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The International Writers Magazine: Thailand Journey

To Chiang Mai and Sleep
Aby Davis

If God had wanted woman to fly, he’d have given her wings. And I am certainly no angel. Closing my eyes on the six hour journey from Kuwait to Bangkok was an action of frustration rather than fatigue. I was happily flying along, sealed tightly under a statically charged blanket and watching a scratchy version of Bratz the Movie when every single screen on the plane blinked once, blinked twice, and gave up entirely.

Blackness descended as the lights went out and I was unofficially told to be nice and go to sleep. I huffed and I puffed and eventually did so, forehead first on the collapsible tray that clattered from the seat in front. I woke up groggy, cross and in a new and distant land..... "Welcome to Bangkok! The city of Angles!" our friendly tourist map gleefully proclaimed, we smirked and giggled and boarded the bus that would take us to the train station.

I find it extremely difficult sleeping whilst travelling, and was none too excited about the prospect of a twelve hour journey to Chiang Mai, but now I was armed with an eye mask pinched from Kuwait Airways business class and some ear plugs that looked like Wotsits I felt I may sleep like a baby, or a log....or perhaps a baby on a log. With this confidence I switched into experienced backpacker mode.

Bangkok was dirty, big, smelly and surprisingly angular after all. The unfinished carriageways that didn’t yet sweep into the centre had builders hanging spiderlike in hammocks beneath them, snoozing peacefully in the shade. The heat got to my boyfriend first. After buying our tickets to Chiang Mai we had a few hours to burn (almost literally) before departure. We got ripped off by a Tuk-Tuk driver who was so thrilled with the extra cash he allowed the boyfriend to pose in the front while my female friend and I smiled nervously in the back as he manhandled our cameras. Whizzing through the traffic was something we probably wouldn’t tell our mums about, especially when Mr ‘Look no hands!’ Tuk Tuk kept forgetting to indicate and stop at every urgent red light.

Lhumpini Park was very pretty, a little green haven that looked like Eden but smelt like the back of Macdonalds. It was here that Mark suddenly and alarmingly started dripping thick red blood from both nostrils. Alerting a passing Policeman we gestured at the blood on the floor and his gory looking face. The policeman smiled, and laughed and went to wake up a homeless man who appeared to be his mate. Having nothing to stop the flow, save for my friend’s old tissue, we resorted to desperate measures....and shoved my orange earplugs up his nose. Tonight wasn’t looking as blissfully silent as I had hoped.

Returning to the train station, we were greeted by the same woman who had tried to force us into her tiny tourist office before. ‘Scuse me! Scuse me! Where you going?" Embarrassed and irritated, we plunged through into the stuffy building that looked like every other train station ever, and collected our bags from the luggage deposit. Our train left in half an hour, plenty of time for a brief toilet stop.

Ugh. The ladies loos were about as nice as any local public convenience can be, but the heat seemed to make everything feel and smell ever so slightly worse. We exchanged 5 Baht (about 7p) for a swift wee. I was in fact, so swift in my haste to get out I actually broke the string in my trousers. My boyfriend spend the rest of the journey up to Chiang Mai horrifyingly pointing out my ever British waist line.We weren’t sure that Thai Etiquette tolerated three inches of visible knicker elastic.....

The train journey however, soon dispelled any dignities we sweating, dirty looking travellers had previously maintained. Thankfully, as soon as we stepped aboard we were blasted with ice-cold air. We had splashed out on air-con. It soon transgressed that we hadn’t quite splashed out on anything worth sleeping on. The promised ‘reclining’ chairs were a little more slanted than the planes, but I was still nowhere near as horizontal as I would like to be. Nonetheless, we were so exhausted we didn’t care. The boyfriend and I ‘bunked up’ so to speak, and my friend Emma bagged herself two seats together. She moved about three times in the first hour, I would hear her furtive grumblings as various backpackers slid into the seat next to her.

I woke up an hour later full of the joys of spring, convinced I had slept through the whole night and we were in Chiang Mai. When the boyfriend burst my bubble I think I could have cried. Twelve hours left.......

Annoying American Tourist number One was speaking loudly into her mobile phone.
"Oh you’ll just LOVE the photo I took today, its’ so so super cute! You’ll see it soon ‘cos it will be my Facebook picture....oh it’s just so SUPER CUTE!"

I had slept for another hour lolled against my boyfriend and had horrifyingly dribbled on his shoulder. In that moment I wished I was sat next to her and it was her shoulder that wore my spit.

Sleeping on a train is a most discombobulating experience. I think I woke up more times than I actually fell asleep. Leaving my dozing boy with his head against the window, I would stretch out on a vacated double seat. I use ‘stretch’ extremely loosely. In the foetal position, my head knocking rhythmically against the wall, legs curled beneath me and knicker elastic well and truly displayed.

Everyone walking past to smoke outside knocked my feet ever so slightly and I would wake up. I don’t really need to tell you how uncomfortable I was. Despite that, Jet lag conquered all, and sleep came in some form or other. I woke up every other hour in a position that no person has ever slept in before, blissfully ignorant to my personal appearance, which by now was dishevelled to say the least.

At seven am, I woke up properly when the lady who gave us blankets in the night poked me in the shoulder with a tray of rice. No one on First Great Western has ever been so obliging.

Breakfast was free apparently, and surprisingly welcome. I was sat next to my boyfriend again, with little memory as to how I got there. Emma sat opposite, next to a guy who was apparently belching and/or singing all night, and currently clipping his fingernails. There was slight desperation in her eyes, and it transpired she had not slept much at all.
But joy of joys! We arrived! And Chiang Mai was bright, cool and beautiful. We could see mountains in the distance with the gold of Buddhist temples glittering on the summits. This was the land where elephants walked with their carers down the streets, and you could hire a Moped with no need for proof of driving ability (you know there’s something to worry about when the girl filling her ‘ped up behind you is wearing Winnie the Pooh sandals)

All this was waiting to be discovered and I smiled at everyone as we left the train station to wait for our lift. The friendly faces shouting for us to use their taxi would not bother me now, the nice man urging me to go see some Thai Boxing was only doing his job after all, and we three weary travellers could only think of cool crisp sheets and hot running water......

© Aby Davis March 5th 2008
abydavis at

Aby Davis

We arrived, sleep deprived. The spooky darkness below the plane was Iceland. A small island poised above masses of red hot rock, straddling the north American plate. Two nosy kids on a gap year, wanting to see something new.

World Destinations


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