Monday, May 07, 2007

My First Thailand Adventure

This is the Yala Train Station. This is the very first place I arrived at in Yala way back in 2003…by car. Let me explain.

I was scheduled to go to Yala from Bangkok by train and spend a few months in this Southern city of Thailand. The plan was for me to meet my host in Bangkok and make the 16-hour train ride to the South with her. Now if my host had just stuck to the original plan and showed up--that would’ve been pretty straightforward!

“I guess you’ll just have to pray for God to send you a couple of guardian angels!” She said via email…written with an evil grin on her face, I bet!

So with a sympathetic friend in Bangkok accompanying me to the train station, I made my lonesome way to Yala.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” I thought. “I’ll just come down when I see the sign that says Yala—that is, if the sign’s English print (under the Thai script) is big enough for me to see!”

On the train’s third stop, an elderly Thai man with a ponytail sat in front of me. I knew the key thing about traveling alone is to make friends—if nothing else, for safety’s sake. So I started practicing my Thai with him using my Thai phrasebook. We obviously didn’t have any profound discussions on Gautama Buddha but surprisingly, I was able to figure out (or maybe it was more of his communication skills) that he was a landscape artist on his way home to Sungei Golok, a city further South from Yala.

When evening came, a train staff came to make the beds—flipping out the chairs to make beds was an interesting sight. As I watched them make the beds, a lady who was sitting behind me started chatting with me. I found out that she had been eavesdropping the whole time and was actually an English teacher going home to another Southern city, Narathiwat. She just came back from Bangkok after receiving a “Best Mother of Narathiwat” award from the Queen herself! Wow.

The night on the train was bumpy but comfortable. I could feel the train stop a few times during the night but rumbled on again after a spell. I woke up to a sunny morning and enjoyed the view of the mountains from my window—until I realized that the train hadn’t move for quite a while.

So after saying good morning to my Thai seatmate who slept on the upper bunk, I went to freshen up in a surprisingly clean bathroom and came back to see the Thai English teacher smiling at me beside my bed. She treated me with a cup of coffee and chatted for a while.

Then a guy in a brown uniform came on board and made an announcement in Thai. I turned to my Thai lady friend for translation and found a worried look settling on her face.

“The man says we cannot move on from here, there is a train that got derailed up ahead and blocked the rails. We cannot go through.” She said and immediately grasp my hand and reassured me, “Don’t worry, we can travel together by bus, they are preparing buses for us.”

The funny thing was, I wasn’t at all worried. I somehow knew that I would get to Yala—and this was before I discovered roaming (I know, I’m a late bloomer!).

The man came up again and made another announcement. I presumed it was about the buses. I was right. The lady told me with dismay that the buses were assigned to go to the respective cities. So this meant we had to take different buses.

Again, she fussed over me like an adopted mom and discussed my almost-going-to-doomed-fate with the elderly Thai man. Leave it to God to put me in the hands of a Best Mother awardee!

“Come to Narathiwat with me! Then I will take you to Yala the next day.” She said. I declined even if I knew I could trust her with my life. I just couldn’t not show up when I know my host would be waiting for me at the train station…and I knew I was already a couple of hours late.

Suddenly from across the aisle, a man who was with his girlfriend spoke in Thai. I caught the word “Yala” in the conversation. It turned out that the couple were going to Yala. So the Thai lady “endorsed” the care of a poor Filipino lady traveling alone to this couple—who had zero English.

The Thai lady left her phone number, so with the old man and asked me to keep in touch. I said my thanks and went off following the couple to the bus. The sign on the bus did say ‘YALA’—in Thai script—oh, well.

It was a good thing that the Thai English lady had already left instructions with them that I should be “delivered” to the train station where my host will be waiting for me.

On the bus, again I whipped out my phrase book and practiced my then less-than-meager-Thai. After a few hits and misses, I found out that the guy was Chinese-Thai and could speak Mandarin---Hallelujah!! At least I could tell him to please ask his girlfriend to bring me to the toilet on our next stop!! Thank God for small blessings.

When we got to Yala, he suggested I get down with them in front of their store and then he would bring me to the train station in their car. While in the car with them, I saw the girlfriend using her cellphone and asked to call my host. Imagine my host’s surprise when she answered her phone and heard me on the other side telling her I was coming over to the train station chauffered by my new Thai friends in their nice little car.

After staying in Yala for many months, I hadn’t heard of any other incident of cancelled train trips. I also found out much later that many of the Thai English teachers don’t really speak good English and the Thai lady who was on the train with me was one of those rare finds.

I have traveled alone countless more times after that--on planes, trains and automobiles (Vintage Mercedes, to be specific), to further places, crossing borders and on complicated travel routes. But after that introductory lesson of God’s faithfulness, I have never worried about traveling alone since.


dimaks said...

hmm thailand! I love tomyum soup :)

Thai News said...

what an adventure !

snglguy said...

Hay nako! You're living the life of what many of us could only dream of, getting paid to travel. Maybe you can apply as one of the travellers/journalists for 'The Lonely Planet', or 'Globe Trekker'... inggit ako.

BTW, are you back home na ba? :-)

mon said...

Galeng naman ng adventure na ito and gosh you are one brave woman traveling by yourself. You might be right, it could have been your guardian angel. Pag mabait daw ang tao pinapadalahan ng diyos ng angel. Sobra ka siguro mabait kaya dalawa pa pinadala. I'm sure you'll get the chance to play the angel part, that is if you haven't already.

Cheers! miss u na Gypsy :)

vernaloo said...

wow! thank God indeed for blessings like that :)

Me I don't know if I can travel alone. I always have a companion. Maybe I will try it our someday but perhaps in HK only or somewhere where most people can speak English. I might go nuts if I can't communicate.

Gypsy said...

Dimaks, pareho ng Tom Yam. :)

Thai News, thanks for the visit..yup, quite an adventure indeed!

Snglguy,oo nga, ano kaya mag sideline ako sa Lonely Planet? Hehe. I know where the best foot massage is in Bangkok! Yup, I am back reality!

Mon, naks naman, pumalakpak tuloy tenga ko ah. Bwehehe. The Thais are also very nice people--with no ulterior motives kaya you have no need to worry if you get lost there.

Verns,you should try travelling alone! With your gregarious nature, am sure you'll meet new friends while doing that! :)