I sat down and watched the landscape trundle by. I could feel the heavy engine beginning to churn over the tracks, warming hunks of metal rolled beneath as the city smeared past the dusty window. I sat for a while watching and walked out to the back of the carriage, where the second car joined the first and looked down at the gaps of light flitting by on the tracks below.
Sitting back down, I tried to write and made conversation in my limited Thai with the old couple next to me. I felt restless, having left Khao Chong, but I wasn’t sure what for. Last time I had been travelling it had been my own decision where I went and what I did, I had a choice this time, but I had a schedule and a plan, so I felt concerned that I wasn’t open to the spontaneity of a solo trip. After a while of thinking about it though, I realized I was on the way to Huai Kha Khaeng, a UNESCO world heritage site, a massive swathe of forest encompassing The border of Thailand and Myanmar, and Dr. Sarayudh’s 50 hectare forest monitoring site, which I was going to photograph with my drone. I guess things could be worse.
I walked around the train, saying hi to the car attendant, and walked down through third class. The ticket cost about 14 pounds and would take me almost 1000km north, at that price I couldn’t even make it to London from Bristol in England. I went to sleep in my seat, but felt suspenseful when I woke a few minutes later, concerned I was missing some potentially extraordinary vista from the train. I grabbed my camera and walked over to the open carriage doors to take pictures of the world streaming by.
Watching the land slip past from the side of an open train is an odd feeling, the sight seems to have an odd kind of viscosity, like pouring syrup, your eyes get tangled in some tiny moment, finding purchase on the tiniest bubble, and ebb back to the normal flow of time. Things so tiny and fast pass through the moment that they can hardly be said to have happened. I watched people on the road next to the train, split seconds of eye contact blossomed like an ocean of time as we looked at each other from our spinning, pivoting perspectives, and then we whisked forward, until the instantly intimate interaction was no more than a distant pixel. I sat on the side and watched the landscape happen, the rise and sigh of limestone cliffs, the purr of rice paddies and gush of open fields.
After a while the train made a stop and a lot of the local passengers hopped off. The old guy sitting next to me smiled and said “Eem- lau?” Asking if I was full, I realized this was where they were buying food so I grinned and jumped off to see what was available. A woman sold curry in tiny plastic pots, there wasn’t anything else and it smelled great, so I bought two. I turned around to see the train lurch forward behind me. I overpaid the woman and sprinted to catch it. It probably wasn’t even going that fast, but it had everything I owned on board so I was keen to catch it. I made it onto the carriage behind mine and breathing a sigh of relief, walked through, holding plates above my head to head to not spill curry on the pair of fighting kids.
The curry was so spicy that the only way to stop it burning was to eat more of it, so I kept eating until my mouth was on fire while I watched the landscape spill by. I didn’t have any water so I just sat and fanned my mouth and waited for it to pass.
I went out to brush my teeth, but instead of going to the toilet, I walked out between the carriages and watched villages turn into empty dusty roads, into oil palm plantations and sports stadiums in five of minutes standing, looking out into landscape. I finished brushing my teeth and made a disastrous error. I was stood on the space between the two carriages, Behind me sat the car attendant, staring wistfully out of the open window with a cigarette, I had waved when I walked over but forgot he was there when I spat my mouthful of toothpaste, the rushing wind took this gob of fluid , lifted into the air and flung back into the train, only a few feet from where I had been standing, straight through the open window of the train attendant, extinguishing his cigarette, and probably his mood. I walked back to my seat.
After wiping off the mint he came round to make all the beds in the train, quite a mammoth task which he finished in about ten minutes, neatly pulling beds out of the moving walls and dressing in hospital sheets, pulling the neat little curtains tight. I hauled myself in, pulled off my boots and listened to the monotonous thud of metal below. Before I knew I was asleep, fully clothed and happy with a still slightly bloody foot and toothpaste splattered shirt.
I woke around 3 am and got up, walking around the train. Everyone was asleep but it was still loud on board the train, with sound of engines, and the buzz of serious looking fans that made the inside of the train freezing in the night. I met a girl on the bus a few weeks before and she told me that her train had been delayed by about three hours and it made me concerned that I would miss my stop. So, about two hours earlier than I needed to be, I was awake and waiting to go. So about two hours later I got off, as the train arrived perfectly on time, at 5.30 in the morning, and I hopped out into the fresh cold morning air of Bang Sue. Haha, Bang Sue.
I grabbed a cab to the university and waited until Komg and Ooh arrived. They worked for Dr. Srayudh and were going to go to take me up to Huai Kha Khaeng. They were cheery and friendly, and after chatting in limited Thai and English, we piled into the car and drove to Haui Kha Khaeng.