Surviving a Train Crash in Thailand

{ 81 comments }

I sipped my Chang beer and listened to the ba-doomp … ba-doomp … ba-doomp of our train running south towards Bangkok. The rhythm rocked me into a hypnotic calm. I peered out into the empty forest just south of Chiang Mai to watch the dusk-lit greenery flick by.

Unexpectedly, our train jerked to a halt and a slosh of beer leaped from my glass. I looked out the window to see what the hold-up was and—

“OHMYGOD! We just crashed!” I cried.

“It’s okay, baby, calm down,” my partner replied. He’s accustomed to my talent for turning benign situations into worst-case scenarios, which means that I have little credibility left for actual worst-case scenarios—like this one.

I poked my finger at the window. “Look!”

He turned his head towards the surreal scene ahead of us.

Dust and debris rained down from the front end of the train, which was now sitting at a sickly angle to the tracks. It didn’t seem possible that such a violent collision had caused only a spill of my beer.

“This is so weird,” was all I could manage to say. “This is so weird!”

We got off the train to inspect the damage. Chewed up dirt and grass was scattered around bent metal, torn chassis, and other important pieces of our broken train. The first few carriages had derailed and swung perpendicular to the tracks. The four carriages ahead of us had tipped slantwise, and the windows on the right hand side now offered views of the trackside gutter.

“This is so weird,” I said again.

My mind turned to the contents of my backpack: two headlamps, a Swiss Army knife, a first aid kit, and a collection of medications that I’ve felt neurotic for packing on every trip. But now, amidst this mayhem, I’d soon be getting my Bear Grylls on.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was ever so slightly thrilled about this.

I imagined fashioning lean-tos from palm trunks and plaited fronds. We could make sturdy hiking shoes from banana leaves and, with our bamboo walking sticks, we’d set off into the jungle for help. Yes, sure, following the train tracks would be smarter, but in the jungle we could find juicy tree worms to feast on.

Their nutty taste would go nicely with my beer.

I was pulled out of my fantasy and back into the trauma scene by the throngs of people running towards the carriages at the front of the train. The first-class cars had broken free from the tracks in the derailing and tumbled into tall grass.

I felt nauseous. Those carriages were full of people. I knew this for sure because we were unable to buy first-class tickets earlier that day. They’d booked out.

We instead ended up in the second-class carriage—the first in line to be perfectly upright and unharmed. By the time the impact reached our carriage, it was nothing but a bump.

“This is so weird,” I chanted.

We joined the throngs heading towards the impact zone and I braced myself for the possibility of blood. Despite feeling shaken, I slipped into a fantasy of rubbing down injuries with coconut milk and stitching up lacerations with staples fashioned from thorns.

I’d build a fire and brew tea from aromatic sticks to lift morale. In the forest, I’d gather natural antiseptic leaves, healing herbs, and ibuprofen flowers. (Never mind that I have no botanical knowledge whatsoever. I wouldn’t dare let that small detail interrupt my fantasy.)

But ibuprofen flowers would not be required. All of the passengers had managed to escape unharmed. They stood in the grass reacting to the adrenalin in a myriad of ways. Some scratched their heads, some cried onto friends’ shoulders, several laughed from the rush of relief, and dreadlocked backpackers cradled Chang beers, refusing to allow a train crash get in the way of a good time.

One idiot in the bunch was smiling into thin air, floating away on a fantasy about a TV show called Woman Vs. Wild, while saying “This is so weird!” like a broken record.

We went back to our carriage to collect our possessions. A train employee came after us down the aisle, breathless and frantic.

“You pay for beer!” she said.

I turned to my partner. “This is so weird!”

“You pay!” she demanded.

“But …” I paused, stunned. “I spilt half of it when the train crashed. When the train crashed,” I reiterated, just in case she’d failed to notice.

She stared back at me. “Pay please!”

I pulled money from my bag and handed it to her with my shaking fingers. “This is so weird!” I told her, but she was too focused on collecting beer money to take notice.

A few hours later, another train arrived to evacuate us to the nearest stop—only fifteen minutes back from where we came. The train smelled of livestock, or maybe just drunk dreadlocked backpackers. The metallic ba-doomp … ba-doomp beat of the train on the tracks had lost its soothing charm … possibly forever.

We loaded into buses and drove through the night towards Bangkok. The driver was oblivious to the fact that his passengers had just survived a train crash. He sped through the night, handling the bus with the famous kamikaze driving that is common throughout Asia, while the air conditioning froze the marrow of our quivering bones.

At 7.30 a.m. when the bus arrived in Bangkok—the same time that our train was due—we were shaken and cold, but unharmed.

We’d survived a train crash. We didn’t have to fashion lean-tos from palm fronds, hunt for antiseptic plants in the jungle, or eat insects for nourishment. And while I was grateful to be alive, I was ever so slightly disappointed.

I really wanted to try those nutty worms.

Update: Apparently the train crash was an act of sabotage. It was first assumed that the train conductor was drunk because of the number of beer bottles found on the scene. *Whistles* 

Leave a Comment

  • Kim May 31, 2012, 5:20 pm

    Holy crap! I’m glad you are okay. Add that to your growing list of fun stories to tell at a party.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 31, 2012, 7:34 pm

      I was slightly reluctant to post this because I didn’t want to spook you, Kim. Especially after reading your last post! But you know what? These situations do make the best stories, and life is all about the stories.

      Reply
  • dtravelsround May 31, 2012, 5:54 pm

    Oh my god! I can only imagine what that must have been like!! I am so glad you and everyone else managed to escape unharmed!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 31, 2012, 7:34 pm

      Me too. I was wearing white cheesecloth pants, and blood would’ve looked terrible on them.

      Reply
  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam May 31, 2012, 7:17 pm

    I’m glad that the only casualty was your beer. :)

    Reply
  • Laura May 31, 2012, 7:26 pm

    Whoa! Glad everyone is okay… these are the types of situations that mothers of adventurous daughters have nightmares about.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 31, 2012, 7:40 pm

      I heard a young guy up the back of the train saying, “I won’t be telling my mother about this.” Ha ha.

      My mother has grown a semi-thick skin to these situations. As long as I’m not sinking in the middle of an ocean somewhere, she’s relatively happy. I told her about the train accident and she said, “You can’t buy that experience!” and those were my thoughts exactly. When the train crashed, I thought: I’m so lucky to be alive! And then: I’m so lucky to experience this!

      Reply
      • Laura May 31, 2012, 8:16 pm

        Your mom sounds awesome! I’m the reason my mom’s hair is grey; she never stops worrying from the moment I step off dry land until I drop anchor again. The first boat I sailed on almost sank at 2AM in Lake Michigan though, so she had reason to be scarred… but it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced!! (Ahem, because it wasn’t my boat, and there were ships standing by to rescue if the Coast Guard helicopter didn’t get there in time with the spare pumps…) :)

        Reply
  • Devon Mills May 31, 2012, 8:10 pm

    Hoooly crap! Glad you lived to tell this story! My CM-to-Bangkok train was inexplicably canceled in April… maybe because of these sabotage shenanigans? I have a friend who’s about to honeymoon in Thailand and he was asking me for travel recommendations… unfortunately this is just another reason why I can’t recommend the train!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 2:55 am

      Sadly, I absolutely LOVED the train before it crashed. We had a first class sleeper on the way up, and it was a great trip. I couldn’t stop talking about it once we got to Chiang Mai—in fact, I wanted to leave early just to get back on the train.

      Reply
  • Monica May 31, 2012, 11:11 pm

    This mother took it very well…..after i saw you both and the rest were OK.
    The first came to my mind was, finally the boat Gracie was safer ……
    You have to ask for a refund for your beer or half of it.
    Jorge eat 3 worms in our trip to Amazons and he said they were really tasty like almonds…try it next time.
    Happy to hear you survive and this is now another great story to tell.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 2:57 am

      I knew that Jorge would be on my side with the worms. You can buy fried worms, crickets, and other bugs here in Bangkok. Jorge will love it!

      Reply
  • Bree May 31, 2012, 11:22 pm

    Wow, Tor! So glad you’re okay, baby sister!!! But, dang, you’re funny. Love the images too. So glad no one was hurt! Xxx

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 4:03 am

      Thanks! I’m glad we didn’t get hurt too. I really like my limbs!

      Reply
  • Denise June 1, 2012, 12:19 am

    I don’t see why you can’t just go back to the jungle and try those nutty worms, since you really insist you want to :D

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 4:04 am

      What kind of crazy person wanders into the Thai jungle and snacks on worms? :) And besides, you can buy them deep fried from the road side in Bangkok. I’ve tried crickets and grasshoppers.

      Reply
  • Amanda June 1, 2012, 12:53 am

    Yikes!!! Though, leave it to you to turn what I’m sure was a stressful, scary situation into a humorous one afterwards. Sorry you didn’t get to try those nutty worms, but I’m glad you’re okay!

    Reply
  • Doc Wends of Journeys and Travels June 1, 2012, 12:59 am

    this is scary. Good nothing untoward happened to you physically.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 4:07 am

      It’s scary to imagine all of the possibilities. We were very lucky!

      Reply
  • Dyanne@TravelnLass June 1, 2012, 1:24 am

    Just yesterday I too was on an Asian train (from Mui Ne back to my home in Saigon). And as we swayed to the clickity-clack, clickety-clack (“ba-doomp … ba-doomp”? good grief, who? what? even sounds like that???), I too wondered about the likelihood (inevitability?) of going “clickety-ACK!” off the the rusted rails.

    Goondess, but… this is “…so weird!” ;)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 4:10 am

      You’d be surprised how many different beats come out of the train. I know because I was singing along to them before we crashed, annoying my partner. Ba-doomp was the beat playing at the time of the crash, which then went: Ba-doomp-eeeeeeeeee!

      Reply
  • Jane DeRoche June 1, 2012, 2:03 am

    Good read! I’m getting on a train to Lakes Entrance in about an hour. While I don’t want anyone to get hurt, I’d love some excitement along the way. Maybe we’ll get marooned and have to eat kangaroo and gum leaves for a half hour. This would really please my American friends who are quite convinced that McDonalds here serves McRoo burgers. Ya can’t talk ‘em out of it. You know how they are. I miss you so much. Big hugs to you,
    Auntie Jane

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 4:13 am

      McDonalds SHOULD serve McRoo burgers. They could make McRoo nuggets for the Happy Meals and shape them like little baby joeys. The kids would love it! Next time I see some Aussie road kill, I jerky it up for you and send it to Oceanside.

      Reply
  • Katja June 1, 2012, 2:13 am

    Blimey, Torre! You like living life on the edge, don’t you? Very glad to hear that everyone came out of this OK, although I’ll admit to sharing your slight disappointment. As I read, I was really looking forward to hearing about you applying ibuprofen flowers and administering beer bandages to the wounded.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth June 1, 2012, 3:18 am

      wow! what a great story! I live in Thailand and have never heard or experienced anything like this but I kinda hope I do! (with the same, safe outcome of course…) Thanks for the entertaining morning read.

      Reply
      • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 7:42 am

        Love to see some fellow adventurers around here. :)

        Reply
  • Greg June 1, 2012, 5:01 am

    That IS so weird!
    I also just read the sabotage article. That’s insane that an actual employee of the Thai rail system may have been to blame. Crazy world! Glad you’re ok :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 7:40 am

      It’s a bit sickening. Who know what else could happen?

      Reply
  • Deborah June 1, 2012, 6:35 am

    Argh! I guess there’s something to be said for second-class travel!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 1, 2012, 7:41 am

      For sure! And sitting at the back of the plane, near the toilets. :-/

      Reply
  • Christina June 1, 2012, 9:38 am

    As long as you keep POSTING these ‘I survived’ stories my skin will continue to thicken! And as long as you’re not ‘shopping’ for these experiences I can continue to sigh my relief at the stories you’re collecting. Perhaps this explains the very ODD behavior of the 3 canines patiently awaiting your return. ‘What’s wrong with you three, why are you shivering and ALL wanting to sit on my lap at the same time?’ (no kidding)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 3, 2012, 9:48 am

      Definitely not shopping for near-death experiences, Mum. :)

      Reply
  • Patricia Sands June 1, 2012, 5:11 pm

    So glad all is well, Torre! First of all I had the motherly reaction of OMG-ing the situation. Then after discovering you guys were fine and all was basically ok, I had the further motherly reaction of being happy you had a calming beer to sustain you (one of our sons is a brewmaster so we are big beer believers). Finally, as a writer I was excited you had just been handed some fabulous “stuff” to work to the max in your own unique way. And so you did! *hugs*

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 3, 2012, 9:49 am

      Thanks, Patricia. “Beer Believers” is the religion of my family too. :)

      Reply
  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures June 1, 2012, 7:43 pm

    An act of sabotage!?! That’s horrible! I’m so happy that you and your partner were okay!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 3, 2012, 9:50 am

      It’d be unforgivable to lose a limb for an act of sabotage. An accident I can perhaps forgive, but deliberate tampering … ?

      Reply
  • Ayngelina June 1, 2012, 9:12 pm

    Wow, you guys were so fortunate no one was hurt. Perhaps second class is a good idea moving forward, especially if drunk train conductors are common.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 3, 2012, 9:52 am

      My previous passion for riding shotgun has been extinguished.

      Reply
  • Sarah Somewhere June 2, 2012, 2:47 am

    Shit. I’m taking this train TOMORROW (I”ll be sure to pack the ibuprofen flowers, cheers for the heads up! :) Glad you guys are okay.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 3, 2012, 9:53 am

      Are you okay? Did you make it? I hope my story didn’t give you too much anxiety!

      Reply
  • Katie June 2, 2012, 3:23 am

    What an utterly surreal experience! I’m glad you were OK and I still can’t get over the person chasing you down for beer money. It makes me wonder if train derailments are so common that the workers on the trains are more bothered by making sure people pay for their beer than by checking to see if everyone has survived.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche June 3, 2012, 9:55 am

      At a steep $4.60 per beer, collecting the money is CLEARLY more important than tending to the injured.

      Reply
  • Alexandra June 2, 2012, 5:54 pm

    That is so weird!

    Reply
  • Meg | One Love Meg June 2, 2012, 7:11 pm

    WOW!!! Someone upstairs was watching over your train. It’s moments like those that the comment. “This is so weird” is the best one. There are certain details about that day you will never forget. I am sorry you didn’t get to try your worms…but then instead of a post, you would have had to make a movie. :)

    Reply
  • Euan Mitchell June 3, 2012, 9:54 am

    Have any further details emerged about who was behind the alleged sabotage since the article on 29 May?

    Reply
  • Laurence June 3, 2012, 2:28 pm

    Wow, scary stuff indeed. You relayed the story brilliantly though – a very entertaining read!

    Reply
  • Molly June 5, 2012, 4:33 pm

    Oh my god – Wow! I’m glad you guys are okay!!! Bright side is that now you’ve got quite some story to tell! That’s crazy!

    I can’t believe the woman still asked you to pay for the beer haha!

    By the way, you’re photos are really beautiful. Surreal, but beautiful…

    Reply
  • Shanna Schultz June 6, 2012, 4:33 am

    Glad to hear that you were uninjured in the crash! I am glad to hear that you are so resourceful about surviving in the jungle, but equally as glad that you didn’t have to test those skills. Thanks for sharing a harrowing and well written story.

    Reply
  • Hannah June 6, 2012, 12:05 pm

    Holy shit. So glad you guys are ok – I feel a little bad that I found this disaster so entertaining to read about.. I feel even worse that I kinda wish I’d been on the train with you! That’s one hell of a story :)

    Reply
    • Vacay Girl June 7, 2012, 11:14 pm

      You’re not alone Hannah. I found it funny too. We probably found it funny because it sounds like something we’d do. I know I found some similarities to myself in it. But the pictures make the smile go away for a moment.

      Reply
  • JoAnna June 6, 2012, 3:41 pm

    I agree. Definitely weird. So glad to hear you’re okay, though.

    Reply
  • Vacay Girl June 7, 2012, 11:11 pm

    So very glad you’re alive as well as everyone else. Why is it always a fantasy to be able to swoop in and save lives? I have them too so don’t feel alone. It just means we are ready for action and are always prepared for obstacles that may come our way. That’s just apart of being an adventurer!

    Reply
  • DEK June 8, 2012, 2:09 pm

    Isn’t it wonderful how a dangerous situation focuses the mind and turns what otherwise could be fear into just a problem to be solved? But you moved even past that, into seeing yourself inside a Bear Grylls adventure. And we all know that Bear can handle anything.

    Reply
  • Matthew Karsten June 9, 2012, 8:35 pm

    Craziness! Glad no one was harmed. But I see no reason why you didn’t gather fat grubs and brew fresh tea from wild flowers for the passengers anyway… :)

    Reply
  • Sam June 10, 2012, 9:01 pm

    Really enjoyed reading that. Guess you’re pretty glad the Thailand trains don’t go ‘that’ fast.

    “pay please” haha

    Reply
  • Wandergirl June 11, 2012, 1:58 pm

    Glad you and everyone else is okay! What an experience though – I have to admit I’d probably be envisioning survival fantasies too. Or maybe I’d just be sneaking beer off the bar cart…

    Reply
  • Arianwen June 12, 2012, 4:32 pm

    I’m glad you’re ok! Hearing this sort of thing does scare me a bit, especially as I’m about to head to South America – the land of reckless bus drivers and steep roadside drops down the side of the Andes! But then that’s part of the excitement I guess…!

    Reply
  • Will Peach June 15, 2012, 11:30 am

    That’s some hectic shit! Again, glad you made it through unscathed. I hope you sue those incompetent fuckers for every bhat ‘dem got.

    Reply
  • Helen June 15, 2012, 9:44 pm

    We were on this train too. Your story explains how I felt too! What I thought ‘weird’ was the fact that every Thai person we told that night and the next day (we went back to Chiang Mai & flew out next am) had no reaction or sympathy or anything. I guess I felt that someone owed us an apology or something. Even the man who refunded our tickets at Chiang Mai Railway Station said nothing. It wasn’t until we arrived in Bangkok that our tour guide said “That must have been scary.”

    We were in the first of the first class sleepers! It had left the track moments before it started tilting. When we googled it we discovered one had derailed 4 days beforehand! Maybe they are used to it happening and that is why they have no reaction? Or is it a cover up?

    Anyway, we all survived it and have the story to tell (and the photos to prove it!!). We were lucky as my son said ‘Mum last year the same thing happened and 4 or 5 people were killed!!’. Cheers.

    Reply
  • Michi June 17, 2012, 2:41 pm

    Whoa, forget the nutty worms – this incident is nuts! But so relieved to know that no one was terribly injured in the accident. You’ll definitely be able to add this to your list of travel tales!

    Reply
  • Matthew Hutchins June 22, 2012, 11:10 am

    Doesn’t seem too bad, at least it wasn’t going too quickly and wasn’t too packed like the trains in India.

    Reply
  • Leif August 14, 2012, 1:35 am

    Good god thats a serious crash. Really glad you’re ok. What a nightmare. I feel like I have heard too many stories of thai trains crashing now. I am definitely sticking to the boats and busses next time I go. You are a pretty dang brave fearful adventurer.

    Reply
  • Melissa August 15, 2012, 6:40 am

    That’s really scary. If I was there, I don’t know how I will handle my emotions. The important thing is that you’re alright. And I am happy that you shared this with your readers.

    Reply
  • Lauren October 30, 2012, 3:35 pm

    I saw a train crash going from Bangkok to Surat Thani back in 2008. We were in the following train and saw this train on its side in the middle of nowhere. A few locals who had discovered it were burning incense which meant that someone had died. So sad, but good job you were ok on this one!

    Reply
  • Jamie March 22, 2013, 3:36 am

    Hi there. I just recently came across this b/c friends of mine showed a picture you posted that she caught herself in. She is in the blown up picture with the girl in white shirt having her hand on her head with the long brown hair. We live in MD USA and were on an educational tour for college. I was not personally but on vacation for myself while with my sweetheart while he did the tour for college. I was actually a person who did receive massive injuries but did not know till later the next day when the adrenalin kicked off and was left in much pain. I ended up having bruised lungs, bruised sternum and rib fractures from hitting so violently into the table. This was such a wake up call to most and a relief to everyone that there wasn’t blood or majorly hurt people or children. The scene was unreal and almost like a dream or movie. Something that will, and has for me, change your life forever. The many different stories that were told about this train crash made us all laugh esp since one of them stated there were no passengers aboard. The buses were horrible but it was better than nothing and they, like you stated, drove like mad men to get the job done to get back home to their families I’m sure. It’s def a story only pictures prove actual happened!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche March 23, 2013, 11:33 pm

      Wow, Jamie, that’s crazy! I’m sorry to hear about your injuries. I’m so glad you’re now okay. I wonder if there were others who experienced the same kind of ‘delayed injuries’? Has it put you off travel?

      Reply
  • santafetraveler April 28, 2013, 3:56 pm

    What an amazing story. Glad everyone was okay- it looked a little scary from the photos. Can’t believe she made you pay for the beer. I have to hashtag that! #culturaldifferences -lol.

    Reply
  • Natalie May 21, 2013, 8:36 pm

    I was in a train wreck in 2008 in Thailand, too. The train car I was in derailed and flipped on its side. It was terrifying, to say the least. I’ve been searching for other people who were on the train, just out of curiosity, and came across your site. I blogged about it here http://thaisummer2008.blogspot.com/2008/08/train-wreck-really.html and here http://thaisummer2008.blogspot.com/2008/08/train-wreck-part-2.html.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 22, 2013, 7:09 am

      Horrible. Your experience was much worse than mine. I was particularly haunted reading this: “For some reason I have a vivid memory of seeing the train conductor’s face looking at me in fear, but there’s no reason to have that memory. He was up front in his driver’s seat.”

      Reply
  • Chiang Mai clips June 17, 2013, 5:32 am

    Excellent site you have got here.. It’s hard to find good quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

    Reply
  • Stuart Freestone July 29, 2013, 6:18 pm

    17.07.13 a few weeks back the same happen to us but at 4:00am in the pitch black
    30ish injured
    my brother-in-law had to buy water for the injured people from the resturant car that was at 45 degree angle
    see

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2366643/Thai-train-derailment-Foreign-tourists-including-Americans-Europeans-23-people-injured.html

    it seems this is an almost except-able event.

    Stuart

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche July 30, 2013, 1:13 pm

      So sorry to hear that, Stuart. I’m glad that you and your brother in law are okay. How very traumatic it must’ve been to experience that, and in the pitch black, too!

      Reply
  • Russ Flinchum October 15, 2013, 12:17 pm

    Cool, nice writing skills! Enjoyed your work. Is there more?
    Glad you an others ok, we’re all about creating memories/stories and u just scored big time. Happy travels rf

    Reply