In 1980 my then boyfriend – now husband – and I went on our first overseas trip.
First stop was Bangkok. I remember, we had landed and were waiting to disembark and already I could smell the exotic aroma of Asia – incense and spices – a heady mix. It was late at night when we arrived and the taxi drive from airport to hotel felt like Willy Wonka land – zooming along the freeway at speed and then suddenly, for no apparent reason slowing to a walk to navigate almost invisible road works.
Bangkok city was so different from sleepy old Melbourne. Bright lights, traffic, street vendors, beggars, it was all a little scary but also exciting. Our hotel was the Erawen – very posh. We got the booking through our travel agent – Student Travel Australia – as an add on to the flight. In 1980 the cost of our flights was about the same as what they cost now, but our wages were about a third of what we get now so quite an expensive undertaking.
Our first day in the city of Bangkok we peeked out of our hotel window and there below us was a fancy car adorned with an Australian flag. Australian politician Tony Street stepped out of the car and entered our hotel.
We set off on foot to explore the city. The first place that took our eye was the Erawen shrine just down the road, enclosed by an spiked iron fence. It was a gorgeous, brightly decorated concoction that resembled an 19th century drinking fountain or perhaps a wedding cake. It was covered in garlands of flowers and the smell of incense filled the air. Of course we stopped for a look. Lots of young children surrounded us and we were invited inside the fence to put some gold leaf on the shrine. Then they took our photo together right next to it.However, when we headed off down the road again, they asked for money. And not a reasonable amount. They wanted $100 Aussie. When we offered about $10 Aussie they surrounded us again, all shouting and jostling. Fortunately the lights changed to walk and before we were half way across the road they had snatched our meager offering and crossed back to await the next tourists.
I remember the incident with pleasure. It was our first interaction with locals, our first site of a Shrine, and our first chance at bargaining. All this in streets crowded with cars, people and tuk tuks and the smells of Asia.
I saw with horror the reports of the bombing at the Erawen Shrine. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. I expect many of them would have been local children who had been waiting for tourists.