The Rocky Railway to Chiang Mai

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On August 2nd I was excited. As much as I enjoyed my first few days in Bangkok I was well ready to head up North to Chiang Mai and experience a little slower pace of life. We boarded our sleeper train in the early evening.

Having travelled on India’s railways I couldn’t believe how plush the train was. Our cabins and beds were not only immaculate but comfy too. Nice one! But and there is a massive BUT, it turns out that there have been no less than 7 derailments in the last 4 months on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route. We set off in blissful ignorance, ordered our 3 course meal and settled in for the evening.

As I’m a big kid, I’d opted to sleep on the top bunk. If you plan to travel the Thai railways go for the bottom bunk. They don’t turn the lights off so if in the top you have to be okay with bright lights and just a seat belt strapped to the side of the bed to hold you in.

I couldn’t sleep, no problem I read and finally nodded off at around 2am. Around 2.30am our train derailed whilst in a tunnel. It wasn’t dramatic, in fact I rolled over and went back to sleep. After all, I wasn’t sure this just wasn’t the norm. It turned out the other carriages of people were up and near hysterical with their backpacks on. Our carriage was completely chilled, most off us rolled over and went back to sleep in blissful ignorance.

At around 5am we were woken calmly and told to get our stuff as we were boarding a new train. Bleary eyed and confused we packed our bags thinking it was still the middle of the night. At that point we could smell smoke and the urgency to get out of this cramped luggage and people strewn train. We stood in a line wondering where we were getting out to go to but all pretty keen just to get the hell out of there. One by one we jumped down onto the train tracks into the pitch black tunnel. We weren’t sure where we were heading but we had to walk and keep moving so more people could get off the train. I had my huge rucksack on my back, my other small day sack, my camera, my walking shoes and coat in my hand, plus 2 litres of water. I then realised I would be making my way along the broken train tracks in my flip flops till we reached day light.

It’s amazing how much strength you can summon up when you just have to walk, especially when escaping to a smokey train. As I reached the end of the tunnel there were big lights. At the time I thought they were there to help us see, then later realised they were for the TV cameras. As we reached daylight quite a few people were taking photos of us and we discovered we made it into The BangkokĀ Post and the Thai Visa Forum.

We jumped on another local train and then onto a bus to take us to Chiang Mai. No damage done, just delayed and sleepy. An eventful journey though! I hope the extensive news coverage means the railways get a little investment.

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