The wet season seemed to have come early to Bangkok this year. When the rain first broke we were sat in a front-room Thai restaurant a few streets from our apartment. The owner held us back for a couple of drinks, before we convinced her to let us have the bill. She looked shocked that we’d dare venture out into the deluge. What started as an English-esque shower had rapidly developed into a Jumanji-style storm of Biblical proportions. We paid up and left. We were two blocks from home, but in the two minutes it took us to get there we were soaked through to the marrow.
….Or maybe not!
The following day we’d spent the entire morning hiding out, savouring our unexpected but welcome view from the third floor of the Chetuphon Gate Guesthouse overlooking Wat Pho.
But some good news.
A mid-afternoon end to the rain left us a window of opportunity. The sky went such a convincing, cloudless shade of blue, I was coerced into leaving the house without a rain jacket, a decision I would later regret!
We had no real aim for the afternoon. There were some loose plans to explore a park opposite the Grand Palace, but with the weather so good we carried right on, and set a course for the Golden Mount.
After a long walk alongside one of the many busy highways that intersect Bangkok, we found ourselves at Loha Prasat, an unexpected and not-often written about temple. What drew us in was the noise, a rather tuneless chanting coming from the interior. We followed it through a mini maze of narrow doorways and high walls, and got to the temple itself. Inside a group of monks were working their way through a repertoire of droning mantras, deep, atonal, nasal sounds, almost hypnotic to listen to. A pile of shoes were stacked up outside, so it seemed anyone could head in and join them, so we did.
We sat cross legged at the back for what must have been twenty minutes, though in an environment like that, time doesn’t really seem to matter anymore. Buddhist or not, there was something deeply spiritual about what we witnessed. After the chanting stopped, complete silence. Eyes-closed, breathing deep, heart slowed – I disappeared within myself. We’ve only been in a Buddhist country for a week, but there is alot that makes sense about this religion. There have not been any wars caused by Buddhism, they believe in a set of values not some unseen god, their treatment of animals, a calmness brought on by meditation. It seems to be the antidote to the 24/7 social media onslaught of the early part of this millennium.
Meditation is something that has helped me a lot over the last year, facing into the challenges I’ve had with anxiety and helping me to hold them objectively, rather than wash me down the river in a torrent of worry. And right here was meditation at its purest. No apps, no ‘gentle rain’ soundscapes, no entrancing American voices, just silence and peace. I left a few inches taller, a couple of kilos lighter and a lot better equipped to deal with the Bangkok onslaught. The mind is truly a wonderful thing when it’s given space.
We carried on to the Golden Mount, which is inside the Wat Saket compound.
The Golden Mount is not a natural hill, it is the ruins of a huge old temple that collapsed and was abandoned. Over the years its shape rounded over the rubble as nature took over, and is was eventually decided to construct a small temple on top of it.
The ascent was no-where near as difficult as we expected. The sky had closed up again, and a light drizzle had started, but at this moment it was nothing more than a welcome cooling spray. This gave the walk a jungle vibe, the humidity causing steam to rise from the hot paths, and the plants either side dropping water from the ends of their leaves.
About halfway up there were a series of large gongs and bells which are used in Buddhism as part of ceremonies and meditation.
The views over the city were magnificent from here, flat-roofed blocks seemingly held together with wires, long straight roads forking out in every direction and wet temple roofs, reflecting light back up towards the grey skies.
On the way back, our luck failed. To say it rained hard would be like saying Bangkok is ‘just another busy city’, a vast understatement that doesn’t even get near the truth.
We were soaked within minutes, but with a feeling of gratitude and calm running through us, this storm didn’t wash the smiles off of our faces.