Wat Arun – Don’t look down!
I really should have been to Bangkok much earlier than I did, what with it being one of the most popular cities closest to home and all, but I always had a bad habit of prioritising faraway destinations first 😉 So when my friends started planning their annual Bangkok trip this year, I decided to tag along too!
The only image I had of Bangkok so far was of its chaotic, seedy, streets, much like those in Hangover 2, and well… the place we stayed at fit the description pretty well. 😛 The street our hotel was located on was in a very “local” area of the city, where nary a foreigner was spotted, and the people barely spoke any English.
Food was also pleasantly cheap; you could easily get lunch for 50 baht or less. And soft drinks come in these old-school glass bottles, which you pour into these old-school metal mugs! #sohipster
I’m not sure why, but I seem to have a knack for traveling to places right around the time some major shit is going down – earlier this year, I visited Istanbul just a while before the Gezi Park protests started, and this time, I managed to walk right into the middle of a protest in Bangkok, when we headed to Terminal 21 for a spot of shopping. Haha! Thankfully, it wasn’t a violent one; the whole thing had a lively carnival atmosphere, with thousands of people chanting, and waving, and blowing shrilly on whistles that we heard from inside our taxi about 300m away.
So yes – shopping was the main agenda for most of us on the trip, but as it was my first time in the city, I decided to take a day to play tourist and see some of the most famous sights of Bangkok, namely Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), and Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace.
Waking up early is pretty important for sightseeing, especially if you’re not staying anywhere near the tourist attractions; Bangkok is pretty massive, and it can take a while to get from Point A to Point B, as I was about to find out. The various train lines are spread throughout the “new city”, but there are no trains running through the “old city” where all the temples are. The best way to get to where Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew are is to take the Silom Line and get off at Saphan Taksin Station, and take the Chao Phraya Express Boat, which looks something like this!
There’ll be a guide on board telling you about all the sights along the banks of the Chao Phraya river, but honestly I didn’t retain much information as it was rather hard to hear above all the noise of everyone on board. You can get an all-day pass to take the Express Boat as many times as you want for 150 baht I think, or a one-way pass for 40 baht.
You know you’re getting close to your destination when you start seeing less of modern skyscrapers like the one above, and more traditional structures like this!
And after about 15-20 minutes, you’ll slowly see Wat Arun coming into view! It’s absolutely gorgeous under the morning sun 🙂
The Chao Phraya Express Boat won’t stop directly in front of Wat Arun though – to get there, you have to get off at the Tha Tien Pier, and take another boat across to the opposite side for just 3 baht.
Although the Wat Arun is mainly known for the “prang“, or tower, there are other buildings you can visit in the compound too, like the ordination hall which you’ll see after you pass through these gates.
Entrance to Wat Arun is 50 baht per person (as of March 2013), and proper attire is required to enter, i.e. no sleeveless tops, short shorts, short skirts and the like. But if you haven’t come prepared, you can also rent sarongs at the stall near the entrance, which you can kinda see at the bottom left in the picture below.
And up we go!
If you think Wat Arun looks cool from the river, you should see it up close! The central “prang” of Wat Arun symbolises Mount Meru in Hindu cosmology, and the entire structure is painstakingly covered in millions of small pieces of Chinese porcelain, which was ballast unloaded from ships from China in ancient times. Imagine having to sift through tons and tons of broken shards to find exactly the right pieces of the right colour to form the patterns for the tallest tower in Thailand, along with the four satellite towers…
The details on the tower are amazing, but you’ll get even better views if you climb up the tower! 😀
It’s not gonna be your favourite activity if you’re scared of heights, because the staircases are really steep and really narrow. I went up like a terrified crab, stepping sideways and clutching on to the handrails for dear life, as did many people (and the lady in the picture above 😛 ). Oh, and there are not one, but two levels you can ascend. 🙂
Another close-up of the porcelain details!
You can also see the ordination hall I mentioned earlier from the terraces.
Don’t stop at the first level – keep going up (an even narrower and steeper staircase), and you’ll get some awesome views of the Chao Phraya river, and Bangkok city! 😀
If you look closely enough, you can see the complex of Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace in the distance, on the other side of the river.
No entry? …That’s totally fine by me bro. Don’t think my heart could’ve taken it anyway.
Don’t forget, after you’ve had your fill of the great rooftop views at the top of the Wat Arun “prang“, you still have to make the return journey down 😛 And sweaty palms in 3, 2, 1…
Wat Arun was a sight to behold, but so was Wat Phra Kaew. Coming up next, my visit to the immensely crowded Wat Phra Kaew!