on January 5, 2009
Reaching the TempleWat Arun is in the Thonburi area of Bangkok, on the western bank of the Chao Praya River anda cross classical Bangkok, almost in front of the Grand Palace. It is possible to reach Wat Arun with one of the ferry boats crossing the Chao Praya River from the Tha Chang Pier near Wat Phra Kaeo - the Grand Palace - or Tha Tian Pier near Wat Pho. Overland, it can be reached with buses 83, 19 and 57, or by the walking path through Thonburi described in this journal. The entrance fee as of the end of 2008 is 50 baht.Timing the VisitDespite the temple's name, the best time for a visit is during the late afternoon, when the dusk light creates stunning effects on its colourful pillars. The best place to see it is from across the river or from one of the boats travelling along it.Wat Makok: Baptizing BangkokWat Arun was built during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Back then it was named Wat Makok - the Olive Temple; the small village across the river was named after it, and even after it became the modern Krung Thep and the kingdom's capital, many people still refer to it as Bangkok ("ban" means "village" in Thai - the name "Ban Makok" got mispronounced during time).Wat Arun: Thonburi KingdomFollowing the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, King Taksin the Great transformed Thonburi into his capital. His reigning period (1768-1782) is also known as the Thonburi Kingdom, since afterwards the capital was moved across the Chao Phraya River, in order to provide better defences to its inhabitants. While he was reigning, the temple was renamed Wat Arun - the Dawn Temple - and became one of the most important temples in this short lived capital.The TempleThe unique look of the temple is due to the millions of pieces of colourful Chinese porcelain coating it; broken porcelain brought as ballast by merchant ships in the 17th century was used to cover its exterior. Wat Arun's central Khmer styled prang (column) - which at a height of 82 metres is Thailand's tallest - rests on three levels of terraces and is surrounded by four smaller corner prangs, intermingled with four mondops. Below it, next to the riverside are six pavilions made of green granite and including landing bridges.On the first terrace, are designs of giants and monkeys encircling the central prang, along with images of other Thai mythological creatures. The second terrace has an exquisite pavilion, with four statues showing events in the life of Buddha. Near the smaller prangs is an Ordination Hall with an important Buddha statue placed by King Rama II. The third terrace offers a view of the river and the surrounding area. It is possible to climb up the terraces and have good views of the Chao Phraya River and Bangkok across it. The Emerald BuddhaAfter the Emerald Buddha was brought from Laos and before it was put in the new Grand Palace across the river, it was kept within Wat Arun. This event was key in the founding of the actual Chakri dynasty.Monetary FameWat Arun is engraved on the inner part of the ten baht coin, the highest value coin in the actual Thai monetary system and the only one made of two different metals; on its other side is the king. However, this coin is a popular commemoration media and many of them feature engravings related to various events instead of Wat Arun.On Urban ArchaeologyWatching the magnificent temple, something kept bothering me. Most of modern Bangkok is east of Wat Arun. Since when dawn temples are on the west side of a site? Wouldn’t "Sunset Temple" be a better name for it? That’s a good example of the effect of time on even the most ambitious enterprises. When Wat Arun was built, even Thonburi was an insignificant town. Then, in 1768, King Taksin made it his capital and Wat Arun was really at its very east, making a perfect Dawn Temple. Later, in 1782, the capital was transferred to the other bank of the Chao Phraya River and Bangkok was born; all of the sudden, the splendid sight at dawn became a glorious sunset scene.
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