The train madness

by Catherine Malcolm

This story is part of our 'Unforgettable hotel nights' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our recent travel writing competition.


After holidaying in Kuala Lumpar I took a 36 hour train journey to Bangkok for my return flight. Big mistake!

I tried, as the travel guide recommended, to pre-book my ticket, but the 'computers were down'. So I arrived at the station in a summer frock, ready to pay whatever necessary for a comfortable carriage.

'Only third class left,' said the conductor, requesting a very reasonable £10 and ushering me on to the train. The carriage was spacious, comfortable and plump white pillows hung from the windows.


An hour into the journey, the conductor appeared. 'You, out! Not this carriage!'

I was urged to leave by the back door. However, the next carriage was similarly luxurious with plush spongy seats, so I relaxed and observed the scenery.

'Out now! Third class!'

He was back. So this wasn't third class either. 'How much to stay here?' I inquired, offering cash. 'Out!'

The next carriage was reasonable considering the price and I dozed for a while (without pillowss) until a familiar voice shook me from my dream. 'You, go, now! Third class!'

Familiar with the ritual I obediently walked through to the next carriage.

Hard plastic seats.

The train was filling up and it was becoming difficult to spot a vacancy, but I did, and my bare legs immediately stuck to the sweaty plastic. 'Not here - out!'

My tormentor pushed me through the back door, and I entered the final carriage. This one stank. It had wooden slatted seats, all of which were occupied. Not just by people, but chickens, piglets, fish wrapped in newspaper... Every inch of the floor was also full of crouching people who swayed with the motion of the train. I gingerly wrapped my skirt around my legs and squeezed down next to an elderly man who was obviously suffering from leprosy. He gazed with disgust at my bare legs then handed me a piece of newspaper to sit on. A smirking face appeared above me.

'This is third class. You belong here.' In the middle of the night, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, a cleaner sluiced down the floor. Then when I went to find the toilet, my piece of newspaper was stolen and I had to sit hunched in a puddle of dirt. I began to rock. I think I rocked for at least seven hours. It made me feel marginally better. I simply had to deal with it; if I got off the train I would miss my flight. Somehow, I survived and arrived at Bangkok in the evening.

I was so dirty and dishevelled that I felt embarrassed to be seen in public. I went to the nearest hotel, hired the cleanest, whitest room available, showered for an hour then lay, savouring clean sheets until my flight was due.

I can still smell the light fragrance of lavender soap in that room and the glorious touch of those white sheets - simply unforgettable!

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