It is Thai Constitution Day, which means Isla has a day off school so we decide to take a train, boat, tuk-tuk trip out to Wat Arun on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya. Wat Arun (or the Temple of the Dawn) is so named for its glittering facade that catches the burning rays of the dawning sun and turns the place golden.
It’s a hot December Day, the sun is beginning its march towards that April burn that Thailand is famous for so Isla and I seek either the air conditioning of the BTS or the penumbra of the boat awnings. Either will do.
We arrive at the Saphin Taksin Pier, get tourist scammed into hopping on the 40Baht tourist boat to Pier 8 (Tha Tien) rather than the slightly longer normal 15Baht boat (we don’t get fooled on the return trip). It’s full of happy snappers gawking and listening to the young Thai manfully struggling to recite in English his tourist patter. When he declares that the only place to get good antiques is at the Riverside Antiques mall (I’ve another blog on that here) I switch off listening as I know that’s pure hokum for tourism.
We arrive at Tha Tien, disembark, loop round a metal platform (this is the main exit for wanting to go see Wat Pho) and then pay 3 Baht to get on a cross Phraya ferry. That journey is all of five minutes but Isla’s cheeful demeanour gets us a seat opposite a triumvirate of orange clothed older monks. The view of the river is startling, the wavetops sparkling like a diamond cloth on a bed of gently undulating waters.
We arrive with a few other tourists which is good. There’s no seething mass of untanned farang to contend with. Given the main attraction is the prang – a Khmer style stupa – I quickly realise we can only climb to its second level given the sharp acclivity.
You can see what I mean below.
It is easier to ascend rather than descend, and each step is easily a foot or more high making it hard for 3yr old legs. Given the laborious up and down by older, unfit tourists then, at times of peak flow, it could easily be a ten+ minute wait to climb. The parapet around the outside is also narrow, enough space for two people to pass, in places only one person wide – and by that I mean one Thai person. Westerners…well consider it a “sideways turnstyle event”.
Once up the view is stupendous (I imagine it is even better a level higher). We could see some distance up and down the river, the orange roof of the Wat and the viharn were brighter than those terracotta buildings you expect in Italy or Mexico. I have to carry Isla back down.
What is immediately evident is the disrepair of the Wat. Up close the concrete that has the pieces of mineral or tesserae is breaking, crumbling. The gleam of the mirrored surface hides an age of cracking. As a result, a lot of repairs are being carried out which means we don’t really see a lot of the Wat or prang. We do see a lot of scaffolding that would have any Western H&S officer snapping his pencil in aghast apoplexy. That said, the labourers (male and female) scamper agilely around the metal lattice with little apparent care as they go about fixing the place.
Take a look at what they are doing:
After our partial summit of the prang Isla and I wander through a gap tourists aren’t really meant to enter (why not try anyway, eh?) and meet a very amiable middle-aged monk who kindly gives us a cold bottle of water, rubs Isla’s cheek, asks where we came from, and wishes us blessings. We sit under his awning with him for a little while, letting the breeze off the Phraya play over us. The sun is getting hot again. I know that sounds ridiculous because the sun is a constant heat, but you feel the burn more in a Thai summer. Admittedly it’s meant to be Winter now but the craziness that is now the common status of the world’s weather means we’ve bypassed it entirely.
I could delve into the history of the place or start a discussion on its architecture but hey…that is what Google’s for.
It’s time to leave to meet the Diplomat for some lunch. We retrace our steps over water, rail and road. A fun morning. Oh…entry to the place costs 50Baht. I nearly forgot 😉
At the end…this is what Wat Arun should look like:
Is this what diplomacy is all about?