Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is a contradiction of itself. This is a place where megamalls are built beside 200-year-old homes; where you can ride a Skytrain by day, yet find yourself ferried on a boat trip towards a hidden marketplace by nightfall. You can’t just go here and not leave unchanged.
It may feel the same – but the experience is definitely different. Should you find yourself lost in one of their vibrant, busy streets, remember to check out Bangkok’s proudest offerings: their ornate and holy shrines. They will have plenty, but be sure to stop by Wat Arun. Here’s why.
Wat Arun, a Brief History
Wat Arun Ratchawararam, more commonly called Wat Arun or Wat Chaeng, means ‘Temple of Dawn’. It’s one of the famous temples in Bangkok, and one of the most dazzling sights to see across Chao Phraya River.
It is believed that in 1768, King Taksin, after having fought his way from Ayutthaya (then capital of Siam) from an army of Burmese soldiers, arrived in the very spot where the temple stood, just as dawn was breaking. He took this as a sign from heaven and envisioned Wat Arun in honor of the Indian god of dawn, Aruna.
The temple consists of a center pagoda, or prang (Khmer-style tower), measured to be between 66.8 m (219 ft) and 86 m (282 ft), surrounded by four smaller pagodas.
The construction of this tower was started by Rama II (King Phraphutthaloetla Naphalai) and later completed by Rama III (King Phranangklao). Its design is considered to be unique as it features tiny fragments of glass and colorful broken Chinese porcelain. There are also elaborate sculptures of soldiers and animals at its base.
While it may be called as the ‘Temple of Dawn’, the best photos can also be taken at sunset, across the Chao Phraya River, just when the golden rays hit the glittering mosaic tiles of the center pagoda. By twilight, the temple also begins to light up, casting a dazzling reflection on the river’s water.
Temple of Dawn: What You Need to Know
Wat Arun’s central tower is meant to signify Mount Meru, or the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. The four smaller pagodas have statues of the God of Wind, Phra Phai. This formation of the five towers symbolizes the 33 heavens where the celestial gods reside.
You may have heard that Wat Arun used to house the Emerald Buddha before it was moved to the Grand Palace. However, there are lots more to see and visit at this temple.
The main prang for instance, is open to tourists. You are encouraged to climb its steep steps, and be rewarded with a gorgeous view of the winding river, as well as the Grand Palace and Wat Pho temple on the opposite bank.
Visit the interior of the bòht ordination hall and you’ll see the golden Niramitr Buddha image, where the ashes of Rama II are interred. There are also impressive murals dating back to Rama V (King Chulalongkorn). Don’t forget to look around inside the temple complex to find beautiful small shrines, terraces, pavilions, and ponds.
As a working temple, you’ll find locals and Buddhist monks in and around the grounds. Be sure to remain respectful and dress appropriately. Men must wear long pants with short or long-sleeved shirts.
Women should wear pants or skirts extending past the knee, with tops that don’t reveal the shoulders. If you’ve forgotten to bring suitable attire, there are sarongs for rent at the entrance.
If you’re lucky enough, you can see how Wat Arun plays an important role during a Royal Barge Procession. This is only held at highly auspicious events, like delivering offerings and new robes to monks at the temple. It’s a grand spectacle that, since being revived in 1959, has only been held 16 times.
How To Get To Wat Arun
Wat Arun is located on the west bank of Chao Praya River (opposite Tha Thien Pier) and is easily accessible by daily ferries for as low as 3 baht. If you are coming from the Grand Palace or Wat Pho, simply walk towards the river and hop on the ferries.
For those arriving from other locations, you can take the Skytrain (BTS) and stop at Saphan Taksin (S6). That station is near Sathorn Pier, where you can take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to No.8 Tha Tien pier. After that, it’s just the ferry going across to Wat Arun. The boat ride is very scenic and relaxing, so don’t worry.
Wat Arun temple is open from 8AM to 5.30 PM everyday. Entrance fee is about 50-100 baht per person. If you don’t like crowds, come early before tourists start to pour in. You can also stay behind in the late afternoons to catch the setting sun cast golden rays on the main prang.
Once it’s closed, stay for the mesmerizing light show from the temple in one of the many hotels, restaurants, and bars across the river. There are plenty of ways to enjoy Bangkok’s most famous temple – so relax and stay a while. Even better, sleep for the night and visit it again just when the dawn is breaking.