Missed Trains and Yankees Hats
Chang Mai, Thailand, May 2008
The train pulled into the station at 9:30 pm, just as Tash had advised.
Since I didn’t speak Thai, she had assisted me in purchasing an overnight ticket from Bangkok to Chang Mai, before sending me off to the appropriate platform. We had known each other since the 7th grade, and after graduating high school, she had returned to Thailand to travel and visit family. Tash had been a big help during my first trip to Southeast Asia.
I boarded the rickety train and walked down the cramped aisle, trying to find my assigned seat. To my surprise, when I located it, there was already an elderly man sitting in it. I double checked my ticket stub to make sure that I was reading the correct number. There was no mistake unless the seat had been accidentally double-booked.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said, “but I think you’re in my seat.”
I showed the man my ticket, but be shook his head in disagreement.
I felt overwhelmingly awkward and confused. I tried to explain the situation to a woman in the adjacent row, but she didn’t speak English. A small crowd began to form around us, curious to see what the commotion was all about.
A middle-aged man, standing behind me, ripped my ticket out of my hand.
“Ah,” he said, before returning it, “wrong train.”
My heart sank. The train had already departed the station, it was pitch black outside, and I couldn’t communicate with anyone around me. The only silver lining was that I was too shocked to be scared.
Instinctively, I hopped off the train at the next juncture. If I had boarded the wrong train, at the right time, then the correct one must be running late, and would soon arrive at this station.
“Hi, are you lost?” asked a young Thai man, wearing a worn-out New York Yankees baseball hat.
“Yes, I am. I’m supposed to be on this train,” I replied, showing him my ticket, “but I got on the wrong one, and now I’m here.”
“Are you from the USA?” I’m a Yankees fan!” he asked, pointing to the logo on his cap.
“No, I’m from Canada.”
“I like Canada better than the USA, anyway,” he said with a smile.
The man examined my ticket before shaking his head, “This train doesn’t stop at this station.”
A wave of panic swept over me. I had no clue where I was or what to do next, and I didn’t have any way of contacting Tash.
“I have an idea,” the man announced, before running off with my ticket.
Though I probably should have been concerned that he had fled with my only means of getting to Chang Mai, something about the man seemed trustworthy.
He returned a few minutes later, out of breath from running around.
“I talked to the station master, and he contacted the train conductor. He is going to stop here, just for you.”
Pure relief flowed through my veins like a wonderful drug.
Within fifteen minutes, it arrived, and my new Thai companion helped me board and find my seat. I thanked him for saving my day.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of the train pulling into the Chang Mai Station. The subtropical weather was hot and humid but I was grateful to have made it to my destination without things completely falling apart.
I walked a few blocks past the station, knowing full well that any of the taxis, and tuk-tuks, waiting there would cost more than double the normal rate.
“Do you know any good guesthouses in the city?” I asked a tuk-tuk driver parked on the side of the road.
“Yes, of course!” he replied, straightening himself out and offering to take my backpack.
I spent a few minutes bargaining with the driver. It hadn’t taken me long to learn to never accept the first price offered but, that no matter how wily a negotiator I was, the merchants would always get the best of me. I had also discovered that there was no need to be afraid of getting ripped off by someone who ‘knew a guy’. Sure, I had to be careful as a tourist, but more often than not, the generosity of strangers, especially locals, was more beauty than beast.
“I need to stop at a bank along the way,” I advised the driver.
“That will be a problem,” he replied, “today’s a holiday and no banks are open.”
I had spent my last Baht on my train ticket, assuming that I would be able to reload in Chang Mai.
“I have money, American Dollars, but I need to exchange them to Baht,” I informed the driver.
“No worries, I know a guy!” the driver smiled.
After surviving my first travel hiccup, I was convinced that things couldn’t get any worse, and maybe naively, that things would always work out in the end. Sometimes, it takes a week or two before the real adventure begins.