When you’ve got four hours to kill in Bangkok airport I suggest you don’t take a taxi into town to have a quick look around.
By the time we’d figured out what we wanted to do, allowed for time to check back in and for things to go wrong it left less time that it took me to get from home (in London) to London Heathrow yesterday morning. And about that thing called days and nights. My body is confused, it hasn’t slept early Monday morning and I’m ready to crash after two days rolled into one, and yet, as I sent a few emails after checking into the hotel I realised it was still fairly early in the day.
Despite the self-evident folly of our attempt to do a tourist tour of Bangkok in the length of a football match we jumped in the back of the car and reiterated when we needed to be back at the airport. When it dawned on the driver our lunacy he set off toward the city. We naively thought, half an hour in, half an hour to look around and take some photos and half an hour back.
It wasn’t to be. After half an hour we were in a traffic jam. At forty-five minutes, when we should have turned around, we were in a traffic jam, after an hour – our real cut off, we were in a traffic jam. A few minutes later we told the driver to pack it in, and when he pulled a U-Turn it looked like we might be making our way toward our flight to Phnom Penh. But no. He pulled into the temple triumphantly in his defiance.
I’m not an expert in Buddhist statutes, or temples, never have seen either before, but this one was mighty impressive, the main stature towered high above the rooftops with an orange sash set against the gold skin swaying in the wind. We were tourists. We took a few photos, we run around the complex at an indecent pace, and we then got back into the car and returned to the airport two hours twenty after we left. It would be a more spectacular story if we missed the flight, or if it was only by our brilliant cunning we conspired to prevent the plane from leaving until we were all aboard.
We could have stayed in the airport. There was a very peaceful looking garden set between the terminal buildings. It would not have felt like we had been to Bangkok, we might have the stamp in our passport but we wouldn’t have ventured beyond the airport and its grounds. After a long flight the idea of a massage didn’t seem altogether ridiculous. What I wouldn’t have opted for is over two hours in a car, 4 minutes taking photos of a temple and then racing to catch the flight. As we wandered back past the ornamental garden we begun to rue the choice we took.
But once the option of stepping into Bangkok was mooted it was hard to resist, hard to see anything else as anything but compromise, the prevailing of sense, of safety winning out over adventure. I’ve travelled to a few places, and although I’ve never been to Asia before, both Bangkok and Phnom Penh bear the hallmarks of a country caught between economic growth at the centre but surrounded by lives of subsistence and survival. I would always choose to see somewhere new, hear from someone new, and find out what is different and what is the same. Bangkok may have just been a snapshot, a prelude, but even in the confines of a car, amid the frustration of traffic as far as I could see. I was grateful that this little misadventure gave me the chance to see.
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