Once upon a time (re: about a week ago) I apparently thought taking a two day train trip from Chiang Mai all the way south to Koh Phangan was a good idea. Not only that, I figured buying the cheapest tickets for two sleeper trains and spending 7 hours in Bangkok during the day was brilliant planning on my part. You know, to maximize my time everywhere. Great ideas!
I was wrong , it was a horrible idea. I got bored with Chiang Mai after all my activities were said and done and I decided to take a four hour bus trip up to the hippie mecca of Pai for the night to change up the scenery. Apart from being horribly touristy I do want to go back and rent a motorbike for the day to do some exploring of the waterfalls and canyons. But I digress.
Instead of starting my journey south in Chiang Mai I have now added an extra 4 hours to my trip. I opted for the cheaper option, local bus, rather than the more expensive mini busses I got roped into buying on my way up to Pai. I guess you get what you pay for; it was actually a rather nice drive up to Pai, I got to ride shotgun with plenty of leg room, cold air con blowing in my face, and overall enjoyed the quick 3 hour ride. The return trip on the local bus found me stuck in a heat box with only temporary relief from a rotating fan that would briefly blow on my face intermittently, pressed in shoulder to shoulder with strangers just as sweaty as me. I was in a seat too small for my legs so I had to sit sideways with them in the aisle for 4 hours. I ended up befriending the lovely French woman next to me and we chatted for the first hour or so before dozing off. A woke up some time later, all cuddled up to my new friend with my face nestled into her shoulder and everything. “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed apologetically as I discreetly checked both myself and her shoulder for drool. “Don’t worry about it!” she assured me with a laugh, “I’m sure you won’t be getting much sleep on the train so get it where you can.” Au contraire, my new friend, I can sleep anywhere.
I was wrong again. Choosing 3rd class seats (so I could be like the locals!) for an overnight journey is ridiculous logic, choosing it twice is just plain stupid. At least I got what I wanted…apart from two other girls I was the only foreigner in a train car full of locals. Be careful what you wish for. I am decidedly too tall for this country; I can’t buy shoes, dresses are shirts, and the seats just aren’t long enough to curl up on. I managed to get some fractured sleep between changing positions-one of which involved crossing my legs up on the wall, another sticking them out of the window (until they got too cold or I became too paranoid that they would hit something), and finally trying to stretch myself out between the two benches facing each other before the rude awakening of dropping to the floor between the seats.
By about 1am I sat sullenly on my bench, blanket draped over my head, peering bleary eyed with jealousy at all those little Thai people curled up peacefully in their little seats. Curse my desire to immerse myself in culture! I continued to drift in and out of restless and dream filled sleep, at one point waking suddenly to give someone a couple of rows in front of me a key, only to realize I had no key and must have been dreaming.
Sometime in the early morning hours a small man sat opposite me, asking in broken English if I was heading to Bangkok. I nodded and asked if he was as well, which he responded by showing me his ticket with an unrecognizable location. When I awoke again some time later he was gone and I searched for that person who had told me they had something funny to share with me before realizing that must have been a dream as well. Between being delirious with sleep deprivation and having such vivid dreams, I balanced precariously on the border of insanity…even now I’m not entirely sure who was real and who was just a figment of my imagination. We passed new towns and other trains, new passengers coming and going like ships in the night as I tried to get some sleep.
We lurched to a stop in Bangkok at about 11am, 17 hours after leaving Chiang Mai. I slept a grand total of maybe 5 of those haunting hours. I had about 7 hours to kill in Bangkok before beginning the second and final stretch of my journey. Determined to stick to my original plan, I drug myself out into the bustling streets of Bangkok for a wander and a chance to stretch my legs. I thought I was doing alright, tired but managing it well, until I happened to glance in the mirror in one of the department stores.
Good God what is that?!? I grimaced at the creature staring back at me. My hair nothing short of a tangled rats nest held in place by grease, my sunken eyes float lifeless above dark bags dripping down my sallowed cheeks, various pimples glaring at me like bright red beacons across my jawline. I dropped my sunglasses on and tried to recover from the shock of seeing myself. I was a living, breathing, real life zombie (and no Im not exaggerating). I made a mental note to maybe consider not resting my face on my sweaty arms out the train window anymore.
You know what the worst part of this story is (apart from my self description)? I’m writing this from the train station in Bangkok. I’m only halfway through my journey, I still have another 12 hours to go at least. I am going to be so stoked to finally be on that beach.
*Note: I’m posting this from Koh Phangan, so I’m here now! My shower was heavenly and the beach even better 🙂