For me, the Temple of Dawn always triggers images of adventure, heroism and, unfortunately, Indiana Jones. Even now, as I sail down Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River to visit the magnificent temple, the Indiana Jones theme tune is stuck in my head on repeat, an annoying side effect.
As the ferry rounds a bend in the river I am treated to my first glimpse of the Temple of Dawn, which is officially named Wat Arun after Aruna, the Indian god of the dawn.
Viewed from the river, Wat Arun is a stirring sight. Situated on the far side of the river it towers above the other buildings around it and looks very different to other Thai temples. Whilst the surrounding wats are short with shining gold roofs, Wat Arun looks greenish-grey from a distance and has an enormous bell-shaped tower, known as a prang, which stretches heavenwards.
I carefully step off the ferry at the Tha Tien pier and take another, much smaller boat across the flowing river to where Wat Arun waits. It costs just 4 baht to cross the river and the journey takes a couple of minutes.
I step gingerly from the bobbing boat onto a gently creaking and swaying metal pier and walk through a corridor into a large open garden.
I wander through the garden to the Ordination Hall, which contains the golden Niramir Buddha image said to have been designed by King Rama II. The way into the Ordination Hall is guarded be two gigantic demons, called yaksha in Thai. These demons stand either side of the entranceway and look very intimidating with their toothy scowls and huge swords. The white demon is named Sahassa Deja, while the green one is known as Thotsakan, who also appears in the Ramayana as Ravana.
I tentatively pass by the two demons and find myself in a courtyard of sorts, watched over on all sides by shining Buddha images. I wander through a doorway and into another, much larger courtyard, where many people are eating simple meals together at large tables.
I make my way through the courtyards around a small prang and through the garden to the main part of Wat Arun; the enormous 80 meter high central prang. I am surprised to see that this towering totem is covered with colourful pieces of porcelain, shaped into flowers and other geometrical shapes. In the past, this pottery was used as ballast by trading ships coming from China. The ballast was dumped when the boats filled up with goods in Thailand, so the porcelain is both a unique form of temple art and an ancient form of recycling.
The central prang is surrounded by four smaller prangs, marking the four main compass points. Around the base of these prangs are stone figures of ancient Chinese soldiers and animals as well as ornate bonsai plants.
One of the things that makes Wat Arun so interesting is the many styles it incorporates in its design. As well as the blending of Thai and Khmer styles in the central prang, there are also elements of Chinese, Japanese and Indian influences.
There are steep stone steps leading up each of the four sides of the central prang, which is divided into sections with platforms leading around each section. It is possible to climb up the first section, and those who make the effort will be treated with an interesting view across the river and surrounding area.
The temple dates back to the 16th century, when it was known as Wat Makok – the Olive temple. A highly revered temple, it had the honour of playing host to the mighty Emerald Buddha for a short time.
King Rama II started work on the central prang in the early 1800s. he also changed the temple’s name, which carries the full title of Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahavihara, a bit of a mouthful, to say the least!
The central prang was built to symbolise Mount Meru, where the gods reside in Hindu mythology. The four smaller prangs represent the four winds and are devoted to the wind god Phra Phai, who can be seen riding his horse atop each of the four towers.
Walking back down the stone steps is quite tricky as they are very steep and several are broken. Around the temple are several souvenir stalls, and I browse for a bargain before taking the ferry back across the river.
Within walking distance are the Grand Palace with Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po, home to the Reclining Buddha and visiting these magnificent places of worship can make a good inclusion to a day of temple hopping.
The best time to see Wat Arun is at sunset, when the sky behind the temple comes alive with colour. The riverside restaurants just opposite make a good viewing spot. As the sky darkens, Wat Arun is illuminated by spotlights and the scene is very romantic, making this a great place from a date.
Wat Arun is open daily from 8:30 – 5:30.admission is just 50 baht for foreigners.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!