Dave’s Odyssey #30

Temple of the Emerald Buddha

In May 2008, I went travelling on my own for the first time and was out of England for a month. Along the way I took in Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand before coming home. I kept a journal of my time on the road, so here’s a day by day account of my trials and tribulations that has the undeserved title of Dave’s Odyssey. 

Day 30 – Thailand

Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Temple of the Emerald Buddha

A 6.30 a.m. start in Thailand began with another pleasant breakfast, all you could eat once more. The serenity of the morning was broken soon after and once again Alison was the culprit. Charlie explained that her long shorts were simply not long enough to enter the temples we’d be seeing that morning. Alison refused to compromise and Charlie’s day was made worse by two couples from the group ranting about the day in Thailand we had lost due to our cancelled flight in Sydney. Despite the inconvenience that an extra day would cause to many people from the group, these couples wanted Charlie to arrange at least one more day in Bangkok for us. In fairness to him, Charlie kept his cool and advised the couples they were welcome to stay longer but they would have to pay for it.

Outside, a group of us apologised to Charlie for the serial whingers and I reassured him that the debacle with Quantas was not his fault. The majority of us were now at the point where we just wanted to go home. It had been a fantastic month but we’d crammed in a lot and over time fatigue had inevitably set in.

On the tour we got to see Bangkok in full. It was a fine city with some eye-catching displays of dragons, elephants and an endless array of large pictures of the King of Thailand. The people were obviously proud of their kingdom and why not?

Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Temple of the Emerald Buddha

As Charlie talked us through the streets, I continued to feel uneasy in the country. At our first stop we were warned to stay close to Charlie and that people wanting to sell souvenirs would hound us. Those interested had to bargain with each seller. It was an accepted custom here.

At the Grand Palace Complex you weren’t filled with confidence by the sight of armed guards but we all got in without a problem except for Alison. She was called over by security and told her long shorts were inappropriate. They arranged for her to wear a long skirt and did she let us know that she was unhappy? You bet she did! In one respect I sympathised because there were a lot of women there wearing skirts and dresses but they appeared to be locals. On the other hand, Alison was warned by Charlie and paid no attention whatsoever. The truth was we were visitors in someone else’s country and you have to respect the laws and traditions.

The bulk of the morning tour was a walk around the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The whole complex was a fantastic display of architecture, rich in colour with numerous statues and buildings immaculately put together. The downside of the tour was the heat. It was around 80% humidity and the sun was out most of the time so we were all sweating. Even poor Charlie was resorting to wiping his forehead every few minutes with a useful handkerchief. He didn’t have any spares for the rest of us, which was a shame.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The main temple in the complex was so sacred that shoes and hats were simply not allowed. Our shoes had to be removed and left outside on a series of shelves. Charlie assured us they would be there on our return, especially those of us with the biggest feet. That meant I was safe.

Inside the temple we were invited to sit or kneel before a fabulous series of statues rising all the way to the ceiling. It was a monument of Buddha and photos were not allowed. You were also forbidden to point your feet at the statue but why anyone would want to stick their feet in the air while in a temple was anyone’s guess. It did make me feel self-conscious about keeping my as out of sight as possible. I hated the thought of accidentally offending anyone.

After the Grand Palace we once again negotiated the souvenir sellers before heading to our last stop – the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. A group of us waited outside in the shade as the heat was simply too much. Those that went inside informed me the interior was great but at one point everyone stopped and there was nowhere to move. It sounded like we hadn’t missed much.

Stop
I wish I’d had this much conviction when trying to cross the road in Bangkok

On our return to the hotel a group of us went to the local shop. I’d decided to stick to my policy of safety in numbers. The shop wasn’t far away but, my word, it was a classic comedy getting there and back again. Firstly, we found a pedestrian crossing but no one stopped for us. We then noticed on both sides of the road a set of flags that you could carry. I took one, held it aloft, and wandered into the road. Sure enough the cars stopped but, I assume, it was only because the alternative meant hitting me. It was a precarious walk with cars stopping and starting but we all survived.

The local shop had the usual essentials but it was difficult to tell what was what with the symbols on the packaging. Eventually the four of us were on our way. Before reaching the pedestrian crossing I made a complete mistiming of ducking to avoid a road sign and clattered into it pretty hard. This amused my trio of fellow travellers. I left the pedestrian crossing honour to one of the others. I assumed the use of the flags was linked to the crossing of the road. If not the locals were probably enjoying regaling a story of four crazy tourists that stepped into the road waving a flag around.

Due to the heat and the uneasiness about wandering around Thailand alone I opted to spend the afternoon doing final packing for the return journey to England and just relaxing before another long flight. We’d had a taster of Thailand and as nice as the city of Bangkok was there was a worrying gulf in wealth when seeing some of the slums and the foreboding I had in coming here in the first place had turned out to be fully justified. I felt safe in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia but not in Thailand, and that’s not a fun way to travel.

Airplane Lightning Strike
We aimed to fly back in style!

While watching English football on Thai TV I happened upon a show that just showed clips from matches – quality goals, outstanding saves, reckless tackles etc – and it was hosted by two very giddy women who really did represent my ideas of heaven and hell. The loudest of the two looked like Mylene Klass while the other reminded me of my favourite actress – Zhang Ziyi. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about but it was interesting to sample a spot of Thai TV.

We left the hotel at 9.00 and began the drive to the airport. All the way there I had this sense that something was going to go wrong before we got to leave the country. I wasn’t far off! We said farewell to Charlie and I saluted him with a shake of the hand for all the crap he had endured from some members of our group. He’d been an absolute gentleman throughout and I was sorry we had so little time with him.

Bangkok was a huge airport and I endeavoured to get through to the gate for our flight as quickly as possible. I ignored the shops after checking in my backpack and negotiated security and the dreaded metal detector without any issues. As I’d run out of contact lense solution back in Sydney the matter of carrying liquids was no longer a problem either.

By the time I reached our gate I found there were no shops or anything. My two ‘grandmothers’ were on hand to spare me from deprivation by forcing me, almost at knife-point, to share their box of chocolates. They were very persuasive. It was a long wait for the plane so the chocolates certainly helped. In fact, the delay meant we were late taking off by a good hour. Outside it was raining heavily with thunder and lightning which wasn’t the most reassuring way to take off. Day 30 ended sat in the airport waiting. The plane finally took off early on day 31.

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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