The Wat Arun temple in Bangkok is one of the most popular cultural highlights of the city. It’s located near the Grand Palace, on the other site of the Chao Phraya river. Because of its location it’s also known as The Temple of Dawn.
The temple is named after the Indian god Aruna, the god of dawn, and it’s especially beautiful if you come here in the early morning hours.
What’s also special about the Wat Arun temple is that it’s built in a different style from the other temples in Bangkok. While most temples are decorated with multi-colored glass mosaics, Wat Arun features a large, Khmer-style inspired pagoda without the shiny decorations. It’s also one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, and it was already standing here before Bangkok even became the capital.
The central pagoda (actually it’s called a prang) symbolizes Mount Meru – a mythological mountain from Indian cosmology. The main prang is surrounded in four directions by smaller satellite prangs, which are dedicated to the god of wind, Phra Pai.
If you look at the prangs, you can see that they are decorated with Chinese porcellain and seashells. Much of the porcellain is broken though, and there’s an interesting story behind this. In the past there was a lot of trade between Thailand and China going on, and oftentimes ships would transport a lot of heavy items from Thailand to China, but came back more or less empty, or loaden with only light freight. This posed a problem – because if ships aren’t heavy enough, they tend to dangle, and are at risk of capsizing.
There’s a Buddha image that was moulded by King Rama II himself, who ruled from 1809-1824, and his ashes are buried at the base of the image.
When you take a close look at the prangs, you can see monkey warriors and demonds carrying the structure – this is part of the Thai national epic the Ramakhien.
When you visit the Wat Arun temple, you can walk up very steep strais that lead you high up to a balcony from where you can enjoy a nice view about the historic city center of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya river, and sometimes you can enjoy a refreshing breeze too. But be warned – if you suffer from vertigo, going up there might not be for you. (Actually, the going up part isn’t the problem – but walking down the steep stairs is much more challenging).
There are also statues of the Hindu god Indra riding on the elephant god Erawan.
If you come with a personal tour guide to the Temple of Dawn, you can learn more about the symbolic meaning of the architecture, and listen to fascinating stories of Thai mythology, religion and history.
If you have any interest at all in Thai culture and religion, a visit to Wat Arun should be part of your Bangkok sightseeing tour.
You can see a short video clip about the temple recorded by a tourist here. It’s not nearly as impressive as going there, but at least you might get a basic idea of what the place looks like before you get there.