The Grand Palace

A golden city in the middle of an urban jungle

IMG_0905Guarded by demons of gold

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And of all color

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And sizes

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It’s a place of worship

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Of offerings

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And incense, and a carabao(?) bull(?) statue

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It’s the home of the Emerald Buddha (who you’re not allowed to take a picture of)

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No, wait, it was this one:

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The point is, it’s awesome. Go there.

But don’t sneak in pretending to be Thai.

(And this is an example of hurried blogging because I am going to be late to work.)

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Sak Yant

Ink on the flesh is a personal matter. It is nobody’s business but your own. I think there is something impressive about a practice that has survived the times and set aside borders.

I’m not a rookie when it comes to getting inked. I’ve had, sometimes people think, too many. Each one having their own unique value. It didn’t occur to me to take home a tattoo as my souvenir from my trip to Thailand, but after seeing the intricate designs and learning about their meaning, I was intrigued.

My friend drove me to Wat Bang Phra on my last day in Thailand. The temple was well-known for the Sak Yants or Sacred Tattoos the monks gave daily. I hadn’t made up my mind on which Sak Yant I wanted. I knew I didn’t want the Ha Taew which was made famous by Angelina Jolie. Even though the meaning of the Ha Taew was pretty awesome.

Instead, I opted for the Yant Putsoorn, also known as, Yant Pra jao Ha Praongk.

photo (13)The Yant Putsoorn contains the “Na Moe Put Taa Ya” mantra that Buddhists chant in prayer. These are the initial of the 5 Buddhas, it is also the five ways of teaching or realizing the dhamma (truth). The chant means: improve your horoscope, and make you loved and charming to others, lucky and safe, healthy and happy, wealthy and wise.

I’m not Buddhist. I know that information because I Googled it. But I know that there are certain things I agree with about Buddhism, I know because I went to temple several times, I’ve been to a mosque and I’ve been to church. There are a lot of things to take away from the various teachings of the various religions from around the world and every now and then I learn something that I like to carry around with me. Getting a Buddhist Tattoo might have been pretentious and trendy, but going through the experience in the quiet temples in Wat Bang Phra getting tattooed by an ajarn in the traditional style and getting the tattoo blessed, at that very moment felt incredible. I felt the power of faith. I felt the power of connection; with the ajarn, the 5 Buddhas, and with the old tradition of the Sak Yants.

What it takes to get there

I had gotten quite used to the ‘usual routine’ in Bangkok; doing nothing. I was enjoying trying different dishes at the cheap market next door to Pat’s home, sipping on Thai Iced Teas at the coffee house, reading books and being a general bum. However, 15 days fly by fast and our visas will soon expire. Michael and I had to leave the country.

We use the opportunity to go to Cambodia, killing two birds with one stone, we’d be able to cross the border and see Angkor Wat.

We arrive at the border town of Aranyapratet close to sundown, we were quite unsure what to do realizing as always that we probably should have done some research. Experience told us to stay away from the swarm of ‘helpful’ guys, while instinct told me that there was safety in numbers so we befriended a couple that was in the same bus we were. The four of us agreed to travel to Siam Reap together.

Pawel and Carolina were from G’dansk, Poland. They were on vacation for five weeks, their second time in Asia and were avid scuba divers. They made me think about the pierogis my roommates mother used to make for us. I got hungry.

We cross the border to Poipet, Cambodia. Applying for the visa was a $20 fee, but because we didn’t bring with us “passport photos,” we had to pay an additional $15. I wanted to punch the immigration officer in the face and call Bullshit. I stay silent of course, letting the moment pass and saying goodbye to my precious $15 that was now surely in their pockets. Oh, corruption, we meet again.

On the other side, it felt quite chaotic. Much like the time I crossed the border from Argentina to Bolivia. The road was layered with dust, hundreds of motorcycles were parked everywhere, there was a mad number of people walking around, sitting around, just there. The sun was setting fast, I saw the other tourists being herded together. The four of us somehow found ourselves following a sign that said “free shuttle to terminal.”

It said, “free.”

Honestly, I was completely lost. I had no clue how to get from the border town to Siam Reap. I only knew that it was about 2 hours away. I assumed there would be buses, I assumed wrong. Pawel’s research had told him that there were indeed, buses. So, we try to find these buses.

A local man came up to us, his hair was shaved short, he wore a buttoned-down shirt, nice pants, and looked ‘business enough’ and charmingly tried to negotiate with us to take a cab. We refused, already knowing never to take the first offer when it comes to rides. He keeps on going, we should trust him he says. He’ll find us good prices, he says. Liar, I think. But relief came when a rusted, open-aired, incredibly pathetic looking bus with a sign that claimed “Free Shuttle” pulled up, and the four of us climbed in. Relief disappeared when shaved local man boarded the bus with us and cheerfully went on and on about the good prices he can get for us.

“We are totally getting screwed tonight,” Michael says to me.

“No doubt,” I say back.

We drive for what seems like 20 minutes, I stare out the window mesmerized by the endless rice fields I saw on both sides. And then I realized, there had been absolutely nothing on both sides of the road for a very long time. Nothing but road and rice fields, and then we pull into what looks like a bus terminal, minus any buses. Wonderful.

The entire place was deserted except for several people behind what looked like ticket counters. Local-shaved-head man was still yammering, pretending as if any of us had been listening to him this whole time. Suffice to say, we did not trust this man. We asked at the ticket counters, there were no more buses for the day, and I wondered whether there were any buses to begin with.

Local-shaved-head man took his cue, told us his friends can take us to Siam Reap.

“Come, follow me.”

“Go fuck yourself.” I thought, but what else did we have to do.

Outside several unmarked cars were parked, they were taxis, available and ready to take us to Siam Reap, for the small price of $60. Ridiculous.

We argue with them. They argue with us. We asked them to lower the price. They refused. They got angry. We got angry. We argue some more. Local-shaved-head man stopped being charming.

What a perfect scam! Take some tourists, drive them to the middle of nowhere and give them no choice but to take the price they’re offered if naive tourists wanted to go anywhere that night. It was incredibly smart, I wanted to shake their hands and congratulate them if I hadn’t been feeling like punching them in their faces.

Ah, but they were dealing with Michael and Joya now. Apparently, our Polish friends were just as crazy as we were and we all agree we’d take our chances with walking x number of kilometers to civilization than be scammed by these fools. So we leave and head for the road. Local-shaved-head man now yelling angrily at us.

Lady luck intervenes. A car drives down the road towards that “terminal,” we hail for it to stop and it does. Pawel speaks to the guy and negotiates $30 for the drive to Siam Reap, half of what local-shaved-head man was charging. We agree on a deal, throw our bags in the trunk and climb in. By this point, local-shaved-head man and the others realize what was happening, comes over and starts yelling at our driver.

“Let’s just go!” We tell our driver urgently. “Drive! Go!”

And we do.