One of the prettiest gems along Bangkok’s muddy Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun outshines its sibling temples not with flamboyancy or magnitude but with its raw earthy architecture. Translated as the Temple of Dawn, its steep compact design makes this structure feel more tower than temple. The simple building material of stone along with the intricacy of tile-work lends a rather archaic feel to the place. In reality, the building is only around 150 years old. (It’s okay though, you can still pretend like you’re climbing up something ancient.)
A sequence of pleasant ferry rides brought me to the temple compound. Once through the gate I was greeted by a shiny round golden Buddha (the happy fat ones that Chinese people like). Off to a good start. From there, the walking space came to a quick shortage and the only direction appeared to be up. Climbing the unthinkably steep stone steps at a gradient of likely 75 degrees, I couldn’t help but think that this place wasn’t designed to accommodate camera wielding tourists but rather for surefooted Buddhist monks. Luckily there were handrails to assist.
There are several sensations you feel when you reach the top. The first is relief and a smattering of pride for climbing up those awfully steep steps. The next is sheer dread and borderline vertigo when you turn around and see what you will eventually have to climb down again. The words “oh shit” comes to mind. Well, put those thoughts away for now and enjoy the view. Something about a riverside cityscape really puts the mind at ease.
The challenge of this structure lies in the stairs. When I said steep, I meant steep. Like triple black diamond steep. Going up is not too bad, but once at the top the thought of descending is all but discouraged at first sight of the view down. You’ll likely overhear some discussion on the best method of going down these steps, from side stepping to climbing down like a ladder, but the technique I found more effective is tackling the bastard like a regular flight of stairs. Stay low, keep your ass close to the stone, and remember that the handrail is your friend. You’ll be down in no time.
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