It all began with my boss and a work trip to Kuala Lumpur.
I had already set up a line of interviews in KL and in this context, my boss got the idea, that I should go on an adventure and explore the Southeast Asian scenery from the small seat of a train back to Bangkok. Since we couldn’t buy the tickets online, we agreed that I would wait until I was in Kuala Lumpur to purchase my ticket back.
I decided to walk to the station from my hotel in China Town. Though I followed Google map, I managed to get lost. After asking for direction, and being followed by a security guard through a mall, I managed to find the Central (Sentral) Station.
I was able to buy a ticket to Padang Besar – a Malaysian city at the border to Thailand. From there, I was told, that I would be able to purchase a ticket to Bangkok.
Thursday, June 15
The train leaves at 9.50am from the Sentral Station in Kuala Lumpur. Due to the many challenges, trying to find the station to buy the ticket, I decide to checkout early and get a grab cab. I manage to be at the train station at 8.30am. More than an hour before the train is set to depart.
This time I manage to find my way around the station effortlessly. I even succeed in finding a Starbucks coffee and get a latte to keep me company while I wait.
20 minutes before departure, people start to board the train. I enter the train and find my seat. In the train compartment there is only one place in the back to store luggage. I therefore stuff my trolley in between the other bags and go to sit down. As I get to my seat I realize, that I am seated next to this older woman, with a very discontent look on her face.
“I think that is my seat,” I say with a gentle voice. Still, she seems to be bothered by my request. She does move aside and let me get to my seat, while looking annoyed with me.
9.50 sharp, the train leaves the station and I’m on my way. Curled up on the small seat, I’m trying to take up as little space as possible.
12.20 – not as fast as expected
The train in Malaysia is supposed to be the fastest and most modern, but for the first hour, it feels like we barely move. The train stops three times due to problems with the signal, which delays the whole journey.
As I sit on the train, I think of my colleagues’ article back in February “The aesthetic of a train journey.” In the piece she describes the beauty of sitting on the train, observing the nature as you pass through the landscape.
2.5 hour in and all I feel is anxiety. The landscape is mostly the same. Either stretches of trees or stretches of fields with some old buildings.
My ass is hurting from sitting in the same position for so long. My head is hurting too after the same kid has been screaming for most of the trip. The angry looking woman on the seat next to me is either sleeping or eating. Either way, I’m too scared to disturb her to go to the restroom. At this point, I’ve had to pee for around an hour.
At the same time, someone on the train brought food onboard, that makes the whole compartment smell like beef soup. Bringing food onboard makes sense though, since there is no service on this train. Had I known there wouldn’t even be a snack cart, I would have brought something other than water as well. The only person passing through the train is the man collecting trash. Every time he passes by, he has the same resigned expression, which express how I’m slowly starting to feel.
Still three more hours to go before Padang Besar.
13.27 – On the edge of hallucinating
Suddenly the compartment starts to smell like pork which is strange, since we are still in a Muslim country. The whole compartment smells like a Danish Christmas dinner. If it weren’t for the fact, that I’ve never been a big fan of the traditional Scandinavian Christmas feast, I would think that the boredom has made me start to hallucinate.
Angry lady next to me gets up from her seat to use the restroom. I recognize that this is my chance to get up as well, but for some reason I cannot move. I just sit there. Paralyzed and in Pain. Having to pee for more than two hours at this point. Still, I cannot seem to get up from my cramped seat.
My phone is starting to run out of battery. I turn off the music that I’ve been using to block out the noise of the screaming child. The kid has stopped screaming, but a man one row back has fallen asleep and is now snoring loudly. My head is still aching and I dread the remaining two hours on this train.
15.23 (or 14.23 Thai-time)
Finally, I arrive in Padang Besar. I get up from my seat after I haven’t moved for almost six hours. I hurry to grab my bag and get off the train. Besides the train tracks, there is nothing in sight. The place looks completely deserted. I follow the crowd into what is supposed to be a station. As I walk in, a stink hits me in the face like a wall and I can barely breath. I try to hold my breath, but the smell continues as I follow the masses towards the exit. I try to figure out what the smell is, but I cannot put my finger on it. The closest I can get, is food mixed with grandma’s perfume and a sewer. Once again, this rules out asking for direction to the nearest restroom.
No more tickets
Even though it’s hidden away, I manage to find a ticket stand. One line for Malaysia and one for Thailand. I line up for a ticket to Thailand, more specifically Bangkok.
“Can I have a ticket to Bangkok, please,” I ask, while taking out my wallet from my shoulder bag.
“No tickets,” the man replies.
At first, I just stare. I’m unsure if I got it right, so I ask again. This time the man turns his screen towards me and points towards it.
“No more tickets to Bangkok,” he says clearly annoyed with me. Once again, I just keep standing there. Starring. Waiting for him to give me another option. Bring me a solution. What am I supposed to do from here if I cannot get a train ticket to Bangkok? How am I supposed to get back? The man doesn’t say a word. Instead, he just looks more and more annoyed with me, when the girl behind me tells me, that I should get a ticket to Hat Yai and take the train from there, so that is what I do.
16.50 – Still stuck at the smelly station in Padang Besar
The train for Hat Yai was supposed to leave at 15.50 (Thai time), but is delayed for more than an hour. You would think, that the smell would decrease after some time, but it is still as intense as when I first walked in. I still have to pee. It’s been almost five hours now, but I’d rather endure the pain than having to use the toilets here.
Finally, we start to board. Even though I have a visa, some people waiting in line makes me aware, that I should have filled in the visa-form that was handed out. I borrow a pen and manages to scratch something down before it is my turn at the counter.
At passport check, the man behind the glass cannot find my visa. After I show it to him, he then cannot find my re-entry stamp. This time I’m starting to panic a bit. I feverishly go through my passport looking for the latest stamp, while I’m painfully aware, that several people have been going through passport-control and gotten on the train, in the time I’ve been standing here. While I’m searching, the staff closes the doors leading to the train. The fear of missing the train makes me panic even more.
“I cannot find it, but I know it’s there” I almost scream at the controller. He takes back the passport and this time he manages to find it. The staff goes through my bag and let me through. The first train has left by this point, but there will be another train in 15 minutes.
17.07 – On the right track to Bangkok or?
I get in the train and I take a seat. In third class it apparently doesn’t matter where you sit. The train is old. The windows are wide open and doesn’t seem to be able to shut. Slowly the train starts to fill up. On 17.07 (Thai time) the train starts to move and I’m back in Thailand.
More than an hour later I’m in Hat Yai. As I stand on the so-called station I look around for a train to Bangkok, but there isn’t any. There isn’t any ticket office. I can’t see any other trains or tracks, except the one I just arrived on. How am I supposed to get to Bangkok from here?
Since I haven’t eaten all day, I grab something to eat, with this guy I met on the last train. While waiting for the food I do a quick Google-search. According to Google I have two options. I can take a flight back to Bangkok the next evening from Hat Yai, which is ridiculously overpriced, or I can take the bus to Krabi and fly back from there.
After only just a couple of hours in Hat Yai I decide, that having to wait almost 24 hours to leave this place, would be too long. Instead, I check in to a cheap hotel with a minor ant-problem and no soap. The next morning I go to the bus terminal and I get on the bus to Krabi.
To be continued!