Rising like a glittering palace over the western side of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun is one of Thailand’s most spectacular and oldest temples. The site is renowned for its colorful, glazed ceramic tiles (reportedly over one million of them) and its ornate central spire (or prang) that currently towers at over 260 feet (about 80 meters).
What makes the temple particularly unusual is the origin of its tiles: they were originally broken bits of Chinese dishes that were salvaged from a British shipwreck. The found porcelain pieces were then crafted into ornate flower petals and embedded into the prang to produce a glittering effect under the sun.
Named “The Temple of Dawn” during the Ayutthaya Period (1768), King Taksin came across the original site by boat after returning back from battle with the Burmese army. As he approached the city at sunrise, the king named the glittering spectacle after the Hindu god Aruna (who is the charioteer of the Sun god Surya). Later, King Rama III added the elaborate ceramic tiles, tiny seashells, Buddha statues, as well as its signature central pagoda spire.
Despite its name, the full scope of Wat Arun is perhaps best appreciated at sunset from the river. While visitors can see temple’s design touches in detail by day (including several Buddha statues and four other spires), it’s particularly beautiful when lit up to a radiant, glowing silhouette at night. If you do, however, visit during the day, it’s best to arrive right when the gates open at 8:30 a.m. or late afternoon, just before sunset.
“Wat Arun’s full official name is Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan – but you’re never going to remember that, let alone pronounce it!,” Pintida Harnpanpongse of Tourism Authority of Thailand tells Atlas Obscura. “It’s considered as one of the most iconic, most recognizable, and most beautiful temples in Thailand because of its unique design, fine craftsmanship, colorful decorated spires, and its majestic riverside location that stands right across from Wat Pho (the Temple of Reclining Buddha).”
The central tower (prang) is said to symbolize Mount Meru—the home of the gods in Hindu cosmology and the center of the physical and spiritual universe—with its grand tiered design that resembles a stairway to heaven. “Surrounding the Prang there are three rows of statues: on the bottom row there are demons representing hell, the middle row [depicts] monkeys and represent the earth, and the top row are angels representing heaven,” says tour guide Thippy Thepthewi. “The Prang was built with similarity to Khmer architecture, but actually it is our Thai Rattanakosin style, since its slimmer and taller with indentions in the corner (which differ from the Khmer style).”
Wat Arun has also recently undergone an extensive three-year renovation to restore the Chinese porcelain tiles and seashells, as well as the base of the pagoda.
Know Before You Go
Wat Arun is open to the public daily between 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Entry is 50 THT for adults.