This is Wat Phra Kaew--or at least, a sliver of it at a distance. It's considered Thailand's most sacred wat, and like the Taj Mahal and Chichen Itza, no photos I've seen--much less those taken on my iPhone--do it justice. That said...
Indeed, the most sacred part of this most sacred wat cannot be photographed, at least not by visitors with iPhones and the like: the Emerald (jade) Buddha. But I did see it, along with thousands of other visitors that morning alone.
The constant tourist selfies and "wonder how many likes I'll get" snaps harshed my zen, but I reminded myself Buddha doesn't need my righteous indignation on his behalf, he's doing just fine thank you.
Though, crowded as Wat Phra Kaew is, it can't approach Bangkok's most popular temples, dedicated to the world's most popular -ism: Consumerism.
This is Prada Wat. The temple keepers claim it "captures the contrasts, the quirks, the qualities that make the city so distinctively Thai: a love of expressive fashion, amazing food, emerging art, enrapturing music, the sanuk (fun) and the sabai (comfort)."
And what is more distinctly Thai than Audemars Piguet? Bottega Veneta? Givency? Hermes? Hublot? Gucci? Omega? Ralph Lauren? Rolex? Tom Ford? Versace? Chanel? Chopard? Christian Louboutin?
This and more on just one of eight floors, mind you.
I arrived believing Thais were more centered and balanced than Americans--that they prioritized fun over work and spirituality over money. And I believe there remains truth in that.
But a truism of travel, I've found, is that we're more alike than different. People like stuff, and sometime feed the needs of this world ahead of the next. This is nothing new.
And that doesn't make them bad. But when surrounded by conspicuous Consumerism, one (this one, at least) has to question the motivations.
Makes it easier to live simply when you still have nicer things--and the leftover money from that pursuit up the corporate ladder. Am I really carving out a new life, or simply shopping at a different store? Trading clothes for plane tickets?
Buhbuhbuhbuh wait: it gets worse.
Leaving Prada Wat in search of a photomat for my Vietnam Visa, I further marinated on the bullshit I might be serving myself. Might this pursuit of deeper truth and understanding via travel and writing be itself a lie--cover for the fact that I just couldn't hack it? That I wore the clothes and drove the car and got the degrees and even learned to doubletalk like a good corporate drone, but in the end I just couldn't make it more than halfway up that ladder? That, in a world where money equals worth I just wouldn't add up?