March 19, 2013
Chiang Mai, Thailand
I was screaming all sorts of curses in my head while my calf muscles throbbed from the 309-step descent (and prior ascent) from Wat Doi Suthep. I was sweating profusely even with the cool, mountain breeze, stifling the panic that was rising from the bottom of my gut. I nervously noted the souvenir stalls closing up for the day. Night had fallen.
Save for a Thai lady who I came down the steps with, there were no longer any tourists around and no other vehicles for hire. I saw only one other red car but I wasn’t sure it was the same one. I should’ve remembered to note the plates. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that man. I shouldn’t have paid him 200 Thai Baht in advance. I felt like such a rookie. He said his name was Matthew. Maybe that was made-up too.
Then the slow, bladder sphincter-loosening realization crept in: the red car I had hired to take me here and back to the city had abandoned me.
I mentally skimmed through my options:
a. Walk the entire 15 km-descent back to Chiang Mai. In the dark. NO.
b. Talk to one of the locals who seem to own a scooter and propose a deal. Do they speak English?
c. Go to the police station and ask for assistance. Are they still open?
I had to clear my head. Before I left for this trip, I had read about the unfortunate plight of a tourist in India. I gave myself a mental smack. I should not have traveled to this country solo. I sat down on the curb and struggled to get the stress hormones down to not-so-toxic levels.
How was I going to get myself home?
I got up and checked the only red car parked by the road. I prayed to the gods that the driver was just taking a nap inside. I couldn’t have taken that long up in the temple! Yes, I was entranced by the monk’s chants and the solitude of the temple over sundown but I couldn’t have been more than an hour!
I peered through the car window. It was empty.
I paced back and forth ranting silently. Then, unceremoniously, there he was, coming down the steps from one of the buildings. In seconds, all the fear dissipated and I resisted the urge to grab this petite man/boy and hug him. I thanked him repeatedly and I was so overjoyed I told him I’d take him to dinner wherever he liked. Of course, I said this with more gestures and in broken English so he could understand. Smiling an unassuming smile, obviously clueless about what I had been through for the past fifteen minutes, Matthew opened the car door for me and asked if I was “happy”.
I told him yes.
Getting to the market, Matthew invited me to make an offering to Buddha at the shrine. He then taught me wai phra and he smiled taciturnly as I lit the incense and silently thanked Buddha.
Earlier I had told Matthew he could go anywhere he wanted for dinner and it was on me. That was mostly relief, talking. As we sped away, I berated myself. Again.
We slowed to turn towards a dark alley. My heart jumped to my throat and the tourist in India flashed through my mind one more time. But as we rolled in to a dimly lit parking area right next to a swanky sports car, my fear turned into suspicion. I was getting royally ripped off tonight. The restaurant looked exclusive.
We walked through the restaurant hall while Matthew kept saying this place had “the champion kangsom in all of Chiang Mai”. In my head I thought sourly, “It better be the best, if I’m going to splurge on it tonight”.
Nothing could prepare me for what awaited us though. As we entered the receiving area, I couldn’t help bust gasp at the most beautiful sight that night: we were to dine right next to the Huay Kaew waterfall! Matthew was right about the kangsom too and no, I didn’t spend a fortune.
Buddha must have been smiling down on me that night. And Matthew, well, since that night, he officially became a friend.