12 February 2013
Beware of attacks
It was 3 o’clock in the morning. The bus had just dropped me and my big (140-litre) backpack off the highway exit. I was still damp from heavy rains under which I had been caught while on a boat on the first leg of my journey, some sixteen hours earlier. The freezing conditioned air of the buses had finished to give me a cold. So here I was, in Phetchaburi, a town a couple of hours away from Bangkok, at the highway exit, just next to a hospital... a detail that my mother, tracking my every location on Google Latitude, had not left unnoticed, prompting her to send me an email asking me to tell her “honestly” if I had any health issues... we’ll never change caring mothers, will we?!
Truth be told, I almost thought I’d have to go to hospital emergencies. Imagine me, walking in dimly lit streets, guided by Google Maps on my phone to reach my hotel fifteen minutes away... and surrounded by hordes of dogs barking at me, running towards me before standing still a few metres away from me and then continuing to approach me, growling... boy was that fun (not). So as I was worrying I’d get bitten – I was wearing shorts – by a dog of course contaminated with rabies, thinking I’d have to find a way to get back to the hospital to receive the dozen treatment shots or so for fear of dying, I walked straight, at the same pace, looking right in front of me, never at the dogs, and shouting “Go away! Go away!” at the top of my lungs, in the middle of the night (I assumed Thai dogs understood English, right?!). Anyway, I did not get bitten and arrived safely... only to test my luck again a few other times in Thailand, as stray dogs are everywhere to be found.
Phetchaburi, the city where I had stopped for a day? Well, it’s a pleasant town that used to be a royal fort after the Khmers started losing power (we’re talking 12th century onwards) and then became a trading post between Burma (the borders are less than 100 km away today) and Ayutthaya (north of Bangkok, which had its era of glory). Although little visited, Phetchaburi is a good introduction to Thailand in the sense that one gets to see a bit of everything, as you can see yourselves in the photos: a tranquil 19th-century royal palace built at the top of a sylvan hill so the king could stargaze and where tourists are today warned to watch out for monkey attacks (so it’s not just dogs!); several temples and chedis (also called stupas, those vertical Buddhist structures) of various styles; and a hillside monastery, Tham Khao Bandai-It (try to pronounce that!), sprawling through multiple caves which host shrines and hermit meditation rooms. Hmm, not sure about that one for me – meditation in damp and cold caves... especially after having left the warm and turquoise waters of the Thai beaches.