Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn
158 Thanon Wang Doem, Khwaeng Wat Arun, Khet Bangkok Yai
Situated on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River, the temple complex Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the whole of Bangkok. Wat Arun is renowned for its 80-meter-high prang – or tower – built in the style of the legendary temple complex Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and is believed to be among the most famous Buddhist temples in the capital. It casts a peculiar silhouette, one that adorns most postcards with the an image of Bangkok's skyline.
Its history can be traced to the year 1767, when the general Taksin moved from Ayutthaya, the former capital of Siam that was destroyed by the Burmese, to the mouth of the Chao Phraya River. He pronounced himself a king and decided to raise a new capital on this site. At the same time, he ordered the building of the temple complex, named after the god of the rising sun, Aruna. Wat Arun remained as the country’s main temple during the fifteen years of Taksin’s reign and subsequent rulers of Thailand repeatedly enlarged the temple: King Rama II increased the height of the central tower in order to make the complex’s appearance more majestic and the final form of the Temple of Dawn was formed during the reign of Rama IV.
Wat Arun’s most notable construction is the grandiose prang that rises in the center of the complex and symbolizes the holy Mount Meru, which is seen as the center of all material and spiritual universes in Buddhism. The tower draws attention to itself, not only because of its enormous dimensions, but also with its original décor, as its tiers are finished with thousands of colorful fragments of china and ceramic tiles. In days gone by, Thai ships carried rice and other foods to China and, in order not to return empty handed, loaded their holds with crockery and its fragments, as well as the stone statues of warriors, gods and animals on the way back. These were then used to decorate temples.
The stone steps on the outside lead to two terraces, which are situated on the top of the prang. Each reveal some truly wonderful panoramas of Bangkok. The steps are steep and narrow, which is intended to symbolize the difficulties in achieving the top levels of spiritual existence. Four niches, decorated with sculptures of Buddha in four iconic states – birth, enlightenment, his first appearance in front of people and the achievement of nirvana – are situated on the lower terrace. The god Indra sits upon the three-headed elephant in a special niche on the upper terrace, while four smaller prangs circle the central tower. The equestrian statues, depicting the god of wind Vayu, stand in their respective niches.
Wat Arun is at its most amazing at dawn, when its main tower reflects the first rays of the sun, as if bouncing off thousands of tiny mirrors. It is a spectacle of rare manmade beauty. However, the temple is equally beautiful at sunset and at night, when the elegant prang is illuminated by colorful lights as well.
Vivid and colorful shows, during which the history of Wat Arun is told to the sound of Thai music, are arranged next to the complex every night during the spring and summer.
Getting there. Take the ferry that departs from pier No. 8 in the city center.