Searching for the next shining Bhudda in Wat Pho was like panning for gold. I knew there would be another but I had to work to find it.
The Chao Praya River had swished like a frothy cappuccino around the small ferry on my first morning in South East Asia. I was jet lagged and overwhelmed by a long flight the day before, so the city’s waterways were a wonderful way to get my bearings. The river delivered me from a jetty near my hostel alongside Hua Lamphong Station, past the Grand Palace to the temple complexes of central Bangkok.
Just like that, I was sharing a room with Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha.
The face quizzed me warmly as I entered and for a moment I felt like we were old friends. In this new world where I was acutely aware of being alone, the colossal golden statue was a strangely calming influence. I was being coaxed into curiosity, into this trip I had planned for so long. “What are you waiting for?” he seemed to ask. As I walked the length of the room towards his feet.
The rest of the complex was fascinating and as peaceful as I expected from the religion it embodied. I rested in the tranquility of its hidden corners, marvelled at the intricacy of every single stupa and watched others do the same in the shade of fruit trees. The frost on the ground at Heathrow Airport the previous day might as well have been another planet. Another realm.
I did other things that day. After leaving Wat Pho I visited an art gallery to escape the afternoon heat and strolled the wide avenues of fancy hotels in the main tourist district but I needn’t have bothered. Something about that temple had sounded the pistol for the start of my journey and it would be one of the lasting memories of my time in South East Asia.
In fact, it had revived me so much that I decided to leave the Chao Praya behind and opted for a hair-raising tuk-tuk ride through rush hour traffic to return to base.
Back at my $5 hostel, Bangkok’s dawn rattle was being repeated as an early evening bustle overtook the pavements. Hua Lamphong’s golden arches, that month supporting a photo of Thailand’s King for an anniversary, signalled ‘home’. I was greeted with the sweet, spicy aroma of Tom Yum soup on the air. Steam rising like unwoven silk from hawker stalls against the waning light reminded me of the magazine images that had drawn me to this part of the world.
Dinner was sorted.
I was full of my newfound freedom. “Bangkok is anything you need it be” I thought to myself as I slurped noodles and thumbed through my Lonely Planet. It was already ragged at the corners from my sweat-infused backpack but it had a long way to take me yet.
The following morning, I left Bangkok on a dawn train towards the Cambodian border.