Wrong place, wrong time

I woke up covered in broken glass, which is both really frightening and a great way to start a story.

It should have been dark but it wasn't. The Thais for some reason had left the lights burning the entire night, bathing us all in an artificial glow and making sleep impossible.

We were seated on wooden benches, my brother Tim and I, a position that's not exactly conducive to a good night's rest anyway. The sleeper cars had all sold out, leaving the two of us to find the "real" Thailand in the cheap seats.

We'd been making our slow way south towards Surat Thani for the last couple of hours, the train slogging it out in the humid night. Our carriage rattled, the Thais around us chatted and ate, a drinks vendor wandered through every now and then cradling a bucket full of icy bottles, howling, "Cold beer kaaaaaap!" at anyone who looked remotely thirsty.

The trip had begun in Bangkok with a few of those beers in the hope that they'd speed us to sleep. However, sitting bolt upright on a wooden bench is no way to get your eight hours of shut-eye. So my brother and I talked, we drank, we listened to music, trying to doze off as the train clacked and rattled and groaned.

I guess it must have worked, because I don't remember the window shattering.

I do remember opening my eyes to find broken glass everywhere: on my lap, on the floor, on my brother beside me. Still groggy with sleep I looked around, taking in the scene of passengers cowering on the floor, glass sliding across its shiny surface with the roll of the train.

We weren't exactly quick to react. "Do you reckon we should get down as well?" Tim asked.

I shrugged. You never know how you'll react in a crisis, whether you'll panic and scream or take charge and make a hero of yourself. Me? Turns out I'm not just calm, I'm comatose. "I dunno," I said, pulling headphones out of my ears and still fighting sleep. "Wasn't it just a rock or something?"


"Ah, I don't think so – look."

He was pointing across to the other side of the carriage, to another broken window directly opposite us, the exit wound torn by the missile that had shattered the glass beside my head. It took still longer for my brain to compute what that meant: whatever hit our train had been travelling fast enough to pass clear through the moving carriage and out the other side.

There aren't many people who can chuck a rock that hard.

So the two of us joined the Thais in cowering on the floor, feeling a little sheepish that it had taken us so long to arrive at this decision. We clutched hands over our heads as the night air whistled through the broken windows and the train kept trundling obliviously towards the south.

Thailand is not a dangerous country. I would confidently tell anyone to go there for a holiday, to enjoy culture in the north, to play in the south, to soak up the buzz of Bangkok in the middle. But for some reason the only times I've ever feared for my life have been in Thailand.

It's just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was a confrontation with a large snake in a jungle recently. And then there was the small issue of this missile that entered my world via a train window on a dark night near Surat Thani.

Had it been fired a fraction of a second earlier, a couple of Thai island bars might have gone out of business.

Tim and I stayed crouched on that floor among the glass for what seemed like forever, waiting for something even worse to happen – or, you know, for someone to come through and at least acknowledge that our train had been attacked and some of us had nearly died.

That took about 10 minutes, when a conductor carrying a dustpan and brush wandered into the carriage, chatted for a while to the Thais in their own language, then swept up the glass, pulled down a few window blinds to cover the damage and wandered back from whence he came.

I have no idea what happened that night. I later found out that there had been some trouble in the south of the country after Thai police killed several Muslim demonstrators, but I have no idea whether my missile incident was related.

It might have been an accident. It might have been a carefully planned terrorist attack. It might have just been dumb luck for someone trying to engage in a little civil disobedience.

All I know is that it was frightening. And that I couldn't get back to sleep.

Have you ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or feared for your life while travelling?

Email: bengroundwater@gmail.com