After what felt like a whirlwind couple of months of pretty much nothing but work, work, work, it was back to Melbourne for a few days to chill out before my flight to Thailand. Of course, there was to be absolutely zero chilling out - especially when I managed to lose my passport on the morning of the day I thought that I was flying. (Yes, I managed to get the date wrong as well as losing probably my most important possession...)
Amazingly, my passport was handed in and I made it to Bangkok, in one piece, on Thursday 13th October. Which also happened to be the same day that the very much loved Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, sadly passed away. The media reported that Thailand would be in turmoil, friends who live or have lived in Thailand suggested that there might be violence - some people recommended that I should hop on another plane and head somewhere else - they said that tourists would not be welcome in Thailand during this monumental period of mourning and grief. It's safe to say that come Friday morning, I was feeling fairly nervous about heading out of my sweaty little hostel to look for a Thai SIM card - I wasn't sure how welcome my presence would be.
I needn't have worried - from the moment I stepped outside of the hostel, I was greeted with warm smiles from everyone I happened to pass - many of them acknowledged that like them, I was wearing black and white, out of respect for the loss of their King. I traipsed around for a while, not having much luck in finding a shop that wasn't sold out of SIM cards, and eventually gave into one of the many Tuk Tuk drivers who was offering their taxi service!
After helping me to buy the best SIM, 'Wallop' asked if I wanted to go to a Temple with him. I really had nothing better to do, so along with my new personal photographer and 'Buddhism tutor', I set out to do some exploring and to learn about how Buddhists pray.
After a couple of temples, Wallop spotted the tattoo on my wrist and excitedly showed me the one on his back. I instantly recognised it as a 'Sak Yant' tattoo - a type of traditional Thai tattoo, in which a Monk uses a metal spike or bamboo rod to repeatedly jab a sacred design onto your body. After making an offering to the Monks, they will choose the design themselves based on your aura, and once completed, will bless the tattoo too. Wallop got pretty excited that I knew about Sak Yant. 'You need to get one!' he said. 'I will take you, I will take you now!'
I kind of get the feeling that even if I hadn't been fairly keen to take him up on the opportunity, I might not have had much choice in the matter anyway. He was easily as excited as I was that time I found out that The Libertines were the secret guests at Glastonbury. (Best day ever.)
We set off on our way to the temple where I was to get my Sak Yant. Or at least I thought that was where we were headed, anyway. First we had to go and pick up his sister and her little boy, as they wanted to come along for the occasion too. We had a quick spot of lunch with his Auntie, and then all crammed into the Tuk Tuk to actually head to the temple.
The tattoo itself was a pretty cool experience. We arrived at the temple, and I had to buy some flowers and cigarettes to make an offering. After a short wait I was ushered inside where I met a Monk. As I sat cross legged in front of him, he looked at me for a while and then motioned for me to come over to him. I had to take my bowl of 'offerings' and we both held the bowl together as he chanted with his eyes closed for a minute or so. Then it was time to turn around and sit on the floor in front of him so he could repeatedly jab me in the back of the neck with what felt like a very tiny but sharp knife. Of course, it wasn't actually a knife, but it really bloody hurt. I had no idea what was being permanently inked onto the back of my neck, but my main concerns at that point were more about how I was going to manage to sit there for the duration of the tattoo.
Finally, it was done, and now time for me to visit a few other Monks in the temple so they could bless my Sak Yant.
It was getting close to 5pm by the time I'd finished being blessed, and I was feeling pretty hungry and tired. The traffic is bad enough in Bangkok at the best of times, but this evening in particular was set to be pretty horrific as the King's body was being moved to the Grand Palace, and literally THOUSANDS of people were lining the surrounding streets to pay their respects. There was no point in trying to get back to the hostel whilst the traffic was at a total standstill, so we all went back to Wallop's house and I had a lovely foot massage whilst I waited for him to cook us dinner.
Blitzing through the traffic to get home, on the back of Wallop's motorbike was maybe the highlight of my day. It's funny how you can pop out at 9am on a Friday morning to buy a SIM card and at 8pm find yourself sat on the back of a motorbike, freshly tattooed and pondering how you ever doubted that you'd be anything but welcomed into this incredible city.