Why I was adamant about waking Ashlie up at 5 a.m. in Bangkok.
My very first night in Thailand 8 years ago and I got lucky. Yes, it was 5 a.m. And yes, after strolling around a few of Bangkok’s dimly lit streets I was back at my guest house with a Thai woman, but it’s actually far from what you are thinking.
I was staying about half a mile from one of the worlds most unique and diversely populated streets, Khao San Road, in a $5 a night guesthouse that almost seemed hidden and nestled away from the loud and fast streets of Bangkok. It was literally a bed and a loud fan within a small, square room that had a door with a decent pad lock. Having the toilet and shower separate from where you sleep is pretty standard when budget traveling. And although not always particularly convenient, especially considering the amounts of street food indulged, this early morning, mini-journey to the toilet proved to be more than worth it.
After exiting my room I was on my way down the outdoors hallway that led to the toilet. Although still dark outside and my eyes still squinty, I was able to make out a silhouette of the elderly Thai women who had rented me the room. Sitting at a tiny table with her back towards me, she was posted up facing the dark, desolate alleyway that led up to the guesthouse. Her entire body sat still as I slowly tiptoed forward, and if it hadn’t been for the small shadows of her fingers subtly dancing on the table, I was unsure that she was even alive. As bizarre as it seemed in that moment, I had my own personal business to tend to.
My mission accomplished, I quietly headed back out the hallway toward the front of the guesthouse and my room. Her silhouette still sat motionless as I approached once again. Out of the corner of my eye a dark shadow approached the front gate. I was already moving at a slow pace to try and keep from alarming her, but when the oncoming figure had nowhere else to go but towards us, I really put my movements into slow motion. I was extremely curious as to who was coming our way.
And then within the blink of an eye, there he stood. A young, handsomely chiseled faced Thai monk wrapped in his orange robe – barefooted, his eyebrows and head cleanly shaven. He calmly walked directly up to the table where she sat, opened his robe and exposed a large silver bowl he had tucked under his arm. She gently placed a plastic bag full of rice and stir fry into his bowl. After doing so she placed her palms together in prayer form and bowed to the young monk. He respectfully bowed his head to her in appreciation and then slowly turned his attention toward me and gave half a bow with half a smile. I’d been made. But in all honesty, after being in such awe of what was happening, I couldn’t have cared less. There I am, my first night ever in Asia, standing in my boxers at 5 in the morning – exchanging bows with a Buddhist monk.
The peaceful monk seemed to glide and disappear back into the dark streets while the elderly Thai woman turned back to me and very graciously smiled. She could see on my face how moved I was by what I’d just witnessed. But, I immediately felt the need to apologize. Somewhere inside I felt like a disrespectful tourist, wearing nothing but his boxers nonetheless. She quickly settled any concerns by pulling up a chair next to hers and insisting that I sit with her and continue to deliver her food to the monks who’d not yet arrived. Her English rivaled my Thai, so we literally sat shoulder to shoulder for the next hour in total silence, only listening to the monks’ bare feet come and go as we fill their silver bowls with her home cooked offerings.
It is these sorts of situations that I’ve found myself in that ultimately define the beauty of travel for me. Opening my eyes and heart to something I would have never had the opportunity to see or ‘feel’ if not for travel. To this day, I consider the spectacle of that early morning in Bangkok to be one of the fondest and most compelling of all my Thai memories. And 8 years later, with a photographer of a girlfriend and my own small handle on how to finally use a camera, I was thrilled to once again witness the giving of alms to Buddhist monks in Bangkok. These are a few images we were able to capture once the sun came up.