If a temple has the honor of being called “one of the most iconic” in a country that has more than around 31.200, then that is saying a lot. Especially since it is also among only six temples to rank as a first class Royal temple. We are, of course, talking about the historical landmark that is Wat Arun, or Temple of
Doom Dawn as it is also known. Along the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, it is one of the most famous structures that everyone should visit on a trip to Bangkok. Today, we will tell you everything you need to know about Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan. Quite the mouthful, isn’t it? After you are finished with reading you will have a better understanding of the incredible details this unique Buddhist temple has in store.
Structures of Wat Arun
An 80-meter high tower and four smaller ones around the main one; this is the first thing you see when you come close to the temple. Those spires (Thai: prang) are built in the Khmer style, that was highly popular at the time of the construction. If you have visited Cambodia and seen Angkor Wat, then this sight might be a familiar one. As a little fun fact, both Angkor Wat and Wat Arun are representations of Mount Meru, where the Hindu Gods supposedly reside. In Buddhist cosmology, it is also seen as the center of the world. This is due to the positioning of the structures: A grand spire in the middle and four smaller pavilions facing in the cardinal directions.
The Central Spire
On a closer look, the main prang reveals an elaborate design made of countless seashells, colored glasses and pieces of porcelain. In fact, many of the colorful tiles were brought by Chinese ships, who used it as ballast. Possibly the greatest case of “recycling” in the history of mankind.
The Hindu influences are apparent on the different terraces of the main prang. On the second level, for example, are four statues of Indra, God of Heaven, riding on the King of elephants, Erawan, also known as Airavata. Another fun fact: You can see Erawan front and center on the flag of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. Then on the top of the prang, you can spot a trident with seven prongs (which technically makes it a septem…dent?), that is assumed to belong to Shiva, one of the central deities in Hinduism.
On the ground floor, you can also see ancient statues of Chinese soldiers and animals.
Don’t hesitate to get up close to all those iconic sculptures, since it is highly encouraged to walk up the steep steps to the middle level. It is equally rewarding, because of the fantastic view you have over the Chao Praya river. The Royal Palace and Wat Pho are also visible from there. Step up your Instagram game with some incredible shots. The way down is more difficult, but on the other hand, it’s also a great leg workout. Furthermore, you have rails to help you keep your balance.
The Four Smaller Spires & The Ordination Hall
In each of the smaller prangs, you can see a statue of Phra Phai, the God of Wind. There is also a square-shaped pavilion nearby called a mondop. In it, you can find a footprint of the Buddha.
Another imposing building on the temple grounds is the ordination hall, also known as the Ubosot. This structure is one of the most important on the temple ground and is used mainly for praying. Many rituals are performed here as well such as the ordination of monks.
Inside, there is a golden statue of the Niramitr Buddha. This one is special since Rama II (King Loetlanaphalai) himself designed it. Particularly the face, which was carved out of wood and covered in gold leaf. He was very much into poetry and art, so why not create a Buddha statue? Some of his ashes were buried under it as well. Many of the awe-inspiring murals inside the hall were created during the reign of Rama V (King Chulalongkorn). Some of them depict the four important stages in the life of the Buddha. These are his birth, first sermon, enlightenment and Death (passing into Nirvana).
The Ubosot is surrounded by eight boundary stones made of marble. These so-called sema stones mark the ordination hall as a sacred area.
History of Wat Arun
One of the more frequently asked questions is why it is called Temple of Dawn. A simple explanation is that it is named after Aruna, the Hindu God of Sun or the Morning Sky. A popular story or myth also tells of King Taksin, the last of the Thonburi Kingdom, who had to flee Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam in the old days, which was overrun by the Burmese army in. Once King Taksin managed to escape, he came across the old and neglected Wat Makok just as the sun began to rise. He saw this as a sign and decided to establish his new kingdom with a new capital. Both named Thonburi, around the nearby Chao Praya river in 1767. King Taksin also vowed to restore the temple and renamed it Wat Chaeng one year later.
The downfall of both the Thonburi Kingdom and King Taksin happened in 1782 when King Phutthayotfa Chulalok sacked it. He, in turn, created his own Kingdom, the Rattanakosin Kingdom, and made himself the first king of the Chakri Dynasty – Rama I. This name may be familiar to you as this Dynasty is still ruling to this day with Rama X currently sitting on the throne. Furthermore, Rama I moved the Grand Palace to the east bank of the Chao Praya river and renamed the city Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. Better known as Bangkok. Which makes Wat Arun the only temple to be older than the modern capital of Thailand.
Wat Chaeng was mostly neglected throughout the reign of Rama I and only properly renovated during the time of Rama II and completed by his successor. It was during these years in the early 19th century that the characteristic prangs were constructed. King Rama II then finally changed the name to Wat Arun.
How to Get There
The easiest way is via Chao Praya express boat to Tha Thien, where you can also find the Grand Palace. You might as well check this iconic landmark of your list while you are here and haven’t done so yet. From this pier, you then take the Tha Thien express boat to cross the river to the west bank of the river.
When to Get There
There is a reason why Wat Arun is the Temple of Dawn, so an early visit promises a stunning view over the temple grounds. It’s also a great time, because most of the tour buses arrive later. Besides the monks who live there you have all the structures mostly to yourself then.
Despite the name though, the temple also looks absolutely breathtaking at sunset. If it wasn’t for the historical origin of the name, we would debate calling it the Temple of Dusk. We highly recommend going to the opposite side of the river, the west bank, in order to really take in the unique beauty of this ancient structure. A good rooftop bar to visit is “The Deck”, which is part of the Arun Residence. The combination of the one-of-a-kind vista with a cocktail is, in our opinion, unbeatable.
Opening times: 8am – 5:30pm
Admission price: 50 Baht
Address: 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Khwaeng Wat Arun, Khet Bangkok Yai, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10600, Thailand
Dress Code: Respectful attire is required. This should be fairly obvious since the same rules apply to every temple. So, boys, you will have to wear long pants and everything but a tank top. Not even a Slumber Party Pub Crawl one. For the ladies, skirts or pants that extend at least to your knees and everything that covers your bare shoulders.
And there you have it! Wat Arun truly is one of the most remarkable structures in all of Thailand. It has a rich history and plenty to see for the avid traveler. Chances are you have already been there on one of your Thailand trips. If you haven’t, then it should be on top of your priority list for your next one.
Let us know what your impressions of the Temple of Dawn were and share as many pictures as Facebook and the comment section can handle.