I was almost positive that I was either going to severely injure myself or plummet to my death today.
This shouldn’t come as a shock, since I’ve been doing all sorts of reckless, crazy exploration ever since I landed in Thailand. I’m pretty sure I inherit this from my dad – I just keep going and going, always eager to see more, even if it means I wind up on the edge of a cliff somehow.
But I never do these things intentionally. I just wind up in these (memorable) situations.
Perhaps it’s because of the lack of stable resources here (tree branches double as railings and stairs in national parks), or because I always wind up in the middle of massive jungles, but I always wonder at the back of my mind if my curiosity is going to get the best of me one of these days.
Call me fearless or call me stupid (I think it’s probably the latter), but this is how I spend my days off – constantly outdoors, always exploring. It parallels how I was back home, since I have a serious hatred of being indoors in my free time – it’s like wasting the day away.
I usually never research or pinpoint where I’m going – I just drive. However, I made it a point to seek out a tourist attraction today: Thamma Park (Ban Phana Nai), a beautiful Buddhist temple. What I saw in the pictures (ooh, a pretty pond with lilypads) didn’t even reflect the best part about this place.
Sure, the massive brick archway and Buddha pond were beautiful. But the coolest part was how the gold temple was perched atop a massive limestone cliff – and I just knew that was an invitation to climb it.
However, when I got to the rickety wooden stairs leading all the way up, I realized just how dangerous (and probably stupid) it was to actually climb them. The stairs looked almost parallel to a vertical line – and I may be exaggerating, but the photos can’t really showcase just how freakishly scary they looked.
Now, I absolutely love heights. I usually climb anything without hesitation, but it took me a good three tries to actually get all the way up the cliff. After the first two failed attempts in which the wind was shaking the stairs (and I just froze, wondering if my weight could cause them to actually collapse), I went back down to attempt (translation: fail) to talk to the monks.
I tried to mime out the walking action, pointing to myself, and doing the “Okay?” gesture, asking if it was okay if I climbed up to the temple, and they all just smiled and spoke Thai (which I clearly didn’t understand). I also tried asking for someone to come with me, but then realized that was pointless. Since I didn’t get any angry responses or head shakes, I just took it as a green light and attempted a final time. I’m 99% sure all of them were thinking, “This is the stupidest, craziest Farang we’ve ever met.”
Off I went, fiercely determined this time. It took me a fully drained phone battery, Google Maps in my earbuds, and two hours of biking just to get to this place. I wasn’t going to leave without having mastered the climb. Yeah, I was fully aware of how much danger I was putting myself in, though.
Wind. Wobbly wooden steps. Two creaky wooden platforms that were the only things supporting my weight against the cliff after the stairs ended. The section of the climb where I could only trust the rocks, nearby wooden beam, and a tree branch as the things preventing me from falling backwards and breaking my neck. I continuously asked myself, “What am I doing?!” even though I knew I had gone up way too far at that point to consider backing out.
The worst part of the entire climb was looking down when I had to scramble up the rocks against the cliff – and realizing that if I lost my footing, there was nothing that could save me. My thoughts were a mixture of profanities, excitement, and fear all intertwining at once. No photos here, because I think I would have lost my balance for sure if I even tried to turn my body the slightest angle.
When I finally got up to the top, I crawled on my hands and knees to immediately pray like crazy to the Buddha relics. As funny as it sounds, I just wanted to ensure that I’d be able to get down safely in one piece (and seeing that I did, maybe the praying helped). I’ve never been so damn scared in my life.
The wind made it pretty tough to walk around without feeling like I’d blow off the railings, so I took most of my photos while sitting and crawling around. If there were cameras up there, I think the monks would have gotten a kick out of this footage. The view wasn’t the best I’ve seen in Thailand (or generally speaking), so I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone else (just take pictures from the ground and be safe like practical humans, haha).
The trek down was a lot worse than the trek up, because there was more likelihood of slipping when I was shifting my weight downward. I usually go downhill like a snail since I’m overly cautious (and incredibly clumsy). Even though I tried reassuring myself that this was just like bungy jumping (the height seemed about the same), this time there were no safety cords – or safety anything, for that matter.
I also had an audience – there were about five monks doing construction on another nearby cliff temple (and no, I will not climb that in the future) – and they were staring at me as I was inching my way down the stairs like a caterpillar. I was both mortified and comforted. I figured, if I died, at least my body would be blessed by Buddha (hopefully).
This might be a morbid sidenote, but the only phrase running through my head was, “Do you want to die?” (to be fair, it was the tagline of a mystery story we’re reading in one of my classes, and the kids were shouting it over and over last week – probably why it stuck).
Hilariously enough, it only took me 10 min. each time (up and down), which clearly meant it probably wasn’t that bad. I either psyched myself up about it or was just too paranoid about possibly falling. In reflection, I may have exaggerated everything in my head, but I don’t think I’d ever do that climb again.