X.SEA.4: Nine Hours Narita, Capsule Hotel, Narita, Japan — WatTraimit, The Temple of the Golden Buddha, BKK, Thailand
My journey to islands of Thailand and the Temple of the Golden Buddha began in Anchorage Alaska. Ted Stevens International Airport is a fairly small airport compared to many hubs, however its graceful architecture and distinctly Alaskan displays make for beautiful viewing while in transit. Its shops also offer a large variety of native art, jewelry, and artifacts for souvenir hunters.
After a 3 hour and 30 minute flight to Seattle Washington, prepare for a layover ranging from an hour and up, then prepare to board for your 13 hour and 20 minute flight across the Pacific to Narita, Japan.
As a less savvy vagabond, I used to book the shortest stops available in Seoul, Narita, Taipei, or wherever else I found myself laying over. This led to me, after thirty straight hours of travel, arriving at my final destination as pretty much the walking dead, only smellier.
Now I look for the longest layovers I can find. This gives me the chance to book a hotel within walking distance from the terminal, catch six or seven hours sleep and a shower, and even enjoy a local walking tour and street food if I have time before continuing on.
My favorite stop-over to date is Nine Hours Narita, in Narita, Japan. The capsule hotel, with its futuristic sleeping pods, dimly lit glow strips, and signs in dozens of languages urging respectful quiet, is a short walk from Narita’s immigration checkpoints. The walk is so short, in fact, that one needn’t even pass under open sky to reach it.
The compact space’s staggered berths, the upper tier reached by handrails and diminutive ladder rungs while the lower rests at floor level, feature window style, rolling shades which latch and unlatch easily.
Claustrophobes, while probably not ultimately destined for Nine Hours due to its general design and underground location, can rest easy knowing that they are never fully enclosed if they choose to enjoy the capsule hotel’s hospitality.
Charging ports, rheostat lighting, and cushy foam made for an excellent night’s sleep (actual, local night by happenstance), and I awoke refreshed and ready to tackle the eastern hemisphere. After navigating the perils of friendly, foreign, automated coffee that is…
Three to four more hours transit to Manila (the Philippines being my Southeast Asian base of operations, due to their strong culture of English as a second national language) for that first kiss of tropical sun, and the embrace of the ever present humidity before the final two and a half hour hop to reach The Kingdom.
Suvarnabhumi Airport is a wonder of soaring beams and brightly colored displays. For more seasoned vagabonds, the bus terminal is easy to find for your connection into Bangkok proper and beyond. Those looking for an easier route can book a taxi in advance through a provider like Nam’s Taxi Service, who I recommend wholeheartedly.
Be prepared for traffic as Bangkok, like many Asian metropolises, has an abundance to steer through. Make sure to fully charge your devices and battery backups in flight and use the cab ride, which can range from 30 minutes to three hours depending on conditions, to edit your travel shots, update your followers, or get a bit of work done if you’re a masochist. (You are in Bangkok, so who’s to say? I don’t judge.)
On my Temple trip I chose to stay in Bangkok’s district of Sukhumvit, at S Box Hotel. For my first stay I was fortunate enough to stay in a room on the 7th or 8th floor with a city view. For my second stay I was shown to a room in the underground levels, preempting windows but still presenting a cozy space with excellent amenities and wonderful breakfast.
I rendezvoused with a friend at the Mad Monkey Hostel. We enjoyed a few Tigers in their snazzy, open air bar before lighting out for an evening on Koh San road’s chaotic night market.
The following morning we met for coffee and tried our transit luck with a local tuk tuk. The beetle topped, open air cabs with their long antennae sweeping back over muddy colored carapaces resembled nothing more than the cockroaches scurrying through the gutters.
Our driver, true to stereotype, harangued us into allowing him to first take us to a suit maker he recommended highly. I had no interest in this, but a tailored suit was on my friend’s itinerary, so we agreed and set off.
The haberdashery was admittedly quite nice, with hundreds of suits, shirts, ties, and other sartorial accoutrements available reflecting every wavelength of the spectrum. I wandered while he was measured, declining hospitable offers to try on various wares, and waited. After a time my friend made an appointment to return, and we made our way back to our nefarious tuk tuk.
“One more shop! One more shop!” the driver shouted over the din as we darted through traffic.
“No!” I hollered back, “Temple, now!”
“Just one more! Just one more!” His persistence was Ray Kroc of McDonald’s level, but my will was to persevere. Our shouting match carried on a bit longer, but I ultimately got my way by threatening to debark without paying — in the middle of the street.
In best Indiana Jones voice: “Ah, Bangkok.”
Wat Traimit is a study in paradox. Nestled in the heart of bustling Bangkok and flocked by praying pilgrims, mediating worshippers, and gawking tourists alike, the Wat itself is an island of repose. The serenity of the golden Buddharupa statue, seated in Maravijaya repose, flanked by mythical Naga (half human, half cobra guardians of the Buddhas in the Spirit World) sculptures, and weighing 5.5 tonnes, radiates throughout the temple grounds and resonated strongly within me for the duration of my visit there.
To protect it from invaders in the late 18th century, the solid gold statue was coated in a layer of stucco and colored glass to hide its luster and value, which were subsequently forgotten.
After two hundred years spent languishing in an out of the way pagoda, orders to bring images of the Buddha from various temple ruins to the newly declared capital of Bangkok led to the rediscovery of this priceless cultural treasure.
Having been raised in an extreme, fundamentalist, splinter sect of Christianity, I was always taught that ‘ours’ was the only right and true way to live in harmony with the divine and that we were morally superior to others. This never sat well with me.
Wat Traimit is one of the most spiritual places I have ever visited. Of late I’ve been musing on how to label my own religious leanings.
I believe that the majesty of Wat Traimit comes not from any intrinsic properties of the gold atoms of its statues, nor even from the beauty of its construction.
I believe that the grandeur of temple lies in the inspiration it kindles in the human heart, that yearning for that which is greater than the self, and the history it communicates to us who will in turn bequeath the world to generations to follow.
I guess you could say that I worship the divinity to be found in the human condition. I believe that there are many paths to transcendence, but that all are within the realm of the human experience. The infinite reaches of the heart are where I look for holiness, and have learned that they are most oft to be found in my relationships with others.
Showing me yet another way to tap into the transcendental, Wat Traimit taught me of the universality of the human spirit, by lending its peaceful perspective to me, a non-believer, without reservation or condition.
I know that it will offer the same to you, when the time comes for you and your loved ones to visit, meditate, and transcend.
“Do not dwell in the past, nor dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
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