The Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun
Temple of the Dawn – Wat Arun

The name alone tantalizes the imagination, and brings out everyone’s thirst for exploring the mystic orient.  Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, is situated just across the river from Bangkok.  It was built in the early 19th Century by the second ruler of the current ruling Dynasty (Rama II).  It has therefore been a landmark for a long time and is one of the best known Bangkok tourist attractions.

Wat Arun and River
View from Wat Arun looking across the river to Wat Phra Kaew (Grand Palace)

Interestingly though, this famous landmark does not get anywhere near as many tourists as the attractions on the Bangkok side of the Chao Phraya river.  This is possibly because the river acts as a barrier, and most tourists perhaps think that they have seen enough merely by taking photos from the Bangkok side.  However, I can assure you this is not the case, and the five magnificent towers of Wat Arun deserve to be inspected close-up.

Thai giant (yak)
One of the two guards at the entrance… these are the mythical giants (yak) out of the Hindu/Buddhist Ramayana.

First, a little bit of interesting history about Wat Arun.  It is built in the village of Bang Makok on the site of an existing temple dating back to the Ayuthaya period (the former capital prior to Bangkok).  After the fall of Ayuthaya, King Taksin established a new capital in Thonburi, beside Bang Makok, and the Emerald Buddha (Thailand’s most revered Buddha statue) was housed in this temple.  King Taksin had planned to renovate this temple into something much more magnificent, but he was murdered before this was achieved.  After King Taksin’s death, the Chakri dynasty took over and in 1782 the capital was moved across to the eastern bank (Bangkok side) of the river to the newly built Wat Phra Kaew (the move across the river was because the eastern bank was deemed to be more easy to defend against invaders than the western bank).

Angels at Wat Arun
Some of the angels holding up and protecting the prang

After the move, the original temple in Bang Makok was essentially abandoned until 1802, when King Rama II decided to make good on King Taksin’s plans, and decided to build a magnificent temple on the existing site.  The architectural influence of the new temple was Khmer, and its design consisted of a main prang (pagoda like tower) that is 86 metres tall, and four smaller satellite prangs in each corner of the compound.  The main Buddha image for the temple was moulded by King Rama II himself and his ashes are interred underneath this statute.  Notwithstanding that construction of the temple commenced in 1802, it wasn’t completed until after King Rama II’s death, in 1851.

Even though the architecture for the main temple is Khmer in origin, the name of the temple is Hindu and is in reference to the God Aruna, who is associated with the rising sun (particularly the reddish glow at dawn).  There is some debate as to the reason for association of the temple with dawn, but a possible reason is that when Taksin was originally sailing down the Chao Phraya river looking for a site for a new capital, he saw the original temple in the glow of dawn’s light and that was where he decided to place the capital.

Wat Arun carvings
The design is Khmer, and the name is Hindu… and the carvings here appear to be from Hindu origin as well. This elephant carving is very impressive.

As I mentioned earlier, you really need to visit the temple up close.  The five prangs have intricate sculptures and mozaics (from Chinese porcelain).  The four satellite prangs contain some interesting figures propping them up, such as monkey gods and demons.  The main prang is guarded by ancient Chinese soldiers.  Also keep an eye out for the different animals (the elephant carvings in particular).  The spire on the central prang is a seven pronged trident that also has very interesting symbolism (it is the Trident of Shiva).

Temple roof
Glittering golden temples on the grounds of Wat Arun… many people don’t realise that Wat Arun consists of much more than just the five prangs, but a large multi-coloured temple complex in the background.

The temple itself consists of more than just the five prangs.  Instead, behind them are a series of Thai style temples (in similar style to Wat Phra Kaew) that house the local monastery and Buddhist school.  Mixed in with a lot of interesting paintings, carvings, gold in-lays are some further interesting Chinese statues, that tell a lot about the early history of the area and its trading partners.  The temple complex behind the main prangs is actually one of my favourites because it is well preserved, fairly peaceful, and offers some fantastic photo opportunities.

Buddha's in symmetry
I like the symmetry of this photo… in the main courtyard of the temple complex.

To get to the temple from Bangkok, get to Ta Tien (the boat pier just in front of Wat Pha Kaew/Grand Palace), and then take one of the small river crossing ferries.  If you are staying in Sukhumvit or anywhere else near the sky train (BTS), the easiest is to take the sky train to Saphan Taksin station, get off and walk towards the river pier, and grab a ferry (orange will be fine) heading north (towards Nonthaburi) and get off at Ta Tien.

If you are lazy, then just book a tour with any Bangkok travel agent, although trust me that it just isn’t the same doing it as part of a large tour group.  Half the fun of travel in Asia is learning to get around yourself.

In terms of costs, the entrance fee is about 50 baht (the last time I went there was a couple of years ago).  The river crossing ferry costs 10 baht each way.  If you catch the orange ferry from Saphan Taksin to Ta Tien, this costs 14 baht (the tourist ferry costs about double but may be better for those who lack confidence getting around in Asia).

This appears to be a Chinese lion with either a knight or nobleman riding on it... highlights the mix of cultures that existed at the time Wat Arun was built.
This appears to be a Chinese lion with either a knight or nobleman riding on it… highlights the mix of cultures that existed at the time Wat Arun was built.

Some final important points:

  • When you first arrive at Wat Arun, you will notice some cut-out figures used for posing for photos.  Don’t take your photo here as it is a scam.  The owner of the cut-outs will suddenly appear and charge you money for the privilege.
  • Wear suitable clothing as you are visiting a very holy site.  Long pants, and for females, nothing too revealing.  If you accidentally do turn up in shorts, you can rent a sarong for the day at reasonable pricing.
  • Be very careful on the incredibly steep staircases on the prangs.  I strongly recommend wearing good footwear if you do plan on going up, and make good use of the hand holds.

A bit of trivia:  Did anyone notice that the name of the village (Bang Makok) is very similar to the Western name for the capital of Thailand (Bangkok)?  The Thai name for their capital is actually Khrung Thep, not Bangkok, and there is confusion as to just why the official Western name is different. One prevailing theory is that during an early Western visit up the Chao Phraya river, a Western official pointed up river and asked his Thai guide what the name of the place was.  He actually was pointing to the area inhabited by the Grand Palace and meant what was the name of the capital, but his guide thought he was pointing to Bang Makok… and the Westerners ever since have stuck with that name.

Temple roof spires
Gorgeous golden roof-tops. The sharp points are to keep evil spirits from entering the building. You will notice most traditional Thai architecture incorporates this design.
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What I have Learned About Blogging So Far

Many of us blog for different reasons.  For some, it is a convenient platform to share our daily lives (especially when travelling) with both existing and new friends.  For others, blogging occurs because all the books on becoming an author dictate that you must build an author platform and use social media (including blogs) to help build that platform and to build a fan base on-line.

My own motivation for blogging falls somewhere in-between.  I love travel, and I love sharing my travel experience.  However, I also write, and I have read my fair share of books on writing and becoming an author.  The decision to set-up a blog that primarily focuses on travel therefore seemed like a natural choice.  In addition, I decided that wordpress.com would be a useful platform because it provides its own large internal community of wordpress.com bloggers and readers who you can very quickly attract as subscribers to your blog (in other words, if your platform seems interesting enough, the fan-base is right there, getting exposed to your posts).

However, my experiences from the last five months highlight that building a subscriber base is a lot more work than I initially thought.  First off, concentrating on building a fan base in a social network that has a high number of aspiring authors (all trying to achieve the same thing) is probably not the best use of my marketing time.  Yes, my dear friends, many (but not all) of you are on here for the same reason as me… to build your own subscriber base and ultimately to build brand loyalty to help sell your own books.

Secondly, posting once a week is not enough.  I normally post a new article each week.  However, during the Christmas holidays, I had some spare time and as a result, I posted a few times per week for awhile.  I noticed that the number of visitors when this happened actually increased dramatically (almost exponentially) compared to when I post once per week.  Posting several times per week evidently makes me a lot more visible and also seems to give a reason for people to check back more regularly.

I also set up a separate hosted site for my publishing company, and on that I installed the wordpress.org interface.  For those that don’t know the difference, wordpress.com (where this blog sits) is more a social non-commercial network of bloggers; while wordpress.org provides the actual wordpress software that you can install on your own server and use to create your own website (including blog(s)) but you are not linked to the wordpress.com blog network, so functions such as reblogging do not work.  For all my Thailand travel related blogs, I copied and reposted them on the publishing site and noticed a very different traffic pattern.  The publishing site seems to get more visitors who are simply looking for travel information, rather than being fellow bloggers.  Even though its newer, it also seems to pull in a lot more traffic per day than my wordpress.com site.  I am not really sure why that is… but the statistics clearly paint the picture… I normally get about 5 to 10 visitors per day to my wordpress.com site (when I post only 1 blog per week).  The blog on the publishing website gets between 20 and 200 different visitors per day (Fridays and Mondays seem to draw the most traffic, and other weekdays usually average around 60-70 whilst weekends vary wildly).

Obviously, traffic to the publishing site relies almost entirely on being picked up via search engines.  However, as the quantity of blogs (and keywords tied to my target audience) increases, and cross-linking increases, the exposure via search engines increases as well.  Of course, search engines can bring in people onto my wordpress.com blog as well (and in fact, at the moment, most visits seem to be courtesy of google).

Anyway, these were some of my experiences.  I thought I’d share, just in case there is anyone else scratching their head, trying to work out this strange world of social networking.  For anyone that has any other tips (and also any experiences that differ from mine), please share 🙂

Cell Phone Etiquette in the Cinema… are you breaking the rules?

I love movies, but in all honesty, I don’t go to the cinema that often any more… However, recently, a friend and I received free tickets to see “The Gunman” starring Sean Penn, so it seemed like a good excuse to go.

However, this also proved to be a reminder as to why I rarely go to cinema these days!!!  Just like you have issues with road rage when driving, it seems that a culture of cinema rage has built up these days as well.  Long gone are the days of going to the movies with friends, sitting at the back and throwing popcorn or Maltesers at other cinema viewers.

You are now wondering… well, so what happened?  Well, I knew some of the people sitting behind us were going to be difficult, because one of them was making a fuss about some people sitting next to him who were checking their mobile phones during the commercials.  Myself and my friend chuckled when we overheard the conversation.

However, later in the movie (at about the 2/3 mark), my friend quickly switches on her mobile phone to check the time.  It was on and off for 2 seconds and held low in the seat.  Immediately, a booming voice pipes up behind us demanding that the phone be switched off immediately.  My friend couldn’t hold her tongue and she responded that she had the right to just quickly check the time.  The response (same loud booming voice) was she was required to keep her phone off at all times during the movie and she didn’t have the right to check her phone.  At this point, I decided to pipe in with my court-room voice and explained that she actually did have such right at said cinema.  The rules required her to keep it on vibrate, but didn’t dictate that it had to be off nor that the screen couldn’t be switched on.  Fortunately that was the end of the discussion during the film.

Afterwards, my friend left her seat to exit and I was behind her.  The booming voice guy sitting behind us sat there and stared at her as she left, as if he was trying to burn her to a crisp with laser beam vision.  Seriously?  Okay, maybe she wasn’t as conscientious as she could have been, but now you are going to resort to trying to stare down a girl?  So I did what any good friend would and I stared back at him, only difference was I was standing full frontal and watching him, so he turns to me and asks me if I had something to say (what, was he expecting an apology?)  Well, fine, I thought, so I suggested to him, how about we go chat to the cinema manager and get him to clarify the rules on mobile phones versus loud talking in the cinema.  He agreed, but made no move to get up, and then switched arguments, claiming now, not that she had broken the rules, but that she was “selfish” for turning her phone on.  Instead, she should have gotten up, left the theatre and then checked her time… really?  we were sitting in the middle, so she would have had to squeeze past a lot of people to do that… disturbing even more people by actually physically blocking their view of the screen as she squeezes past.  Anyway, at this point, I just left.  If I stayed, I would have been tempted to punch out his lights as he was acting a bit aggressively as well (putting his face close up to mine) and I didn’t really want to lose my legal practice certificate over a stupid incident.

Anyway, as I do, I decided to do a bit of research about mobile phone etiquette on the internet.  The results of my research were very interesting.  In the UK for instance, two of the biggest cinema chains (Odeon and Empire) have an express rule that cell phones must be kept off at all times during the movie.  However, also interesting, is that in research conducted in the UK in 2012, only 17.48% of respondents actually stated that they were annoyed by people checking their phone during a movie.  I don’t have the research (just a news report on it) but I assume that means that the other 78% either don’t care or aren’t bothered at all by people checking mobile phones in a film.

For me personally, I do think it is a bit annoying when someone does check their phone during a film.  However, if it is a good movie, I tend to be less likely to notice or be distracted (action films for instance, there is so much flashing etc on the screen that a bit of extra flashing from a phone would go unnoticed.  In a drama (which I typically don’t go to cinema to see), I could see how it could break your concentration… especially if someone spent the whole movie texting to their friend.

However, yelling at someone to turn their phone off is a bigger distraction… to everyone in the cinema.  Perhaps a cough, clearing of the throat etc… but for someone just quickly checking their message or the time… I think even that would be an over-reaction.  I mean, yes, it is annoying, but seriously… let it go.  Just like with road ragers that get worked up about little things that have no consequence, chill out and watch the film, rather than stewing over someone doing something that in the scheme of things, is harmless.  Getting so worked up about little things and feeling the need to vent on that person is also selfish behaviour incidentally.  People really do need to learn how to compromise more.

So for me (and I am a polite and conscientious person), the cinema experience is ruined, not because of people talking on phones, or chatting during the movie, or texting, or eating popcorn noisily etc, but because of cinema ragers who create an unpleasant environment.  Especially when there is a menace to their demeanour and their gestures take on threatening forms.  Cinema used to be such a great social place.  So sad!

So how about you guys?  Anyone else guilty of mobile phone etiquette breaches?

Oh, and what did I think of the movie?  It started off really good, but there were a few holes in the plot that were unforgivable, and the ending was predictable… it started off original, and then morphed into a second rate Bourne Identity.  Still worth watching as Sean Penn is a quality actor, but just lucks out with the roles he lands.