything on the train, myself, my bag, my seat, the floor, everything was covered in dead or mostly dead insects. I just wished the train would start moving, in any direction at all.
I looked up walking directions on my phone to Bangkok. We were 270km away, I could walk there in about 48h... seriously considered it. Normally I don't mind delays as I can just pop out my laptop and do some work, but my phone was almost dead and I needed the power to recharge my phone, my last connection to the outside world, which I felt I desperately needed at that moment. I chatted to sam for about an hour which mostly calmed me down. Then I decided to investigate a bit further and stepped off the train.
I couldn't believe my eyes... the train contained only 4 cars!! There were 14 when we left. The engine and 10 of the cars had continued on and just 4 were left behind. Now I was really confused, I could only assume it was due to the flooding and they were moving the cars across the worst part of the line in small sections. Who knows. The engine returned at about 10am and after going forward and backwards for about an hour a cargo train came by and we started moving forward. We were now up to 10h of pure delay on a trip that was only suppose to take 10h. I couldn't care less, we were moving again and it really started to seem like we were going to make it to Bangkok that day.
I was thankful again for the non-AC car as it meant fresh air and better photos since the windows could open. There were 5 fans in the car, 4 of which had seized overnight and 1 that barely spun. The lady who was sitting across from me kept farting and people were casually tossing trash into the newly formed lake outside of the train. The train was inching along, and though I could probably swim faster I was starting to feel in a much better headspace. We pulled into a train station that was like a mini-city on a mini-island. They must have been waiting there for at least 5h for the train.
The train finally arrived at about 5pm that day. If there's one thing I learned... 27h of train travel on a relatively hard bench is really hard on the ass!