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In 1768, when King Taksin planned to move the capital from Ayutthaya to Thonburi he travelled down the Chao Phraya River by boat, arriving at dawn at an old wat where he paid his respects. He later named the temple Wat Jang -- a name later changed again to Wat Arun -- both of which mean "Temple of Dawn". The royal grade temple remains one of Bangkok's signature landmarks and is well worth an up-close look.
The wat was used by King Taksin as his royal temple, which at that time was next to his royal palace, the grounds of which are now home to Thai naval headquarters. Wat Arun temporarily housed the Emerald Buddha before it -- along with the capital and palace -- was moved across the river by Rama I to Wat Phra Kaew where it remains today. A riverside statue of King Taksin receives constant offerings from locals.
The temple underwent renovations during the reigns of King Rama II and Rama III, and while it now takes third billing to Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho, it's still an important royal grade temple and a major tourist attraction.
The courtyard contains five Khmer-style prangs, each held up by porcelain monkeys and tired-looking demons. The largest represents Mount Meru, the centre of the universe and home of the gods in Hindu-Buddhist lore. The central prang was originally 16 metres tall but was stretched by King Rama III in 1842.
The prangs are covered in thousands of glistening pieces of broken porcelain, which are thought to have come from damaged Chinese shipments. The effect is beautiful and unlike any other wat in Bangkok. It's possible to climb about halfway up the central prang on steep stairways to enjoy fine views across the Chao Phraya River.
Back at ground level, the not-always-open ubosot features a serene looking seated Buddha that contains relics of King Rama II at its base. There's not much to see other than the main prangs and a couple of giant guardian statues, but the on-site coffee shop is a good enough place to rest your bones after that steep climb. Wat Arun can also be included on a historical walk that could also cover Wat Kalayanamit and Santa Cruz Church, and don't miss the funky neighbourhood that stretches from behind Wat Arun's walls.
The temple is bustling with visitors throughout the day and with all the climbing and commotion it can get quite hot. A good time to visit is early morning, though the best views of the temple can actually be seen from the other side of the river (or a passing boat) at sunset. Plan to spend 45 minutes to one hour exploring Wat Arun.
How to get there
From Tha Thien, take the cross-river ferry, which leaves every 10 minutes from 6:00 to 22:00 daily (3 baht). The Chao Phraya River Tourist Express Boat tickets are not accepted. You can also catch bus 19, 57 and 83.