Thursday, 2 May 2013

Koh Phangan Diaries 1993 - Mystical East: Bangkok

"Hell, why not? Let's go back to the beginning, and let that 21yr old have her say!..."
Feb 1993: Newly arrived into Thailand from an overland tour of India… 


Bangkok, Feb 1993

The next morning we ventured out of the Khao San Road traveller area to the residence of the Thai Royal family in Bangkok, the Grand Palace - an amazing complex of gilded temples and stupas situated in a princely courtyard, truly magnificent to the eye!  

Nothing I'd seen since leaving London could come anywhere near to it: not the palaces of the Moghul empire, nor even the Taj Mahal. Here I found myself in the Far East, beholding the most awe-inspiring bejewelled architecture that I could conceive existed anywhere in the world. I honestly couldn't imagine there being anything more spectacular.  

I walked around, eyes agog, amazed at such wealth and riches and opulence.  All that beauty and workmanship, strange jewelled mythological creatures and inverted temple rooves, all glistening in the sunlight and concentrated into a wondrous temple complex. Thailand at surely its most magical!


After a few hours in those sublime surroundings, we headed into the affray of Bangkok for a short bus hop into China Town, only it seemed to be a public holiday and nearly everything was closed.  There were a few street markets going on, selling vegetables and incense, and a couple of local restaurants where we stopped to eat. 

I was slightly unsure about all the ducks wringing from their necks in the shop window, but we headed in anyway for some strangely bland vegetarian fare. (Years later this roasted duck would become a favourite Chinatown delicacy of mine, and something I would search out whichever Asian city I was in!)  

Mystical East 

We left the relatively empty streets of China Town after wandering the markets, then walked past a courtyard with Chinese dragons intricately facading the entrance to a temple. We entered to look closer, and heard the prayer bells ringing as the chant-like singing came sounding out… through the smoke from the incense that every believer was lighting for the Buddha.  We'd caught it mid-ceremony.  

At the front of the temple before three golden images of the Buddha, a line of monks lead the chants of the masses crammed on the floor.  We sat spellbound, watching from the side of the open temple, getting smoked out even from our back position. Chinese banners hung from the ceiling and we were enraptured, all agreeing we were so pleased we'd come across it - this is surely what we'd left our native countries behind in search of - the Mystical East!

Having arrived in Thailand, I'd thought those dreams had no chance of materialising.  Bangkok was too modern a world for me to easily penetrate into its depths I'd decided, and I'd settled myself with the fact that India had shown me all the mysticism I was looking for.

That was enough as well, for India had earthed my conceptions and expectations of mysticism with her down-to-earth and lived-in faith. But here now was what I expected to elude me: here was a glimpse, and that's all I needed, of another faith, real and believed in!

Faith restored, we left for our Khao San Road guest house, tired by now and happy with the day.

A Lone Traveller At Heart

My India travelling companions of the last months flew home a few days later, and after seeing them off at the airport I headed out once more, on my own, into the big wide world.  Never a prospect that can sadden me - I have always been a lone traveller at heart! - I stepped out into the warm night air of Bangkok, senses well aware of my new situation.  

I was immediately approached by a couple of friendly, grinning, joking Thais offering me their taxi services, and if the first one turned down my offer of 200bt with a smile, the second rotund lovely accepted with thin, happy Far-Eastern eyes.  

We chatted and chuckled our way to Khao San Road, him delighted at my 6 week intended stay in Thailand, my ability to eat and like Thai food, and my knowledge of the language, even if it was just one word - thank you!  In approval he made the thumbs up gesture and chuckled the words, 'No 1 Lady'... in the process making my day too! 

Me & Julian at Bird Bungalows,  Haad Rin Sunset Beach, Koh Phangan 1993
I checked out of my Khao San Road guest house, and awaited the 6pm night bus to Koh Samui.  Island of so many dreams!  I was finally going to get there.  Strange, after all these years of dreaming of this paradise isle, I wouldn't stay for long:  I was only stopping to pick up my mail before heading to Koh Phangan - to meet my buddies from home...
Vicky @ Bird, Haad Rin Sunset, Koh Phangan 1993

Koh Samui was the only Thai island I'd heard of back then: 

It was my friends from home, 
Julian and Vicky, 

who had heard the 
Koh Phangan rumour,

from some Goa friends
on the hippy travelling trail...


FEBRUARY 1993
© Mia Escobud 2013
Mia's Koh Phangan Diaries