Decorated with the coloured porcelain ballast from Chinese trading ships on the Chao Phraya River, the glittering four-pronged pagoda of the Temple of Dawn surrounds a towering Khmer-style prang which dominates the local skyline. This design is thought to represent the mythical Mount Meru, central to Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.
Taksin the Great, King of Siam, enlarged this small shrine on the river bank into an elaborate temple to house the sacred Emerald Buddha when he established the capital in the 1700s. As the first fingers of dawn crept over the city, they reached this building before any other. Noticing this, he named it Wat Arun after Aruna, the God of Dawn.
His successor, King Rama I, would later move the capital – and the statue of the Emerald Buddha – to the other side of the river. This may explain why Wat Arun is an isolated highlight on the western riverbank. The temple was not forgotten, however. It was further remodelled by Rama II and III, who added the towers which have come to be recognised as its defining feature.
Famed for its magnificent silhouette as the sun goes down, it costs nothing to stand on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya and drink in the view. If you are blessed with a beautiful sunset, make sure you take your camera as the temple offers magnificent photo opportunities.
For a closer look, you can catch a cheap cross-river ferry near the Grand Palace at Tha Tien pier. It will only take a few minutes to get to the temple, which you can visit any day of the week for a small fee.
Make your way to the top of the spire for a different perspective of the city. Be warned though, the final steps are steep! On your descent, take a look inside the temple to see the golden Buddha thought to have been designed by King Rama II himself. His ashes are entombed at its base.