Fourteen hours, maybe more.
There were only two tickets left on the night train to Chiang Mai after a 40-minute cab ride and a two-hour standstill at the airport.
The train station was filled with people. We had to maneuver around seated figures to find the ticket counter.
“Only two left, third class. Do you want them?”
Alexandria and I said yes before the question left his mouth — saying yes seemed to be a theme with us.
“520,” he said. We paid the stranger, still unsure of the exchange rate from American dollar to Thai baht.
We took our tickets and walked to the platform marked with the number 10.
We each had a large pack strapped to our backs and a smaller to our fronts — twice as much baggage as everyone else boarding the train.
The train was worn and rusted, like the kind you’d see in a vintage photograph.
Hidden character, I thought.
Each car had a number, though none were in sequential order and many had doubles.
We climbed on. The tennis shoes I had tied to the side of my pack got stuck on the doorway and I had to grab the frame to steady myself. I turned the corner and was met by the car full of people we would be spending the next half-day with.
The seats were grouped in fours, facing one another with shared legroom. They resembled the bus benches I sat on every weekday when I was 14 — made of aged pleather and silver trim.
A man quickly helped us stow our bags on the overhead rack while the woman across from us glared. We were the only freckled-faced foreigners.
The entire car was colored with different shades of teal, mint, and deep green. There were small metal ceiling fans lining the roof — their constant clatter echoing like an old movie projector. Everything was calm.
The windows were open and, as the train took its course, small gusts of air filled the car and brushed the hair from my cheek.
The train began picking up speed. It started with a gentle rocking, a constant clamor. I felt as though I knew each piece of the machinery and could hear it moving, fulfilling its purpose with a proud stride. I felt each component working in unison.
We passed homes, slums, and fields. We passed large hotels, lavish buildings draped with holiday lighting, and temples that looked like the structures we were used to seeing on miniature golf courses. I smiled. I liked seeing them in real form and on a grander scale, seeing that they belonged to someone.
We stopped at new stations every so often. The car was full but continued to collect more people at each stop. Mismatched bags were stacked to the ceiling but the tarnished bars did not waver.
The quiet was only interrupted by the steady clicking of the fans.
The shapes outside the window grew darker and Alexandria fell asleep, bent over the backpack in her lap.
A second row of lights flickered on and reminded me of an old crime show I used to watch with my grandmother. They fit with the curved shape of the ceiling.
I looked over and saw an elderly couple holding hands.
Everything about the night train seemed like a piece of the past, like I had stumbled through a portal and fallen back into an older version of the world.
Yet, at the same time, I found myself completely aware of the fact that I was present — there was a dead iPhone in my front pocket I simply had no need for, there were no outlets, WiFi, or air conditioning, but it didn’t matter.
The same woman who had glared at me hours before now caught my eye and smiled.
Each of the people in the car were living their lives, I thought, and I got to witness a part of them. What a beautiful thing.
I may not have gotten much sleep that night, but I am sure that those 14 hours are something I will continue to talk about for years to come.
I needed that train.
I needed to be stripped of distraction and just sit — even if that meant my legs were numb for hours. I needed to be surrounded by the unfamiliar to see the common, the unvarnished, and the beautiful.
I found a piece of home in that small section of the world, and discovered pain tucked inside the process of uprooting.
I needed that train more than I knew.
All photos were taken by Kacie’s travel companion, Alexandria Duke. Check out her work on Instagram.