Last week I ventured out on my first solo trip to ‘Putthamonthon’, a park devoted to Buddha, situated about 5km from my base in ‘Salaya’, a district on the outskirts of Bangkok. Salaya is a relatively quiet area compared to the busy city, but is still heaving with locals, Thai students, and internationals like myself. There is an array of night markets with live music
often filled with huge numbers of students drinking and smoking long into the night. In particular, my favourite market ‘The Groove’, is shiny and new, and made from two, long rows of shipping containers, each containing a different style of bar or restaurant-there’s even a music studio in one. It’s stylish and quirky, and I quite often find myself over there enjoying the evening in front of one of the many local Thai bands singing romantic Thai pop ballads. It echoes Brighton in some sense, far less traditional than I expected.
After indulging in student life, and being couped up for days attempting to finish my work, a visit to a large, green space was appealing. I opted to stretch my legs and walk the 5km along a busy main road. Upon arrival, I instantly felt the calming gaze of gigantic Buddha, central in the park, standing wisely and gracefully under the sun. The park was much larger than I expected. Quiet and empty. It was the middle of the afternoon after all- only the brave (mainly pale Europeans looking for a tan) leave the comfort of their AC at that time!
Throughout the park, groups of young monks were being taught and I felt as though I might’ve been somewhere I shouldn’t have…much to my misery, I haven’t quite reached the shaved head, and robe stage of enlightenment yet! Not a another tourist in sight, I pondered around, walking down long roads before spotting more monks and turning back, fearful of getting caught up in any monk-style commotion. With no sense of where to go, and the large central statue looking too golden to resist, I made my way towards it deciding that it would be the ultimate place to start.
As I reached the marble stairs at the bottom of the statue, I slipped my sandals off to obey Buddhist ritual of removing foot-wear in places of worship (and often in shops and restaurants too it seems). The heat of the white marble faintly burnt the sole’s of my dirty feet, but I persisted and skipped barefooted up the hot stairs. I eventually made it to the top where large, ethereal Buddha stood before me. There was a Thai couple placing flowers on the shrine, and behind them, a women with incense in her hands, praying. As soon as she noticed me, she yelled ‘put your shoes back on, it’s boiling!’. She smiled and I laughed, feeling embarrassed of my actions which saw me burning my feet in fear of offending Buddhist etiquette. After returning the sandals to my feet, I stood back, closed my eyes breathing in the peace, and went on to kneel on the prayer mat. I sat silently for a moment and the girl soon introduced herself to me…
I learnt that she’s 32 and from Bangkok. She attends the park regularly to worship, and to feed the birds, and the fish in one of the many lakes the grounds has to offer. She was bright and friendly and insisted on showing me around.
We went on to spend the afternoon together exploring the park, feeding the birds, and analysing the temples and Pagodas. We ate food and face- timed her English boyfriend from his office in Bangkok. Quite a funny encounter! She flagged down a taxi for me at the end of the day and described my destination, in Thai, to the driver which, considering the language barrier between myself and many of the local taxi drivers, was very much appreciated. She was kind, open, friendly, and funny, some of my favourite qualities in people.
This is just one example of the many magical moments which arise when we conjure up the courage to explore by ourselves. Something beautiful happens when we’re alone, as scary and undesirable for many as it is. No longer hidden in a pack of fellow travellers, or our friends, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be SEEN by outsiders for the first time, as well as SEEING outsiders as individuals too. Instead of facing inwards remaining with the familiar, our world view opens, and we become engaged with people and experiences that otherwise would’ve passed us by. Going alone is always unpredictable and for me, there is also much to be said about going through life with people you love by your side. I’ve had times travelling alone, when I haven’t met many people, and may have preferred to be with a close friend, but there is lack of freedom in that.
Days like this though, at the Buddhist Park, remind me of the beauty of stepping away from our comfort zones, and not relying on others to go about our daily business. It can be scary but exciting, and always worthwhile. It is easy to remain shielded by those around us, and to use them as a safety-blanket to protect us from the outside- all that we don’t know. But when reach out, life can gift us with the most beautiful interactions and memories that really come to shape who we are, and who we will become. With an open heart and a smile, the familiar is replaced with the strange, and the boring with the exciting, which is something I hope to keep practicing throughout my journey. To me, such fleeting friendships experienced when travelling, always leave me yearning for more. Seemingly small and insignificant, these life-changing connections are for me, really what travelling, and life, is all about!
I’m currently settling down on a night bus back from one of Thailand’s beautiful South islands, Koh Panghan. I had the best weekend and it hurts to be pulled back to the city so quickly. I learnt ALOT about people and myself and I hope to write about my experiences shortly 😊
Love to anyone who made it this far, thank you.
#thailandblog #study #buddhism #solotravelling #goingalone #freedom #life #love #internationalfriends