Wat Arun is the missile-shaped temple that rises from the Chao Phraya River's banks. Known as Temple of Dawn, it was named after the Indian god of dawn, Arun. It was here that, after the destruction of Ayuthaya, King Taksin stumbled upon a small local shrine and interpreted the discovery as an auspicious sign that this should be the site of the new capital of Siam.
Today the temple is one of Bangkok's most iconic structures – not to mention one of the few Buddhist temples you are encouraged to climb on.
It wasn't until the capital and the Emerald Buddha were moved to Bangkok that Wat Arun received its most prominent characteristic: the 82m-high þrahng (Khmer-style tower). The tower's construction was started during the first half of the 19th century by Rama II (King Phraphutthaloetla Naphalai; r 1809–24) and later completed by Rama III (King Phranangklao; r 1824–51).
Steep stairs lead to the top, from where there are amazing views of the Chao Phraya River. Not apparent from a distance are the fabulously ornate floral mosaics made from broken, multihued Chinese porcelain, a common temple ornamentation in the early Ratanakosin period, when Chinese ships calling at the port of Bangkok discarded tons of old porcelain as ballast.
The main Buddha image at the temple is said to have been designed by Rama II himself. The murals date from the reign of Rama V (King Chulalongkorn; r 1868–1910); particularly impressive is one that depicts Prince Siddhartha encountering examples of birth, old age, sickness and death outside his palace walls, an experience that led him to abandon the worldly life. The ashes of Rama II are interred in the base of the presiding Buddha image.
There has been a temple on the site of Wat Arun from at least the late 16th century. Historians believe Wat Makok, as it was originally known, was founded on the bank of Khlong Lat, but it wasn't until 1767, when King Taksin came across the temple, that it took on any real historical significance.
King Taksin, who came across the site at sunrise whilst fleeing Burmese invaders, made the site his palace temple and renamed it Wat Chaeng. The temple was then chosen to house the Emerald Buddha, a scared palladium of Thailand, when it was brought across from Vientiane, the capital city of what is now Laos. It now resides across the river in Wat Phra Kaew.
When Bangkok became the Thailand's new capital city, the temple was renamed again by Rama II, this time as Wat Arun. Rama II also began enlarging the central þrahng, which was then completed in 1842 under the reign of Rama III. Apart from some restoration work on the þrahng, which was completed in 2017, little else has changed at Wat Arun.
Tickets and other practicalities
Wat Arun is open daily from 8am-6pm and tickets cost 50B. The entrance is just off Th Arun Amarin and it’s located across the river from Wat Pho.
Many people visit Wat Arun on long-tail boat tours, but it’s dead easy to just use the Chao Phraya Express Boat, or jump on the cross-river ferry from Tien Pier (from 5am to 9pm).
What to see
The central feature of Wat Arun is the 82m-high Khmer-style þrahng (tower), constructed during the first half of the 19th century by Rama II (King Phraphutthaloetla Naphalai; r 1809–24). From the river it is not apparent that this corn-cob-shaped steeple is adorned with colorful floral murals made of glazed porcelain, a common temple ornamentation in the early Ratanakosin period, when Chinese ships calling at Bangkok used the stuff as ballast.
The Ordination Hall
The compound's primary bòht (ordination hall) contains a Buddha image that is said to have been designed by Rama II himself, as well as beautiful murals that depict Prince Siddhartha (the Buddha) encountering examples of birth, old age, sickness and death outside his palace walls, experiences that led him to abandon the worldly life.
In addition to the central spire and ordination hall, the Wat Arun compound includes two wí·hăhn (sanctuaries) and a hǒr đrai (depository for Buddhist scriptures), among other structures. Adjacent to the river are six săh·lah (often spelt as sala), open-air pavilions traditionally meant for relaxing or study, but increasingly used these days as docks for tourist boats.
As Wat Arun is a Buddhist temple, visitors must wear culturally appropriate clothing to visit. This means trousers or long skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. It also means nothing see-through.
If you are flashing too much flesh, you'll have to rent a sarong from the shop at the entrance for 20B (and a 100B refundable deposit). Shoes will also need to be removed before entering some parts of the temple.
Wat Arun at sunset
For our money, it's best to visit Wat Arun in the late afternoon, when the sun shines from the west, lighting up the spire and river behind it.
For sunset photos, however, some of the best views can be caught from across the river at the warehouses that line Th Maha Rat – although be forewarned that locals may ask for a 20B “fee”.
The magic hour for snaps is when the temple lights are switched on at night (usually around 7pm), even as the sky retains some of the afterglow.
Nearby restaurants and bars
If you're visiting the temple during the day, consider a lunch break at Tonkin Annam, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant just across the river.
Strategically located on the river directly across from Wat Arun, Arun Residence is a multilevel wooden house with much more than just great views. The seven rooms here manage to feel both homey and stylish (the best are the top-floor, balcony-equipped suites). There are also inviting communal areas, including a library, rooftop bar and restaurant.
Else head to sleek, modernist Sala Ratanakosin. Its rooms have open-plan bathrooms and big windows looking out on the river and Wat Arun. They can't be described as vast, but will satisfy the fashion-conscious.