Wat Arun is one of the most popular sites in Bangkok, Thailand, and one of the most photogenic. In fact, it was at the top of my photography checklist when we planned one of our many trips to our favorite Thai city. Most visitors to Wat Arun won’t even see the best view, though, let alone get a photo. In this post, I’ll tell you where you can find that great angle (and what you’ll have to do to get a photo).
Where is Wat Arun?
What Arun is that beautiful temple on the East side of the Chao Phraya River. I’ve already described where it is and the best way to get there in my previous article about Wat Arun. But those directions are for visiting the temple. Even though you can take some great photos there, you won’t capture the one at the beginning of this article. You’re too close to the subject.
Finding the Best Photography Angle for Wat Arun
I first became interested in Wat Arun when I saw a photo that I liked. However, once I arrived at the temple grounds, I quickly realized that I was in the wrong spot. I made the best of the situation, enjoying the scenery and culture, and eating a whole pineapple (don’t judge me, I was dehydrated).
But mostly, I was keeping an eye out for the location where I would need to stand for the perfect shot. In hindsight, it was obvious that I was on the wrong side of the river. I’d been assuming that the photo was taken from the ferry on the way to the temple, but the ferry approached from the north, and the angle was never dead on.
From the temple grounds, I looked across the water, and tried to use my arms to draw a straight line between the temple’s summit and the opposite shore. It looked as though I would have to stand in a run down little wooden building that was hanging out over the water. I didn’t know how I was going to find it, but I knew someone had done it before because I’d seen photos.
Back Across the River
As I returned to the Eastern side of Chao Phraya, I kept my eyes on that building and tried to gauge how far it was to the south of the dock. I walked back out of the ferry building (Google Maps), and turned south down the first alley I saw.
My plan was to use that classic method for navigating a maze: just turn right every time, and you’ll get there eventually!
As it turned out, the alley didn’t actually have that many turns on the right hand side, so I mostly just walked south.
The alley was narrow at times, dark at times, and in some places it was kind of smelly. Often a road would intersect it from the left, and I could see down the street to Wat Pho (another beautiful temple in Bangkok). Only rarely did catch a glimpse of the river through a crack in a fence or a window in a building. I would peak through whenever I could to see if I was getting closer to that perfect head on view of Wat Arun.
A Good (But Not Quite Perfect) Angle
Eventually, I came to a promising location. It had all the hallmarks of a good photography spot. 1) It was on the water. 2) It was open to the public and 3) the owner of the location was willing to let you take photos if you were a customer. I’d found a restaurant called The Deck at Arun Residence (Arun Residence is a hotel).
When the host saw me sticking my head inside, he quickly came over and urged me to enter. So I entered. The Deck at Arun Residence had enormous windows along the Western side of the building, which provided a great view of the river and Wat Arun on the opposite side. There was also a patio outside (reservations required) that would provide an even better view without a windows reflection to obstruct it.
(The prices were reasonable, so a couple days later, Dannie and Lisa came to the restaurant and enjoyed some Italian food. If you think it’s strange to order Italian food at a restaurant in Bangkok, then you probably aren’t there on a visa run during your year in China. The food was good and the staff was friendly and accommodating to us and our daughter. We also discovered that they have a rooftop patio for another good view, though it was crowded and it might be hard to set up a tripod)
By the way, the two photos above are taken from the same window. To find out how I made the temple look closer in the second one, read my article about zoom lenses.
But though the view from the restaurant was excellent, I could tell from looking at the spires around Wat Arun that I still wasn’t lined up quite right. I had to walk further south. I looked at the menu, then made an excuse and left.
So Where is it Already?
Continuing down the alley, I came to a building composed wooden planks separated by gaps of up to an inch. The structure hung out over the water, and I could see the river through the floor. I couldn’t tell whether it was a home or a business, but there was a kitchen inside. The building didn’t really have much in the way of walls, and inside, nailed to a wooden beam I saw this sign:
I had a feeling this was the right spot. I called out, but no one answered me, so I took a photo of the sign. I kept walking down the street, for a while just to make sure I’d gone the right distance and soon found that I’d passed the temple. That must have been it.
I went back and decided to risk being caught trespassing, I stepped carefully through the entrance and peered around a corner toward the river. I could see the Wat Arun, the spires lined up perfectly, indicating that this was indeed directly across from the target. I couldn’t call the phone number on the sign, but I was eager to pay 100TBT to take a great photo.
I tried to ask around, but no one nearby spoke English, and I don’t speak any Thai. Eventually, someone pointed at that location and said “seven” I took that to mean that the owner would be there at seven pm, so I made plans to return then and get my shot.
I saved the location here on Google Maps so I wouldn’t have to walk down the alley again to find it. The platform that you have to stand on doesn’t feel particularly secure, and the planks are pretty far apart. If you have kids with you, you are probably better off going to that restaurant for photos.
What to Bring
Here’s what you’re going to want to have with you when you set out to find that location and take your photos.
- 100 Thai Baht: Don’t be a trespassing jerk. Pay the woman who lives there if you want to use her dock to take pictures. If she’s not there, come back again later. It’s not public property. Don’t assume they’ll have change for 1000.
- Your Camera and Lens: I used my Nikon D810 with a 24-70mm lens, fully extended at 70mm. I honestly might have zoomed further, but it would have meant using a heavier lens, and I was worried about balancing it all on that dock.
- Your Tripod: Any tripod will do (I won’t link you to mine because I hate it). Just keep in mind that the dock sways a little bit when a a big boat goes by, so if your exposure is too long there will be some blurring. I mostly used the tripod because I wanted to do an HDR image and a time lapse video (see below).
- Sunblock: This is self explanatory, as Bangkok can be quite sunny. We usually use this baby safe sunblock when we travel, but anything SPF 50 or higher will protect you.
- Water: I wouldn’t drink the river water if I were you. Maybe buy a bottle before you head out.
- Your Smartphone: I went to the trouble to get you those Google Maps coordinates. You might as well use them.
When to Photograph Wat Arun
Basically you want to go at sunset. Show up at least 20 minutes early though to make sure you can find the woman who lives there. Also, I was glad I got there in time because another photographer showed up after me and I’d already staked out the best spot.
This link should tell you the time of sunset in Bangkok tonight.
I just thought I’d mention here that if you aren’t confident shooting in tricky lighting situations, you might want to check out my ebook, Easy Manual Mode Photography, which will help you take the guesswork out of creating your images.
So that’s about it. Grab your camera and track down the house opposite Wat Arun. If you found this article helpful, check out the rest of our material about Bangkok, Thailand, or the other cities we’ve visited on our destinations page. If you’d like to help support us in our travels, consider heading over to our shop the next time you are planning a trip. Happy travels!