It was 4am. I was woken by a crack, piercing and metallic. My eyes were slow to adjust to the darkness. Fatigue had left me disorientated, and for a moment, I struggled to remember where I was.
Lightening soon lit the carriage, trickling through the gaps in the curtains. The gentle rocking, which had sent me to sleep some hours ago, came back into my consciousness. It reassured me that we had not just derailed.
I was travelling on the sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok – a journey which took thirteen hours, yet which was significantly cheaper than a flight, and thus ever-popular with backpackers. I, however, had not taken the train to save money, but for the experience.
So far, I had seen nothing but darkness, and had spent an uncomfortable few hours balancing precariously upon a makeshift bed – best described as a shelf with straps – trying not to hurl as the elderly lady beneath me devoured an entire bag of squid rings.
Rain pelted the roof like bullets. With every bend, the straps which held my bed to the wall dug further into my skin. The smell of stale squid began to rise like warm vapour. Realising that sleep was now out of the question, I began to acknowledge why so many chose to fly.
After much contemplation, I decided to take a walk through the train; my mission, to find the bathroom.
I tip-toed through the carriage to a cacophony of snores and grunts. The storm had not woken many, and I wondered incredulously at those who slept so soundly through the thunder – whole families nestled into the same bunk, travellers with maps still in their hands, business men who used briefcases as pillows.
Having deduced that there was not a bathroom on each carriage, my only option was to jump, literally, to the next.
“Gotta love the Thai’s attitude towards Health and Safety”, I grumbled, as I tried to outweigh the risks of losing a limb with wetting myself.
Channelling my inner action hero, I leapt through the open air, hoping that the rain would not sweep me away.
I made it, only to discover that I had burst straight into the drinking carriage. As the cigar smoke cleared around me, I was met by a sea of bleary eyes, all questioning whether this bedraggled figure was real, or whether it was the effect of one too many SangSoms.
“As soon as she appeared,” they would say, “she turned and left.”
The bathroom, I had decided, could wait.
Defeated, I made my way back through the train and clambered back upon my shelf. I opened the curtain, just an inch, and watched the world pass by.
The sun was beginning to make its slow ascent, and the sky was a faint, dusty orange – just strong enough to breathe light upon the passing scenery.
I watched as dawn broke over this land of vast lily ponds, rice paddies and mango farms. I watched as mists cleared over mountains and as light sprinkled over rivers. I watched as townships came to life, as mopeds were mounted and temples glistened in the breaking sun.
As others slept around me, I embraced the solitude.
“However fleeting,” I thought, “this moment is mine.”