Wat Arun is easily amongst the top 3 of must visit wats in Bangkok, Thailand. Is it worth the hype? Depends on what you’re going there for, in my opinion. Let me explain in more detail in this post but first if you fancy getting here via public transport (as opposed to taking a taxi, Grab or tuk tuk) check out my post HERE.
Wat Arun has arguably one of the most iconic Thai structures and the complex dates back to the 1800’S. The cost for admission to Wat Arun was $50 Baht. Relatively inexpensive, right? Well, it’s probably because you’re only paying to get access to the Prangs, which are the spire/pyramid looking structures, the rest of the wat complex is free . At first, I thought the main spire was a chedi/stupa. I’m not entirely sure what the difference between a prang, chedi or stupa is, only that a chedi or stupa usually houses and a relic/artifact. So I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a relic on the premises (that I could find or was aware of). Once you pay the entrance fee, you can choose to walk around the spire platform or you can head up the 5 or 6 steps to get onto the platform that the spires are built on. I then took a walk around the platform in between the central spire and the four smaller ones before heading up onto the central spire’s platform using the really steep stairs that have no hand rails. While walking around the central spire, you’ll find more really steep stairs going even further up, but sadly they are closed to the public.
All the spires are covered in mosaic type decorations. You will also find sea shells and small sauce dish type ceramics used in the décor. On each side of the spire, on the first platform are gated structures housing different Buddhist themed statues. For a centuries old complex, the complex is well upkept, you can some cracked sculptures and even find piles of broken off ceramic, that I’m guessing will be put back. Must be a huge challenge even for jigsaw puzzle lovers, haha. That’s about it, but having said that it was still a sight to behold for being centuries old, worth the $50 Baht entrance fee, once.
The rest of Wat Arun’s complex is free and in front of the spires is where you will find two viharns. One of which is where you can find monks to offer prayers and blessings. One of which has Thai amulets and a very knowledgeable attendant. This attendant spoke English and Cantonese better than I can. He told me he can speak Mandarin and 2 other Chinese dialects and his mother tongue is Thai. Quite impressive. What I found even more impressive was his understanding of Thai amulets, he was able to recognize the two I was wearing and offer me a variety of amulets that would complement my existing pair, in various styles, sizes, material and cost. In addition, we spoke of current affairs in various S.E. Asian countries as well as their economics. Very, very insightful chap!
The only other wat that I’ve seen amulets for sale (in Bangkok) is in Wat Pho. The selection at Wat Arun is by far larger and of higher material quality. My amulet from Wat Pho has tarnished very badly but my amulet from Wat Arun is almost as shiny as when I purchased it. Also, when I purchased my amulet from Wat Arun, they brought me and the amulet over to the monk “on duty” and he “blessed” it, performed a “renewal” chant on my existing amulets and said a prayer for me as well! An experience I’ve never had when purchasing amulets. I quite enjoyed it, I haven’t had a prayer session with a monk in ages.
Anyways, in front of the viharns and off to the right side, is the market place, all the usual souvenir shops such as food, clothes, trinkets, costume rental (for photos) etc. A few more steps forward is the river and the piers. Heading left there is the way to the ubosot where there is a larger prayer area and a large golden Buddha statue. Oh, I’m not entirely sure if what I’ve called the viharn and the ubosot is actually what they are, it’s just my best guess from seeing them and what’s inside.
Around the ubosot are other structures including more spires/chedi/stupa/prang shaped structures, not sure what exactly they are but they look interesting. As did the bells you can ring by hitting them with a stick (as opposed to the usual clanging them with the stick that dangles inside each bell. Other works of art on the premises are statues and wall murals all are really quite nice, some look dated too.
Overall, my personal feeling is that Wat Arun, as a temple, is how it should be, the religious parts are free for the people, supported by donations and having a ticket able venue (the prangs). I very much enjoyed the temple complex, not so much the prangs. Having said that, I think the prangs are best seen either at sunrise or dusk. A monk told me to come back at night when the lights are on, “it’s much more beautiful,” he said. Having seen Wat Arun close to sunset, I would tend to agree, but as usual, I didn’t have time to stay plus I think the view of the whole complex would be better from across the river.
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