“Dave, we’re not riding these bikes to the Tiger Temple without helmets.”
“Oh, come on, Donica. No one wears bike helmets in Thailand!”
“Well, we do!”
Although I haven’t known my sweetie, Donica, for long at this point in our relationship, I’ve come to understand that No most definitely means No when it comes to safety. And so begins a mad shopping odyssey, rushing frantically from nearby shop to nearby shop, in search of functional bicycle helmets. Donica lucks out when she discovers a modern, perfectly-serviceable helmet in her size. Me, I’m not so lucky; it seems my head is just too big (yeah, I’ve heard that before) for the local helmets available. My only option: a big, heavy, blue, motorcycle helmet! Okay. Have you ever tried to ride a bike with a 15-pound hat on your head…on a hot, humid day in Southeast Asia? It’s ridiculous. But then, the whole bike ride is shaping up to be pretty ridiculous. You see, the free bicycles our hotel has so-kindly lent us are essentially designed for short, teenage, Thai girls. My own little, pink contraption is so small that I can’t even use the seat without my knees smacking me in my jaw. I either need to stand on my pedals or sit on the bike rack behind the seat – which is exactly what I do for most of the ride to the Tiger Temple.
I’m hot and sweaty and actually pretty tickled when we finally arrive at the Tiger Temple, otherwise known as Wat Phra That Cho Hae, about an hour outside the tiny town of Phrae in Northern Thailand. Full disclosure; there are no live tigers at the temple — just a lot of tiger figurines and iconography. What Wat Phra That Cho Hae does have is a golden chedi (pagoda) enshrining a hair relic and a part of an elbow bone of the Buddha. I have to wonder, if I ever become a saint, what part of my body would people choose to enshrine? (I’m thinking my lovely ears!). I will say, it’s a really nice temple, built on a hill and entered via a long staircase flanked by naga serpents on the balustrades. Locking our kids’ bikes at the parking lot, we climb up the steps and soon encounter a reclining Buddha, a seated Buddha, the golden chedi and, of course, all the cool tiger figurines. It’s a worthwhile trip! And then it’s back to our hotel, Donica happily peddling along in her perfect green helmet, while I’m essentially riding a rickety, recumbent bicycle threating to collapse at any moment, my butt pinned to the hard, metal rack while my head keeps flopping from side to side because I’m wearing Darth Vader’s helmet! Oy!
(Ridiculous isn’t always bad, is it? Ridiculous often equals memorable. And with the right attitude, it can even mean hilarious. When’s the last time you found yourself in an absurd situation and, rather than protect your dignity, you let yourself surrender, instead, to the ridiculousness of it all?)