Our first wat stop was included in our canal trip along the bank of the Chao Phraya in Bangkok. We had done our homework and dressed appropriately (shoulders and legs covered, shoes removed before entering). Standing majestically over the water, Wat Arun, was a stunning vision of art and architecture as we approached. Two giant demons guarded the entrance gate. We were about to visit one of Bangkok’s most noted landmarks, its most revered temple, and the image that appears on the 10-baht coin of the Thai currency.
Called the Temple of Dawn, we arrived a few hours too late to observe dawn’s effects on Wat Arun. That didn’t disappoint us; the colors were brilliant in the sun. Inside the gate, the beauty of the intricately designed wat took our breath. It was covered with colorful mosaics of porcelain, and embellished with sea shells, elephants, monkeys and mythical figures, as were the four smaller towers (prang or spires) surrounding it. The grounds were quite extensive, with multiple structures. The chanting of monks could be heard in one of the temples, while a craftsman was busy at work at the steps of another temple.
Of course we couldn’t visit and not climb the central prang. Climbing the steep, narrow stairs symbolizes the challenge Buddhists face reaching nirvana. Although we were only allowed to climb to the second of four levels, the steps were still enough of a challenge. To have continued would have involved climbing a ladder. Marveling at the magnificent view of the Bangkok skyline was a well-earned reward. The city looked peaceful, progressive and bursting with personality. Descending the steps was more unnerving than climbing them, but we made it back down.
One could spend hours here. We weren’t able to translate any of the writings in the temples, but the sights alone were a perfect introduction to Bangkok.