The Khmer architectural inspired temple of Wat Arun also known as the Temple of Dawn and named after Aruna, the Hindu God of Dawn, is unmistakably one of Chao Phraya River’s oldest and most distinctive landmarks. It majestically rises from the banks of the river and is said to date back to the Ayutthaya Period before King Taksin moved the Thai capital to Thonburi and then later to Bangkok.
The Temple of Dawn is easy to spot. It sticks out like a giant needle on the banks of Bangkok’s biggest river. And you can’t miss it either as it’s right opposite Wat Phra Kaew (the temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace Complex as well as Wat Pho (the temple of the Reclining Buddha). The temple opens daily from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm.
There’s a 20 Baht admission fee and to get there, you need only hop on one of the boats leaving from the Tha Tien Pier near Wat Pho on the Bangkok side of the Chao Phraya River. Alternatively, you can take a leisurely cruise on the canal to visit the temple.
This photo shows the Temple of Dawn in the foreground and where boats depart from Tha Tien Pier. In the background is Wat Phra Kaew.
Wat Arun – Classic Khmer Design
The main centre Prang is 82 metres (270 feet) tall and 234 metres (768 feet) circumference at its base. Though the architecture is mostly centred around classic Khmer design, there are quite a few traces of Thai mastery.
Millions of brightly colourful pieces of Chinese porcelain donated by ordinary Thai citizens during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV) were used as tiles in the decoration of the Prangs. This temple is indeed very unique in Thailand and viewing the site whether during the day or night, is truly spectacular.
Wat Arun – Chinese Stone Guards
Just to give you some background information and perhaps a little insight into the temples layout, it should be noted that there are a number of distinct features to its unique design. Firstly there are eight entrances leading up to the main tower. Chinese stone figures guard the approach to the lower terrace and in doing so also compliment the highly ornate Chinese-style porcelain decorating the prang’s architectural design.
Mount Meru – Hindu/Buddhist Cosmology
The central Prang represents the Buddhist peak, Mount Meru and it supports numerous ornamental tiers illustrating worlds within worlds. The layout of the four minor prangs seen at each corner of the Wat is an emblematic mandala shape. Between the cardinal points of the minor prangs, are four mondops. It’s safe to say that the monument’s design is symbolic of Hindu-Buddhist cosmology. The photo below shows the central prang to the right and a mondop to the left.
Wat Arun – The Temple of Dawn
What is of particular interest surrounding the central Prang is its several symbolic support levels. Firstly, the steep steps that lead halfway up the prang represent the difficulties of reaching higher levels of existence. They gotta be kidding you!
You are allowed to climb the steps, however, for some of you, you might need to have nerves of steel should you possibly be a trifle afraid of heights. There are four sets of these fairly steep steps. Best to find one where there’s a little less traffic and then hold on tight to those balustrades if you feel somewhat giddy.
Once you reach the terrace on the second level of the pagoda you’ll see several small coves, inside which are the half bird, half human mythological creatures called kinnari. From here on you won’t be able to climb further. Thank goodness!
The next level or base is called the Traiphum and represents thirty-one realms of existence across the three worlds of the Buddhist universe, Desire, Form and Formless. Thereafter the central section is called the Tavatimsa Heaven. The four cardinal points seen here are guarded by the Hindu god Indra and it is also where all desires are fulfilled. I knew there was a reason for me coming here.
The top level is the peak of Mount Meru called the Devaphum and rises above four subsidiary peaks. It denotes six heavens within seven realms of happiness. Indra’s weapon known as the vajra or thunderbolt is at the very top of the spire.
Wat Arun – light and Sound Shows
If you are fortunate enough to visit the Temple of Dawn at night, you’ll be in for a very special treat as every so often there is a light and sound presentation. No need to rush either as the shows start every 15 minutes. I am not too sure what time the last show ends, though. Nevertheless, if you’re here in good time, the dazzling display gives you a superb perspective to an already exquisite temple. I want to mention that there’s no extra cost for the shows!