Today was day four and we took the short ferry from Tha Tien Pier (5 baht) to Wat Arun before the legions arrived. Wat Arun, locally known as Wat Chaeng, is situated on the west (Thonburi) bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok, not only because of its riverside location, but also because the Khymer design is very different to the other temples you can visit in Bangkok. At the time of our visit they were making the final preparations for Chinese New Year and the temple was surrounded by colourful scarlet lanterns and somewhat tackier golden Buddha’s and other paraphernalia.
It was announced last September that it would be closed for three years to undergo repairs, obviously as we ascended the vertigo defying stairs; this was not the case. Repairs were being carried out on the rear smaller stupas, it seems when the last repair was completed in 1999 “new” tiles were used and the original ones placed in storage; the plan now is to re-aatch the original porcelain and sea shells which were used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China.The central stupa some 80m high represents the legendary Mt Meru, the centre of the universe! and it has two terraces circumnavigating the main stupa.
Around the base of the prang are various sculptures of ancient Chinese soldiers and animals. Over the second terrace are four statues of the Hindu god Indra riding on Erawan. At the riverside are six pavilions (sala) in Chinese style, made of green granite and contain landing bridges.
Wat Arun was built in the days of Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya (see previous post), and was originally known as Wat Makok (“Olive Temple”). In the ensuring era when Thonburi was capital, King Taksin changed the name to Wat Chaeng. The temple briefly hosted the revered Emerald Buddha after it was recaptured from Laos, but it was moved to Wat Phra Kaew in 1784. King Rama II enlarged the central prang and changed the temple’s name to Wat Arunratchatharam. The work was finished by King Rama III, and King Rama IV gave the temple its current full name of Wat Arunratchawararam.
We then took another ferry downstream to visit Chinatown and after passing through a toy market and tracing Yaowarat Road the thriving centre of Chinatown commerce and gold vendors we reached the 5.5 ton solid Gold Buddha. This chunk of bling has been housed in a soulless marble temple when on my last visit 23 years ago it lived in an older and in my opinion much more attractive shrine.
Retracing our steps through the alleys of Chinatown and its bustling markets we saw all manner of fruits and particularly vendors pressing pomegranate juice. Obviously we wanted to sample this but they kept insisting on the tourist rather than the local price. Bugger off this did not happen in Myanmar! We stopped for a simple but delicious noodle & soup lunch in an outdoor market restaurant where a helpful local young woman helped us with our order. Shortly afterwards my wallet was pick-pocketed and so a laborious jaunt to the police station had to be endured. After collecting my theft report we took a ferry back to the hotel to cancel my cards. I hope the bastard who nicked it bought an elaborate meal and died of food poisoning!
After composing ourselves after the stress of the Bangkok constabulary we headed out to see the sunset at Wat Arun from the rooftop bar at Sala, my new best friend in Thailand!