After an eleven to twelve-hour train ride from Bangkok, I finally arrived in Chiang Mai, which is in northern Thailand. I was drained from the traveling and I still haven’t had dinner. It was about eight or nine in the evening.
I got off the train and headed for the Visitor/Tourist Center. I showed the staff there the address of my hostel and asked them how I could get there. I didn’t really get anything from them and they just gave me a printed map of Chiang Mai with all the famous attractions in the city. I thanked them and then left. I was starting to feel anxious by this time. I had no access to the Internet so I couldn’t even check Google Maps to see where in the world I was or how far my hostel was from the station.
I used to be very detailed when I plan my trips. I would make sure I knew how I would get from point A to point B for all the places in my itinerary, or at least knew how to get to where I’m staying prior to arrival. This time though, I didn’t. I didn’t even get a local sim card or a pocket wifi for navigation. But it was okay, I didn’t really feel bad for that, I was just really anxious.
Upon exiting the station, which was small to be honest, I saw red vehicles that seemed like the jeepneys back at home except these vehicles had a sign at the top that said “Taxi.” A lot of people who seemed like drivers (because of the uniform) were also flocking the entrance/exit of the station and talking to the tourists. One of them approached me and my instinct told me to show him the address of my hostel. He had a hard time reading it because the letters were small but eventually he understood and said, “Okay,” and brought me to his vehicle. Later I found out that it was called a Songthaew, a passenger vehicle used as a shared taxi in Thailand and its neighbouring countries, which literally translates to two rows.
There were two other people in the Songthaew who seemed like a couple. The driver got into the driver’s seat and we took off. I wanted to talk to the couple but decided against it. It was dark outside so all I could do was observe the inside of the Songthaew, which had posters and brochures of the attractions and activities in Chiang Mai pasted all over the walls. After scanning the vehicle, I just sat silently there, holding onto by luggage tightly and feeling the wind in my skin. After a few minutes on the road, we dropped off the couple. My anxiety level was going even higher. My thoughts raced and I thought of all the worst scenarios imaginable. What if the driver kidnaps me? What if he doesn’t drop me off my hostel and bring me somewhere else? There I was again, thinking of the worst from other people. I feel guilty writing about it now but what can I do? I was scared. I tried to talk the guy before they left. He just paid their fare to the driver. Fortunately, he spoke English. I told him I wasn’t sure where my hostel was blah blah blah. I’m pretty sure I sounded hysterical and scared. He talked to the driver in a different language, Thai probably, and then went back and told me the driver was dropping me off next to my hostel. I thanked him. I was relieved. I was still anxious but at this point talking to anybody to distract my thoughts helped ease my terror, helped calm me down a bit.
I was now alone at the back of the Songthaew. As we went around the city, I imagined all the possible ways I could do to escape in case things got bad. I kept imagining throwing my luggage off the vehicle and then jumping off on the road. I got my luggage and myself ready. I never knew what could happen and when it would happen. Crazy, crazy. After a few more minutes the vehicle stopped. I just sat there and after a few moments the driver got off and told me we were there. I hurriedly got down and paid my fare. I scanned the area. It was a highway and there weren’t much people or cars passing by. It was dark too as there weren’t a lot of street lights in the area. I asked him where the hostel was because I didn’t see any building or a sign that said it was my hostel. I think he didn’t really understand me so I just let it go, thanked him, and decided to find it myself.
I walked for a bit on the highway, hoping to find the hostel there, and then went back to where he dropped me off. The street sign said that it was Maneenoparat Soi 2, which was the hostel’s address. It was dark, there weren’t any lights in that street but I decided to go on and walk. There was no other choice. This time I got really scared. I was in foreign soil, a province at that. At this point I was questioning all my life decisions like why didn’t I get a pocket wifi or a sim card, why didn’t I read up on how to get to the hostel, the same stuff I thought of again and again earlier that night. After a minute or two of walking, I stopped. I wanted to ask if I was on the right track, if I was at the right place but there wasn’t anyone else there except motorcycles and cars passing by every now and then. I tried waving to the cars that passed by so I could ask them but none of them stopped for me. Finally a man on a motorcycle noticed me and stopped. As usual, I showed him the name and address of my hostel and asked him if I was on the right street. He said yes and then he looked at me and my luggage and then pointed at the back of his motorcycle. He was asking me to ride his motorcycle!
I had second thoughts for a split second and then decided that what the heck, I had no other choice. I was exhausted and it was getting late. I didn’t even think anymore. I got on the motorcycle and put my luggage between the two of us. I never thought this was possible. I was on a motorcycle with a stranger in a foreign land late at night but all my worries and all my anxiety have disappeared.
I know I almost always say this in all my travel stories but there’s no other way to describe how I felt — I felt free. He drove quite fast and I could feel the cool wind against my face. It felt nice. I felt safe. After the irrational fear that I felt in the past hour, I was feeling this, this magical feeling that I don’t know how else to describe except that I felt free and, and isn’t this why I travel? To be home, to feel that I really am a part of this world, that I belong here, and feel free all at the same time? Is there a more freeing moment than finding home in a place that once brought you fear?
When I look back at all my stories when I travel, I realize how more often than not, they’re misadvantures-turned-the-best-moments-of-my-life. To be quite honest, I almost didn’t push through with Chiang Mai. Before this trip, I was talking to my friend (the one I traveled with for a week in Malaysia and Bangkok before he went back home), asking him for advice. I was indecisive whether to go to Chiang Mai or to stay in Bangkok. I had another week before my flight home. He didn’t really give me a direct answer but told me that I should choose the one that would give me a story worth telling. I thought for a while. I came to the conclusion that my indecisiveness rooted from fear. I cannot really explain why but what I thought at that time that made me finally deicide to book my train tickets to and fro Chiang Mai was, “If it scares me, then maybe it’s a good idea to do it.” Read something along those lines somewhere. Well, I didn’t expect I would have this experience. I expected that yes, one way or another I would have a story to tell about my travel to Chiang Mai but I didn’t expect it would be this awesome. I expected the worst from the world but it gave me nothing but the best. As always, I am amazed by this life and I am grateful I am here to experience and feel all this.