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Bangkok temple hopping & the tuktuk driver who disappeared

marble-temple-bangkok

While I was taking a photo of a nicely painted building just across the street from the Panfa Leelard boat station, a man who appeared to be wearing a police uniform asked if I needed a tuktuk for temple-hopping. I asked how much it would cost and he said it was only 20 Baht. That’s less than 50 pence. I quizzed him why it was so cheap. He explained that it was the government’s incentives to tourists visiting the temples, but there’s a catch. The tuktuk would take us to a jewelry and textile shop who will give him  fuel vouchers in exchange of bringing them potential customers more accurately called prospective rip-off victims. I asked again if the tuktuk could take us to Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within the grounds of the Grand Palace. He assured us that the driver would.

Believing I knew Bangkok well enough, I agreed and bit the bait. Alex and I waited for a few minutes until a tuktuk with a yellow flag in front arrived. The “man in uniform” talked to him in English telling him where we wanted to go.

When we got on his tuktuk, the driver said that he must first take us to the nearest temple.

To make the driver aware that I knew Bangkok like the back of my hand, I started a conversation with him. Noticing his right arm with bruise and fresh lesion, I asked him what happened in a casual tone. He said that he had an accident the night before. It made me worried a bit but I pretended to stay calm.

Suddenly, he revved up the engine so abruptly that the back wheels were almost left behind if they didn’t catch up quite quickly. Alex and I talked with our surprised eyes.

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The Golden Giant Buddha

I thought I had seen all the major temples in Bangkok but there were more than I had imagined.

Wat Intharawihan or the temple itself had three massive ornate doors whose brilliance was intensified by the sun. Next to it stood the 32 metre-tall golden Buddha.

After admiring this colossal statue, our driver took us to the next stop.

The Temple of the Lucky Buddha

I was imagining a fat Buddha with babies around it but it was a relatively small Buddha compared to the previous one we just saw. In fact it was housed in a simple and open temple. The smell of incense wafted in the air.

In a demonstration, our driver taught us to bow three times to this Buddha for luck and left to give us our space.

Alex and I looked at each other awkwardly. We just didn’t know how to do it and what to ask for. Silently we walked away and checked the building next to it. Appearing from a small room, a man was surprised to see us. He asked if we were Buddhist. We said we were tourists.

“How did you know about this temple? Only locals know about this place.” He queried with interest in his eyes. He was right. There was nothing in it that would catch a tourist’s interest. Our driver took us here, was my short reply. He nodded in acceptance of my explanation.

Before taking us to the next temple, the driver drove us to the jewelry shop. He instructed us to stay at least 10 minutes inside so he could collect his fuel voucher. We stayed longer than anticipated. The driver waited patiently outside.

From there he took us to the textile shop where he gave us the same instruction. Alex and I struggled to get out of this shop because of the sales team’s relentless effort to make us take our wallet out from our pockets.

Marble Temple

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If it wasn’t cloudy that day, this temple would have radiated even more. Its marble walls and columns were complimented by the ochre roof, scarlet-framed windows and golden fringes. It seemed as though it was built to be admired. The front yard could accommodate a hundred tourists at a time.

After soaking in the sight, we were ready for our final stop, the Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emeral Buddha within the grounds of the Grand Palace.

After buying young coconut for its water, we scanned the tuktuks to find our driver. We walked back and forth looking for a familiar face among the people but we couldn’t find our tuktuk nor the driver. Thinking that the tuktuk could have nipped for a few minutes, we waited impatiently but in vain. We had not even paid him. How could he take off just like that? We snorted and shook our head in disbelief.

We asked the other tuktuks to take us to Wat Phra Kaew and they were asking 150 Baht. That’s £3. It was more than 7 times the original price we were to pay our tuktuk driver who disappeared.

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Stepping back in ancient times at Ephesus

step-back-in-time-at-ephesus

Sometimes my travel dream gets materialised in an unexpected way just like my trip to Ephesus.

I went to Turkey for a friend’s wedding in Kusadasi and was chuffed to find out that the ancient ruin was right at my doorstep.

Setting foot at this archaeological site was like stepping back in time. Walking on the marbled floor and walkways, I couldn’t help but feel an unspeakable joy. I was walking on the same street where Paul walked. I couldn’t wait to visit Jerusalem. I wonder how strong the feeling would be when I get to walk where Jesus walked.

As the capital of Asia Minor, Ephesus was one of the most magnificent cities of the ancient times. The local material was marble which was used in building the temples, affluent people’s houses and other important structures.

The population of Ephesus worshipped several gods and they made temples dedicated to the most prominent ones.

Those temples competed with each other in splendour; but none was greater than Artemis or the Temple of Diana. It was the pride of the Ephesians. In fact it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Sadly, today there’s only marsh where the most magnificent temple proudly stood and a lone pillar was erected to mark its location.

The Ephesians liked to honour their gods with festivities. At their expense, rich people would represent the gods as they were paraded around the city. Lavish gifts were then presented to the aggrandizement of the temple dedicated to the god they portrayed.

Touring Ephesus

Together with a friend, I took a van from Kusadasi to Ephesus and our first stop was Artemis. The ground where it used to be looked like it had been quarried causing a marsh to build up. It was rebuilt and destroyed several times that eventually it was left for utter desolation. You can’t even see its ruin except for a lone column and on top was a pelican’s nest. 30 minutes is too long to stay here. The plaque with the English history was vandalised so I didn’t find any information about it. There were a handful of people selling books about Artemis and some souvenirs.

Next stop was the main highlight of the tour, Ephesus. It looked small from the entrance. However, as I carried on walking, the site got bigger.

As the centre of commerce, Ephesus was a bustling city. Now that it lies in ruins, it is still flocked by people touring and trying to find the landmarks and still admire what’s left of their splendour.

I didn’t take an organised tour but most of the tourists come in groups and it was easy to blend with them. Everytime I stopped at a point of interest there would be tour guides left and right, back and front speaking in English.

Probably the biggest archaeological site, it took more than a hundred years to uncover the site and they are still digging.

Corinthian Columns

corinthian-columnsIf this was the standard distance between two columns, then Samson must be really big! I tried to re-enact his final act but alas I was too short.

Library Facade

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Rebuilt from the fragments that were found among the rubble, the library is considered as the most beautiful structure on the site. It might look small compared to modern libraries but it had a capacity of more than 10,000 scrolls. It was one of the biggest libraries of the ancient world.

Temple of Medusa

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One of the few temples that were restored, the Temple of Medusa stood near the parliament seat.

After more than 3 hours here, our driver took us to Mary’s Shrine. They claim that Mary was brought there by John to escape the Christian persecution. It is declared as a pilgrimage site by the Vatican but not all tourists are pilgrims.

For 130 Lira, it looks like we paid more than what we got. Although it included entrance fees and lunch but not drinks, we didn’t have a tour guide. Our driver just waited for us in the van. If I knew about Ephesus I could have researched for organised tours, but everything was done at the last minute. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the tour.

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