Last night, for the first time on my 2+ month travels through Asia, I felt like I might be getting kidnapped and was a little scared for my life.
But maybe my brain was being hypersensitive because I just recently read about two young women who were murdered while backpacking through Ecuador. The Internet of course was quick to jump to blame the victims for “traveling alone,” which is pretty ridiculous on many levels, but, especially since they were not alone – they were together. TWO of them. But they are blamed for their own deaths because they were “alone,” without the company of a man. Oh Internet. You sexist assholes.
The hashtag #ViajoSola has since been going viral on Twitter in support of women who choose to travel alone, and manless … Like ME!
— Betty Chu (@beddychew) March 12, 2016
Last night, I found myself stuck one town over from where I am staying in the Krabi province of Thailand – about a 30-minute drive away. It was past 8 p.m. and the last public “bus” (a pick-up truck with benches in the flatbed) which shuttles people between towns had left. My only option was to find a private taxi which would be about 10 times the price. But, we’re talking the difference between $1.42 for the shared ride or $14 for a taxi – which is a pretty cheap cab fare by Manhattan standards. I wasn’t that distressed.
After talking to friendly locals on my options, I hailed down a taxi – also, a pick-up truck where you ride in the flatbed on benches. The car is professionally logo’d and looks as legit as any – so I didn’t even think twice. Instead of 500 baht which seemed to be the norm after talking to the locals, he quoted me 100. I was pleasantly surprised and hopped right in.
There was a couple already on board, on their way to the outskirts of town as well – but they seemed to think I needed to go in the opposite direction. Nevermind that this was a very odd pairing of two people and I sensed a … “financed sexual transaction” was in their near future.
I LOVE Thailand but I extremely DO NOT love the very blatant sex industry. In Bangkok especially, there is an abundance of ollllllld, white-haired men roaming the streets with very youthful looking Asian girls. It’s very disturbing … Though, at the same time, some of them may actually be legit couples. Being an Asian gal who’s often been told I look 10+ years younger than I am, I’ve experienced this first-hand where I look inappropriately younger than my date. Nothing is more awkward than being on a dinner date and getting carded while your date does not.
But, I digress …
The man seemed friendly enough – an older man from Sweden. The woman was a local – and she seemed very uncomfortable and awkward. Her state of distress was fueling my increasing worries – I started to question why the driver may have lowballed me so much on the fare …
The couple were on their way to a very obscure, non-tourist area outside of town. Next thing I knew, we’d left the main paved road and were headed down a very dark, rural stretch.
Idk. Maybe it was my 100 questions. Or the panic in my voice. But the couple seemed to sense my growing fear – and, the man did try to assuage my worries, claiming these taxis were pretty standard modes of transportation. The local lady, however, did not output as much comfort. Which only made me more panicked.
A million thoughts were flying through my head, recalling a good number of friends who’d warned me about getting kidnapped in Thailand. Apparently, it has a reputation. Here I was with no cell phone service to call for help in case of an emergency and also no way to track our route via Google Maps to see if he was going a legit way. It did occur to me to suck it up, turn off Airplane Mode, use Google Maps and pay the obscene bill — I mean, my life is worth one horrifying AT&T statement … Well, I wasn’t that desperate … yet.
When we finally reached the couple’s destination, they hopped out – and the local lady asked the driver to confirm which way he was taking and the price for me. He said he was asking 100 baht and was taking a different, faster route which seemed to make sense to her.
But before she left the car, in her broken English, she whispered “BEEE CAREFUUUL” and gave me a frightened look – to which I yelped back at her “WHAT??!” In retrospect, she may have been projecting her own fear onto me.
Roaming off down a dark rural road with this strange, foreign man … I was more worried for her than myself at that point.
I sat in the back of the pickup, carefully watching our route, trying to recall landmarks from my drive 12+ hours earlier that day. I was picturing myself jumping out of the back of the truck if we took a turn off the main road down any dark alleys or more rural, dirt roads. Would I be injured, jumping and rolling, from a car going 30-40 mph?
And, then I remembered – I’m a grownass, strong WOMAN. I can take this guy! I just need a WEAPON. You see, the Chinese zodiac says I’m a Fire Dragon – which sooooo makes sense because I was born with a lot of FIRE – and this (strange?) belief that I am INVINCIBLE and can take on anyone who tries to bully, intimidate or threaten me.
Believe me, this ‘tude has definitely proven to be both a blessing and a curse – I can’t even begin to share how much trouble this has created in my lifetime (so far ). Ask my brother cuz you can count on him to be the first to roll his eyes anytime this personality trait (disorder?) comes forth.
I searched my day pack – and settled on my GoPro selfie stick as the most suitable weapon. It was baton-like and I could at least poke some eyes out. I also rehearsed a few Krav Maga moves in my head and felt confident that I at least wouldn’t go down without a fight – which can also be a pretty stupid decision in some situations.
But maybe I’m overreacting? Maybe I’m being an asshole for not trusting this driver – maybe he’s a good person and I’m just a total jerkface? Though, you can never be too careful – man or woman – after dark, traveling alone in a foreign place. It’s not that you shouldn’t or can’t travel alone – you just need to make smart decisions and be aware of your surroundings. And, wait a second – not just traveling, but in life. All of it.
Then, a revelation struck, I could just as easily be kidnapped by an Uber driver back in NYC – and, this strangely comforted me. I believe in destiny. And, if I was destined to be kidnapped this particular night, I was prepared to face my fate. Yes, I hear you, universe … But, I was also prepared to happily give this driver a million baht if he got me back safely.
By the time my brain had played out 100 different scenarios, we pulled up to the night market in Krabi Town, a supposed few blocks away from my hotel (I ended up getting a little lost later that night, but that’s another story 😬 ). I hopped out of the back of the truck, relieved to say the least … and thinking, HOTDAMN do I need to meditate! STFU, brain!!
And, of course the only bill I had was a 1,000 baht which is a pretty large currency not many can break. But I think this guy was originally giving me a good deal not for sinister reasons but because he felt sorry for me, assuming I was a scrubby, poor backpacker – HEY, it’d been a long day on the water and I probably looked pretty busted.
When he saw my 1,000 baht, he tried to renegotiate to 300 – I bargained him down to 200. I mean, that’s still double what he was expecting, right? … I THANK YOU, kind sir, for not kidnapping me.
I can’t begin to express how relieved and happy I felt at that moment. I was exhausted and ready to go to bed immediately … but I was also exhilarated that I didn’t DIE. And, I still had no idea where my hotel was in relation to my location … soooo, I wandered into the revelry of the night market, lured by the off-key, amazing tunes of Thai karaoke! I LOVE YOU, THAILAND!!!
I am definitely blocking my parents from this post.
HEY! Follow my #LostInAsia travels on Instagram! >> @therealbettychu