It was just a normal shopping trip when Jaeyana Beuraheng bade farewell to her eight children as she left to cross the border into Malaysia. But it would be 25 years before she would find her way home.

Now, at the age of 76, she has been reunited with her family and has finally told how her misfortune began when she boarded the wrong bus.

Mrs Jaeyana would almost certainly have made it home without mishap had it not been that she speaks only Yawi, a dialect spoken by Muslims in southern Thailand. But unable to write, read, or speak Thai or English she boarded a bus for Bangkok, about 800 miles (1,300km) north, by mistake rather than travelling back to her home in Narathiwat.

Bewildered by the noise and traffic of the capital she boarded another bus hoping it would take her home. It did not.

This one took her to Chiang Mai, close to the border with Burma and another 400 miles away. There she became lost and unable to explain her predicament. In Chiang Mai she spent five years begging and with her dark skin was taken to be a member of a hill tribe.

When police rounded up beggars in the northern capital in 1987 she was arrested on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. Unable to determine where she came from, officials sent her to a social services hostel where she has been ever since.

Jintana Satjang, a director of the centre where Mrs Jaeyana made her home, said: "We thought she was a mute." Mrs Jaeyana was referred to as "Mrs Mon" because staff thought her mutterings sounded like Mon, a minority language in Burma.

Mrs Jaeyana would probably have spent the rest of her life at the hostel had not three students from her home province who spoke her language arrived at the centre for training last month. They struck up a friendship and she was able to tell them how she became separated from her family.

The students made inquiries and found her youngest son, Mamu, who is now 35. They sent him her picture by mobile phone.

"I was shocked and overjoyed when I saw the picture," said Mamu. He said he and his brothers and sisters had searched for years in Thailand and Malaysia until they were told their mother had been run over by a train in Yala.

"I remembered her face even though I have not seen her for 25 years," he said.

Gone missing

-The "Piano man", found roaming Kent in a dinner jacket in 2005, would not talk but was an expert pianist. After four months he was identified and returned home to Germany

- Thousands of Korean families were divided when the country was split in 1953. Last year, many met again for the first time

- 210,000 people a year are reported missing in Britain. Most are found within 72 hours