So, if you have been reading, I am now skipping to some of the better stories from my original archives.
Many of you read my shoe story since it appeared in the Contra Costa Times Travel Section about a year or so ago. The Travel Editor, Ann Chalfant, asked for travel stories that involved shoes. So I submitted one, just for the heck of it. If you have seen or read it already, please hit the delete button.
On a trip to Chiang Mai, northern Thailand one year, we met a young family. The husband drove a red tuk tuk, a type of small truck that functions as a cheaper alternative to a regular taxi cab automobile. It turns out that he picked us up at the Night Market in Chiang Mai, and drove us to our hotel, the Rachamanka on the other side of the city. We did not realize, when he picked us up, that he had his wife and his small 6 month old son in the front seat with him.
We were travelling with my friend Mike, and his son, Matt. They dropped us off at our hotel, and we arranged for them to drive us around the next day. Our hotel, the Rachamanka, had a nice gravel yard enclosed by a fence in front of the hotel. We are sure they did not like a red tuk tuk parked in the yard with their black Mercedes courtesy cars, and tour vans. But, we told the hotel that we preferred to ride with Ta, his wife, Cee-kay, and son, Dawid.
They drove us down to the river for our morning boat ride. They waited for us, then dropped us for lunch at the city’s main shopping center. They also drove us to a tailor where I had some slacks and shirts made. But that night was the topper. We had dinner reservations on the far outskirts of town. Mike had arranged for them to take us in the tuk tuk. We were headed out to the well regard Sala Mae Rim at the Four Seasons Resort.
This is what their business card or postcard said about our dinner: Savour the unique flavours of northern and vegetarian Thai specialties at Sala Mae Rim, renowned for its sumptuous Thai cuisine. A high teak wood ceiling complements Northern Thai artifacts and sweeping views of the Mae Rim Valley. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with seating for 46 indoors and 24 outdoors.
Well, it was about a half hour drive out of the city, along country roads, several small village “suburbs”, and rice fields and marsh lands. It turned out to be a beautiful setting, and a very exclusive dining experience. Many people arrived in limos, wearing suits or tuxes. We had our customary shorts, and aloha shirts, arriving in the red tuk tuk. They made Ta park his tuk tuk to the far side of the parking lot.
We felt rather bad for him, but he was so loyal, and would not abandon us so far out into the countryside. The three of them waited there for about 2 hours while we ate dinner. And, by the way, we had a fabulous dinner courtesy of Mike and Matt. It was, by far, the best meal we had on this trip.
After dinner, we walked out to the valet area. They would not let him drive his tuk tuk to the gate, so we walked about 100 yards to where he was parked. We did not think this was a very nice way to treat one of their own, much less their dinner guests. Undaunted, we headed back into town, and another night of shopping the famous Night Market. Ta and family were there to drive us back to the hotel.
The next morning was rather sad, as we had to say our goodbyes. We gave them our warm jackets that we purchased in Hanoi, all of our toiletries, and many of our shirts and blouses that we could not take back home. But the biggest prize was an almost new pair of Nike cross training shoes that I gave to Ta. He was overwhelmed, and kept bowing for several minutes. I did not have room for them anyway. He was kind enough to arrange for our ride to the airport in his friend’s cab. His tuk tuk was too small to handle the four of us and our bags. It was a tearful goodbye.
Just as we were about to leave, one of the staff of the Rachamanka comes running out with a large plastic laundry bag. He caught us just before we were leaving. But he did not realize we were leaving our dirty socks and underwear behind intentionally. Again, we were out of room. So, the staff gladly accepted the dirty clothes as a gift.
A year later, Sheri and I returned to Chiang Mai. We called Ta and family to drive us again. We greeted them at our new hotel, the Yang Come Village, just at the edge of the Night Market area. They drove us everywhere, shopping, dinner, sightseeing. When they drove us to the Shinawatra Silk Factory, we asked them to join us on the tour. They had never seen a silk factory before. By the way, Shinawatra is the name of the prime minister. He owned several mega businesses in Thailand, to the tune of billions of dollars. The people in the country like Ta loved him, because he used his own money to build and improve schools for kids like Dawid. I am sure they were disappointed when he was forced to step down and go to England in exile.
We also invited them to have lunch with us at a big food court in the city center. We bought some tickets or coupons for the food court, split them up with them, and proceeded. They chose some noodles dishes, and a child’s plate for Dawid. By the way, Dawid was now a year and a half old. He and his Mom chose to ride in the back of the tuk tuk with us. Personally, I would sit in the front where the AC is located, wait, do they even have AC? It made us feel quite special to have made friends in this far away place.
We also gave them some money to take Dawid to the little arcade in the center. He got to ride on those little rocking cars, and play some video games for kids. He did not want to leave when we decided to call it a day.
On our last evening, they drove us to dinner. Ta wore the Nike shoes I had given him the year before. He said he was the envy of all the tuk tuk and cab drivers in Chiang Mai. He said he would never be able to afford such expensive shoes without our kindness. We were quite pleased, and it made our trip. So, we had a photo taken of the five of us. I submitted that photo with a shorter version of the shoe story to the CC Times. It was published on the front page of the Travel section, along with my article. I won a prize for this entry. Guess what the prize was? A new pair of Ecco shoes from Macy’s!!!
I can’t wait to see them again. I want to show them the photo and the newspaper article. I wonder if he really knows that gave me the real gift. And most of all, I want to give him the shoes that I won.