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The Spanish island of Ibiza was a captivating place with great sunshine/beaches, amazing people/friends, many bars/clubs, and impassioned times for 8 weeks. Despite feeling haggard from many nights out, I did not want to leave and my experience to finish. However, there had to be a time when the time was up, and I had to use the plane ticket that I had bought. Luckily, through early morning discussions, I found out there was a little bar in the back streets of San Antonio: a little town on the edge of the island. This bar, I was told, was the place that sold flight tickets for those people that wanted some cash. I decided I was going to stay and sell my plane ticket. The next day, I made my way over to the bar up a nondescript side street. The barman was a man of about 50; he looked like a sixties dropout. He told me to leave my ticket and come back in a couple of days to see if someone wanted it.
I arrived back at the bar two days later, the same barman sat behind the bar looking as he did not have a care in the world. To my surprise, he told me the ticket was taken just before the final day; I was to meet the buyer at 7 pm the following evening at the bar. I was hoping everything would go well as I had not got any money yet for my ticket. The next day soon came around, and I was back at the bar. I looked around and spotted the buyer at the arranged meeting point. I introduced myself; his name was Steve and he was with his mates who were all in a Volkswagen campervan to take us to the airport. I was soon in the back of the scruffy-looking campervan having a laugh and a joke with Steve and his mates on the way to the airport.
The reason I had to go to the airport was to get Steve’s baggage through the check-in and show my passport to the check-in staff. The journey to the airport took about half an hour in the beat-up Volkswagen. I could not believe they had driven it from England. It felt like it only just made it to the airport. We parked up and made our way into the airport foyer. I approached the check-in desk alone and completed all the formalities. Everything went off without concern. I gave Steve the boarding pass and soon he was out of sight towards departures and off home. That was it, I was staying, starting off with a few drinks with Steve’s mates back in San Antonio.
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A few hours out of Bangkok and along a Satnav route that seemed to take us away from our destination (we seemed to loop back around), we beheld the stunning sight of the Golden Buddha in Khok Samrong nestled in the Wong Phrachan Mountain. We parked the car at the foot of the mountain and got ready for the ascent. It was not the Buddha we planned to see, albeit impressive, but the temple (Khao Wong Phrachan Temple) at the top of the mountain. I knew the task at hand and felt slightly confident, almost overconfident, to scale the 3790 steps. However, I was absent in knowing what it was really going to feel like. It was hot but the day was fading. How fit did I think I was?
The summit has a spiritual meaning and the challenging task of ascending the steps was lessened when thinking about its divine context. It was to be like a pilgrimage. There is Buddha’s footprint at the temple at the top of the mountain. Believing I was a fit person, I first went under what seemed Chinese-influenced arch and made a hop and skip over the first steps and gently got into my stride as I was able to cover two steps with my long legs. However, it did appear to be steeper than I thought. I also started to notice water/drink pit stops with seating appropriately staggered as I walked up the steps. It was hot I will not lie but being Thailand it could have been hotter. I was not sweating the first part of the climb, and there was some shade from the trees and foliage. I actually passed a few people. Maybe, I did not realise they were pacing themselves. As I got up further the person I was with told me they believed they had ‘long COVID’. If ever I needed a sign to say this was going to be a longer climb than I thought it was coming from someone who had done this climb before and they were giving in.
You can just about see the Temple at the top in this photograph.
Anyway, I had not come all this way to stop, and it felt like a spiritual journey. The view of the Golden Buddha gave me a chance to see the sights and maybe give me inspiration. There was no way of seeing the top of the summit at this stage. Whether that was good or bad I did not know. The trees and vegetation were stopping that. It was now what was becoming an arduous but worthy task of making it to the top. I actually went past a lady who I would guess was 65-70 years old. If she could make it, who was I to start complaining? However, around 2000 steps I started to feel it the most if I had not felt it already. The spring in my step had certainly gone. The pit stops were becoming obvious to me and I plainly knew why each one was there. The problem was in my excitement I had left the person I was with and they had the money. I could not buy any drink. As I ascended more, I became a person to look at as much as I looked at others. The sweat was showing on my shirt, and I must have looked shattered. The conversations between climbers were about feeling tired and how are you feeling. I was a foreigner so maybe I stuck out more and people wanted to speak to me. I was certainly not alone in having the realisation that this was going to be a slog. Despite this, to make it to the top and the temple showed a person’s perseverance and how much they wanted to make it.
The sweat was starting to show on my shirt. I was doing one step by one step. There was no more jumping up two steps at a time. My back was now arched down, not lifting my legs as high and I was looking for the next pit stop. I summoned all my energy into making it to the next chance to sit down. I was met by other fellow climbers. There seemed to be a communal spirit to make it. I was hoping that it would soon say 3000 steps but I was in luck there was a sign that said 3200. I was nearly there. It was apparent that others were slowly making their way as I ventured on to the top and was on my own for a bit. I was soon turning the corner to see the temple at the top of the mountain. My personal pilgrimage to the summit was complete. I clocked in at about 90 minutes. 90 minutes of what was hard work I must say. I had to give myself another five minutes to compose myself and I needed some water. Anyway, It was all worth it.
Looking down to where I had started and the amazing scenery was something to behold. Thailand is a beautiful country. The sun was starting to set so the camera was out. The Golden Buddha looked resplendent in its position looking over the verdant land far and wide. There was a feeling of contentment that I had done this climb. It was a test. I expect it has more meaning to the Thai people when they arrive in all its spiritual meanings. However, I went over to the Buddha footprint and performed the 3 Wais. I believe it is called the Benchangkhapradit krap, not Wai. Nevertheless, an older Thai lady followed me, and I watched her perform it extremely appropriately with some chants to follow. It was funny when she then answered a call on her mobile phone next to the footprint and chatted away. Above all, this is a definite for anyone who travels to this area of Thailand. Get ready for a challenge but when you are at the top it is something else, spiritually and visually!
By the way the person I was with did make it. They also had some money to buy a drink. However, I met them as I walked down but agreed to go back up to the top.
I had just flown from Bangkok to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and was heading for Euro 2000: the European Football competition between neighbouring European countries. Slightly jet-lagged and a lack of sleep, I exited the airport and first went to Amsterdam Central Railway Station. I headed straight for the railway station to throw my bag in storage. It was certainly too bulky and heavy for my next experience. I was soon walking freely away from Amsterdam station, and I could now go off to the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven to see England play Portugal. Beckham and Figo et al head to head. Despite the excitement of this, I had actually booked a ticket to see the rock group Oasis in Hamburg the following day after the match; this initially was really my only plan. I had been a fan since the early days, and they were always worth seeing live anywhere in the world. So, as I strolled around Amsterdam at least I knew now I had to get from Eindhoven to Hamburg somehow.
I spent an interesting night in Amsterdam and then the next day went off down to Landgraaf by train. Talking to someone after a few drinks the night before, I had found out about a music festival; it was the PinkPop rock festival about an hour or so from Amsterdam. To my delight, it actually had Oasis playing and was not far from Eindhoven, I thought. I always remember going to this festival as I never had a ticket. As I got there in the morning, I saw lots of music lovers in a field. Various thoughts came to mind but I spent a good 30 minutes looking at how to jump the fence to get in for free. I made my move and was soon over a fence and in. This was only to find out that it was for tents/camping and the festival was in another field through more security and barriers. Anyway, I got a ticket for a cheap price, so it was not any hassle. The festival finished (I got to see Oasis without Noel Gallagher), and my next move was to think about the football. I ended up getting the train to another town one stop down from Eindhoven as the town was full of what seemed like England football fans who had taken over every hotel. Each hotel I went into to ask for a room in Eindhoven had so many football fans milling around singing and every place had no vacancies. I eventually spent the night in a hotel in the next town albeit it was full of Orange as the Netherlands were playing; the next night was the big match.
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On a trip to Muscat, I could not miss the Grand Mosque. As the sun shone down on the Mosque, the building looked majestic in its finely cut Indian sandstone with 160 feet high central dome. It was certainly a celebration to mark the 30 years the Sultan had reigned. Inside, I could not but stand in wonderment of the huge Islamic architecture chandelier hanging over the men’s prayer hall. Walking around more, I found myself talking to an amiable volunteer who gave me a copy of the Quran, a CD, and other information. He was helpful to explain his religion and answer my questions. If you are in Muscat, this is a must-see.
Uttamanusorn Bridge or commonly known as Mon Bridge in Kanchanaburi Province is the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. I tried getting a different angle for the bridge picture.
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