As the sun dips slowly below the horizon above the glittering waters of the Chao Phraya River, rosy shafts of light infuse the multi-hued spires of Wat Arun temple with a dreamy golden glow in the Bangkok twilight.
Wat Arun is one of the most recognizable temples in the world, and it makes a magnificent mark on the Bangkok skyline.
It’s an impressive must-see on a list of places to visit in the City of Angels — and it’s particularly majestic when seen at sunset or at the break of a new day.
Here’s our complete guide to Wat Arun…
What is Wat Arun?
Built in 1768 by King Taksin, the Temple of the Dawn — Wat Arun — is placed on the spot of what was originally a much smaller temple in disrepair.
King Taksin had just returned to Bangkok having narrowly escaped death in a battle against the Burmese, and just as he arrived at the temple the dawn broke. He saw this as a sign from heaven, so in reverence he constructed a glorious new temple — what we now recognize as Wat Arun.
He also chose to enshrine the famous Emerald Buddha here, but it was moved across the river to the Grand Palace in 1785.
Two giant demons guard the entrance to the temple, grimacing fiercely. Legend has it that this grim pair were the sworn enemies of the two giants guarding Wat Pho across the river. Their battles destroyed the earth in between the two shrines and cleared it of trees and buildings. As punishment, they were turned to stone, and cursed to spend eternity guarding the gateway to Wat Arun.
Once inside the temple complex, the massive 79 metre high central Khmer-style tower soars toward the heavens, sheathed in decorative mosaic designs made from fragments of porcelain and glass which sparkle as they catch the light.
At the smaller towers at the four outer corners of the temple, statues of Phra Phai — the God of Wind — stand sentinel. In the Buddhist faith, this ensemble of five towers represents the thirty-three heavens where the celestial gods dwell.
Climbing up the steep central tower feels like ascending to heaven, and the reward comes in the form of the beautiful views out across the winding river toward the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Everywhere you look there are elaborate carvings and sculptures of animals, gods and soldiers to catch your eye.
Back on ground level, the walls of the grand ordination hall are swathed in intricate murals. This hall houses a parade of 120 Buddha statues in the sitting position, with the main Buddha having been designed by King Rama II.
Wat Arun is a working temple (monks actually live in the complex) and remains a place of worship, so expect to see locals and monks at prayer here. Showing respect and dressing appropriately is important, and visitors are expected to cover up.
Back outside and further away from the river, a regal structure with a gilded roof protects an ornately carved footprint of the Lord Buddha mounted on a sculpted porcelain pedestal.
The tranquil gardens nearby are the perfect place to relax and contemplate the glorious surroundings.
Where is Wat Arun?
Wat Arun (the locals call it Wat Chaeng), is situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River opposite Wat Pho.
It’s best to get there by boat. You can pick up a ferry boat service from central Sathorn pier near Saphan Taksin BTS skytrain station, on the Silom Line.
To reach Wat Arun you’ll need to get off at Tha Thien Pier (Pier 8) and then take the small shuttle boat across to the other side of the river. Orange flag boats — the Chao Phraya Express Boat — stop at all the most popular piers, so if you’re unsure hop on one of these to Tha Thien. As a bonus the river boat ride is scenic, fun and refreshing.
A ride on the Chao Phraya Express boat costs 15 THB, and the shuttle boat across the river 3 THB.
This is a hugely popular tourist attraction, and it can get very crowded.
If you prefer to visit when there are less other people around come early in the morning before the tour buses start arriving.
Opening hours are 08:30 to 17:30, and the Wat Arun entrance fee is 100 THB.
It’s also worth noting that there are a number of bars and restaurants on the opposite side of the river where you can sit and relax with a cocktail to watch Wat Pho as the sun sets, or afterwards when the sky gets dark and the temple is illuminated with a mesmeric multicolored light show.
Here’s a beautiful time lapse video of Wat Arun from morning to night:
Hotels near Wat Arun
Only 150 meters from Wat Arun as the crow flies, Sala Rattanakosin Bangkok is practically on the doorstep. This intimate 4 star luxury boutique style hotel benefits from stunning views to the temple across the river.
Rooms and suites are chic and modern, with free air-con and Wi-Fi as standard. The hotel’s restaurant and bar is simply stunning, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the legendary Chao Phraya River and the mystical Temple of Dawn.
The restaurant serves a variety of international dishes as well as traditional Thai cuisine, and there is also a Rooftop Bar serving up fine wines and cocktails.
- Stunning views of Wat Arun
- Close to some of Bangkok’s most iconic attractions
- Rooftop bar
- Excellent restaurant
- 16 Modern, quality en suite rooms and suites
- Free Wi-Fi and air conditioning
Riva Arun is situated on Bangkok’s preserved Rattanakosin Island, an area of traditional houses, shops, temples and working warehouses — some of which have been tastefully converted into stylish guesthouses, cafés and galleries.
Each of the 25 rooms of this boutique hotel have balconies and many have beautiful temple and /or river views.
Wat Arun is a short walk and shuttle boat ride away across the river. Expect panoramic views of the Chao Phraya River and Wat Arun from the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant which serves up Thai fusion food.
- Riverside location with impressive views
- Rooftop bar and restaurant
- A la carte breakfast and all-day dining
- Cosy and stylish hotel
- Well located for tourist attractions
- Balcony and free Wi-Fi in all rooms
You’ll find this little 5 star gem hidden away on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Chakrabongse Villas provides a tranquil haven from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, and it has incredible views of Wat Arun. Six romantic suites furnished in traditional and luxurious Thai style are set in lush tropical gardens with a sumptuous swimming pool.
Guests are invited to dine on exquisite Royal Thai Cuisine from the Royal Family’s own recipes in the outdoor dining pavilion with lovely views of the Chao Phraya River.
- Former royal residence
- Close to Wat Arun (just across the river) and other tourist sites
- Romantic setting
- Swimming pool and gardens
- Wonderful views
- Traditional Thai outdoor dining
- Massage services available
For a low budget stay in the area, it’s hard to find better than Pho Hostel. It’s located 400 meters from Wat Arun, and it’s also close to many other sites of interest.
Make friends in the pleasant on-site bar, and cook up your own meals in the shared kitchen. There’s also a terrace with fabulous river views and barbeque facilities. You can choose from either shared dormitory accommodation or double rooms with private bathrooms.
- Free air conditioning and Wi-Fi
- Roof terrace with barbeque
- River views
- Shared kitchen
- On site bar
- Bike hire available
Have you visited Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, yet?
Featured image is by Kosin Sukhum (CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)