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Wat Arun

It's the star of many a "visit Thailand" poster. Perhaps a better known symbol of Bangkok than the Grand Palace. It's Wat Arun, "the Temple of the Dawn." Unfortunately, being a cover model has its drawbacks, and the temple is probably a little too popular for its own good, but it's still such an outstanding monument that it's worth a visit.

wat arun1The towering prang with its four smaller siblings was started by Rama II in the early part of the 19th century, and completed by his successor Rama III. The temple in which the prang sits is actually much older. It dates from the Ayuthaya period. During King Taksin's reign, just before the founding of Bangkok, the temple served as part of his palace.

wat arun2The prang is not only unique in its design, which is a blend of Khmer and Thai styles, but also in decoration. Over the brick core, a layer of plaster was applied and then decorated with bits of Chinese porcelain and glazed ceramic tiles. Using porcelain from China isn't as extravagant as it might sound. In the early days of Bangkok, Chinese trading ships calling on the Siamese capital used tons of porcelain as ballast. The temple is just an early example of the Thai approach to "recycling."

Like the bell shaped chedi, the central Prang represents Mount Meru, home of the gods. The four smaller prangs symbolize the four winds. High up on the four smaller towers, you can see a statue of Pai, god of the winds, on his horse.

wat arun3 In the middle of each side of the square formed by the smaller prangs are pavilions containing Buddha images depicting the four stages of the Buddha's life, birth, meditation, preaching and enlightenment. These guard the stairways to the second and third levels of the big prang. Unfortunately, you can only climb up to the first level. The second and third levels are now closed to the public, probably because the stairways were so steep there were many accidents.

Behind the prang is the temple complex proper. The bot is interesting and decorated on the inside similar to the prang. There are several other small prangs and beautiful gardens in the temple grounds.