By Cacinda Maloney
Often dubbed the “land of smiles”, Thailand is every bit the “land of temples” as well. Thailand is home to no fewer than 40,000 Buddhist Temples (yes forty thousand!), and Bangkok is a great place to start exploring them and get familiar with Thai culture. The Thailand temple of Wat Arun is a great place to start and is arguably the main temple in Bangkok. Here’s what you need to know about Bangkok’s beautiful Temple of the Dawn and how to plan a visit to Wat Arun.
Visiting Wat Arun Bangkok, Thailand
One of the most recognizable landmarks in Bangkok is the Temple of Dawn, also known as Wat Arun. I would say this is a “don’t miss” stop along your ride down the west bank of the Chao Phraya River.
The temple itself is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, in Thonburi, almost directly opposite Wat Pho. So it is very easy to get to. From Sapphan Taksin boat pier you can take a river boat that stops at pier 8. From here a small shuttle boat takes you from one side of the river to the other for only 3 baht. Entry to the temple is 100 baht. The temple is open daily from 08:00 to 17:30.
You’ll need several hours to fully take in and appreciate Wat Arun, and the best time to visit is close to opening time as possible to have a bit of time to yourself in the temple before the tour groups arrive. Climb up the central pagoda for views of the Chao Phraya river in the morning light as Bangkok comes to life.
Main Points of Interest Inside Wat Arun
Wat Arun is a Buddhist temple that is personified as the radiation of the rising sun. It has a symmetrical design featuring a central prang or tower and four large prangs surrounding it.
The main feature is the central tower with its encrusted porcelain, which I personally find fascinating.
Take a look here at a close up of the porcelain:
As a child, my parents collected porcelain from the 1800’s England, so I saw a lot of different styles of porcelain. The mosaic patterns and the fact that they are still quite intact are a wonder within themselves.
You can climb the central tower – the steps are very steep, but there is a railing to balance yourself. Apparently, the stairs represent the challenge that Buddhists face reaching Nirvana in the Buddhist religion. Getting up there is as tricky as getting down! I went about half way up and took some photos, here is a shot looking up those stairs.
Guarding the temple from ground level are these stone Chinese warriors. These cute, proud and stern looking warriors have stood watch over Wat Arun for over 100 years.
History of Wat Arun Bangkok
The full name of Wat Arun is “Wat Arun Ratchawararam” (which then translates to “temple of the dawn) and the temple is also known locally as Wat Chaeng. This Thailand Temple is named after the Indian God Aruna, who is the God of the dawn. The temple was built in 1768 under orders from King Taksin. It’s believed that the king arrived at the temple after escaping siege from the Burmese, just as the dawn was breaking.
The temple complex at Wat Arun is built largely in the Khmer style, with influence from China and India to be seen too. The temple has undergone major renovations and restorations over recent years.
If you want to know more about the history, you can always hire a guide to take you around the temple.
Tips for Visiting Wat Arun Temple
Like all Thailand temples, respect should be shown when visiting. In particular:
- Cover your legs (both men and women) and tops must cover your shoulders too. Shorts, strap-tops/singlets and skirts above the knee are not allowed and cause offence. Tip: Ladies carry a scarf with you in Thailand, it can be useful as a shoulder-cover-up in the event of unexpected temple visiting!
- Remove shoes and socks before entering a temple; shoes are considered dirty and are not allowed in holy places.
- Avoid pointing your feet towards any deity or towards a temple; or pointing the soles of your feet towards people where possible as this is also a sign of disrespect.
- Be quiet and respectful when visiting temples, particularly inside.
- Ask before taking photos: most sights allow photos, but monks may not want to have their photos taken.
Getting the best view of Wat Arun: the best view of Bangkok’s Temple of the Dawn is arguably not from inside the temple itself, but from across the Chao Phraya river on the east bank, at Sunset. If you’re lucky, the sky will flush red, with Wat Arun standing in the foreground (there are plenty of bars and cafes such as the Arun residence which offer outdoor seating with river views).
Disclosure: My trip to Bangkok, Thailand was provided by Thai Airways, in conjunction with the Tourism Authority of Thailand.