Places to Shoot in Bangkok: Part 2 Wat Arun

Greetings to all Chromacoma brethren,

As hard as it is to believe, we now found ourselves in September.  The year is truly whizzing by and I am reminded once again that life moves pretty fast (at least that what Ferris Bueller always told me when I was a younger).  So, I have sat down today in earnest to add another chapter in the guide with specifics about a photogenic Bangkok spot that might take your fancy.

chromacomaphoto street photography bangkok thailand tri x 400 nikon f2 35mm ais Wat Arun Black and White.JPG

‘Wat Arun’ loosely translates to mean ‘temple dawn’ and so is often paraphrased into more elaborate and grandiose English translations along such lines as ‘Temple of The Morning Dawn’ etc.

I find that the longer you live here, the more tiresome and trite these standard tourist translations become but whatever floats your boat.

Speaking of boats, one suspects that on a photographic jaunt to shoot Wat Arun, you might well be needing one so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. This temple is actually on the opposite side of the river to where more than 90% of tourists to Bangkok are likely to be. This isn’t entirely a bad thing however as it gives you the opportunity to shoot it from afar with the Chao Phraya river in the foreground, as is the case for most shots of this place that you’ll find anywhere on the net.

To be specific, Wat Arun is over on the Nonthaburi (west side) of the river Chao Praya, and right up against the river. It is in what locals would probably refer to as ‘Bangkok Noi’ and can be accessed from the ‘Arun Amarin’ road there. Any taxi (even a bad one) will eventually pretty much have to take you to that road eventually to get there. However, land access to the temple is not your best bet, photographically speaking. I would recommend that you shoot it from the river side. In doing this, I would then go further and suggest that you choose one of the following: from the opposite side of the river with a long or wide lens (depending on your desired result but longer glass and tripod might work out okay here) or from a boat on the way past.

 In the case of the latter, you can either charter a private boat (difficult not to get fleeced when trying to find a private long tail boat hire charter in Bangkok city limits at touristy spots, at least you could also double up though and get the guy to take you out for a few hours along small waterways all around West Bangkok for maximum Nat-Geographic shot potential!) or simply plan to be on public access boats on the river and shoot as you go past. To be perfectly clear,  the standard express boats all actually stop direct at Wat Arun also but you get a good shooting opportunity of it just as you arrive ordepart on the boat and it depends on chance as to who or what is in your way. The shot at the top of this post was taken just as the boat was leaving on its way northbound to the next stop. You would need to be on the left (should be portside right?) of the boat coming up from Saphan Taksin BTS station (Sathorn) public pier and on the right (starboard it is then) if you were coming down from the North, basically anywhere much north of Khao San road or Thewet area.

 As a general rule of thumb, the easiest tourist option is to take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and then follow the signs down the very short walk to get on at the Sathorn pier heading north. Any orange flag boat going north for a few baht per head will get you going to (and/or past) Wat Arun and it will appear about 25 minutes into the journey (left/port) depending on the time of day, so you have plenty of time to hustle yourself into a spare ‘window’ seat on that side of the boat (there actually are no windows so it’s great for shooting. It’s almost directly opposite the famous ‘Wat Pho’ at around about pier 8. If it’s raining hard all bets are off as they will lower clear plastic sheeting over the open sides of the boat making photography a no-go anyway. This can get you in some really nice spots to shoot it as you go by. You could also get the larger (often double-decker) tourist boat that leaves from there and get the same result, there are likely to be more people with cameras looking to get good spots to shoot from on those boats however.

So back to the opposite river bank options then:  Close to (and around)  the Tha Tien pier is the area facing Wat Arun on the Bangkok side of the river. Here there is a plethora of small bars and cafes/restaurants that pay a premium to run their businesses here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful adjacent view of one of Thailand’s most beautiful temples. Many people are simply happy to just shoot from here. If you do choose this option then you might want to be aware of the thing that other people never seem to point out on the net, the sun will behind the temple as you look at it from this (Bangkok) side of the river. Likewise, the sun rises over the city in the morning, not from behind the temple. This information is not always clearly pointed out on touristy guides as it’s perhaps not as relevant to them as it would be for those specifically heading there with a view to taking pictures!

If you would prefer to get up close and personal with the temple itself, that is quite understandable. You can get the direct ferry over the river from pier 8 for just a few baht, quite literally (I think it’s less than five baht each per person, each way). For tourists, and depending on a number of very Thai variables, you will probably have to pay around 100 baht to be allowed into the grounds themselves. Be advised that you will not be allowed in if you are showing too much flesh and so covering up shoulders and legs is a must. No shorts or vests etc will be allowed in and this applies to men and women equally. If you really struggle, there are often places renting out simple items of clothing to cover you up a little more but it’s best to simply dress appropriately from the outset. Also, please bear in mind that it is a significant location for Thai Buddhists and has the status of a fully-fledged holy place for them so you should always behave respectfully at all times when at the temple, and also in the beautiful garden grounds there.  It is often quoted that the opening times are from 8:30 am to 5:30pm but in practice I have often found that it actually stays open until 6pm.  It’s more of a walk around the outside looking in kind of temple rather than a go inside for a peek kind of place. Not a problem for photographers of course.

If you are going in this close, I would suggest adjusting your equipment accordingly and certainly be equipped with something quite wide in the lens department. Although the temple looks only medium sized from afar, it is certainly a large subject once you are over that side of the river and in its midst.

The temple itself is actually quite different in terms of both design and colours when compared to other Thai temples. It is from the 18th century and is quite an exception to the ‘seen one Thai temple and you’ve seen them all’ rule and I highly recommend it if you’ve never been before. It’s beautiful early in the morning (given the name, not really hard to guess why) but it also looks pretty darned amazing at night as it is well illuminated. In the monsoon season, if the afternoon rains have subsided before sunset, then the colours of the night sky on the run up to sunset can be a truly stunning and ethereal palette for your temple shot background. Long exposure gifts aplenty for the patient. Basically, go early or go late as the harsh overhead Thai sun of midday doesn’t always make for great photos, and the heat outside will test you…unless it’s an overcast day of course. For the morning shooters, you will also get the benefit of it being quieter, the crowds can really swell later on during the high season, consider yourself duly warned.

All in all, with a little bit of planning and a modicum of luck, you should do very well at Wat Arun.

CCP