“Excuse me, where do we get off the bus for the Phutthamonthon?
“You mean, at the next stop?”
“It seems like you’re signaling that we missed the Phutthamonthon stop, that we should get off here, cross the street, and head in the opposite direction. Is that right?”
One of the challenges of foreign travel is communication gaps, those moments when verbal language fails and gestures are your only hope of expressing yourself.
My wife, Donica, and I have departed Nakhon Pathom, a city west of Bangkok known for its towering stupa and its delicious bamboo rice snacks (see Wow Place #6), and are on a bus in search of the fabled Phutthamonthon, one of the tallest Buddha statues in the world. The only problem: no one seems to know where it is. After bussing in one direction for 45 minutes, we get off and catch another bus in a different direction, then realize that we’ve likely shot right past the statue (without seeing it) and must now back track. And all of this navigation is happening pre-smart phones or Google maps, rendering us 100% reliant on the broken directions of our fellow bus travelers.
Finally, we seem to be getting somewhere. A school kid with a bit of English is pointing at the next bus stop and saying this is the place. Grabbing our day packs, we hop off the vehicle and see – nothing! No 50-foot statue. No park dedicated to the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s birth. All we see are a stand of trees and a narrow path leading into darkness. I’m reminded of that scene in the 3rd Indiana Jones (the Last Crusade), where Indy has to take a leap of faith and step off a cliff into an abyss, hoping there will be some kind of invisible ledge waiting to support him. We’ve come this far, however; there’s nothing else to do but follow the path and hope for enlightenment.
Ten minutes later, Donica grabs my shoulders and exclaims “Look! Look!” Off in the distance we see it at last: a gigantic sculpture of Lord Gautama Buddha himself, robed, stepping forward, his head crowned with what looks like a pineapple. If it wasn’t so hot and humid, we would probably start running towards the statue like Dorothy and her friends when they first see the Emerald City. Instead, we plod steadily forward and 15 minutes later we’re there: the Phutthamonthon!
I will say, it’s a very impressive monument. Built in 1981 and titled “Leela Attitude” by its artist, Corrado Feroci, the statue towers above the little park where it resides. Surrounding the statue are sites memorializing the four main stations in the life of Buddha: his birth, his enlightenment, his first sermon and his death. It’s a cool place to visit, and best of all, we’re utterly alone, a nice break from jockeying for position with other tourists at the more famous attractions. Sighing with relief, we relax, take some photos and contemplate our next conundrum: we have no idea where we are. How do we get back to Bangkok?
Plodding back along the path to the road, we turn left and trudge over to the nearest intersection where we seek out the biggest bus stop we can find.
“Is this bus going to Bangkok?”
“Yes, yes, Bangkok.”
Success! An hour later, we’re back in civilization. We’ve survived!
One of the most fun parts of travel is setting “quests” for yourself. “We will find the giant Buddha statue, no matter what it takes, even if we get stuck in the middle of nowhere afterwards!” All it takes is sense of adventure, a strong determination not to give up, and a resilient faith that it’ll all work out in the end.
What quests have you set for yourself recently?