If you are traveling to Thailand, most probably you will visit a temple or few of them in Bangkok, in Chiang Mai or somewhere else. You don’t have to practice Buddhism religion to visit Thai temple. All temples are open for visitors of all religions and they all are warmly welcomed by the monks and other people there.
Rules to be followed at Thai temples
However, if you are foreign to Thai temples and Thai Culture, there are a few rules of etiquette that should be followed for you to have a proper behavior.
1. Dress Appropriately
Most tourists ignore this rule due to the heat in Thailand. When you visit Thai temples, you are expected to dress appropriately. Women should wear skirts longer than knee length or long pants. Long pants should be worn by men too. Both, men and women should cover their shoulders. Sandals are acceptable in some temples. Clothing shouldn’t be too loose or too tight for it to be convenient for worshiping and meditation.
If the temple you are visiting is Wat Phra Kaew, there is a strict dress code. Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves. Women must wear long skirts or long pants to cover up their knees, but no tight leggings are allowed. Shoulders should be kept covered and no see-through clothes, sleeveless tops can be worn.
If you visit the temple wearing unsuitable clothes, some bigger temples may provide you clothes to cover yourself up properly for a small fee.
2. Take off your shoes, hat, sunglasses
Take off your shoes before entering to the main building of the temple. Most temples will have a space for leaving your shoes. You can keep wearing socks. The same rule goes to the hats and sunglasses when going inside the temple.
3. Remain silent
Temple is a sacred place. Many people come here for praying and meditating, so it’s better to avoid loud chatter and to keep your phone off or set on silent while visiting the temple.
4. Do not point, either with fingers or feet
You should not point, either with fingers or feet, at a monk or Buddha statue or even other people. To indicate something, use the right hand with the palm facing upwards. Feet are considered the lower and dirty part of the body. For this reason, if you sit to talk to the monk, never sit higher than the monk. When sitting, men should cross their legs and women should kneel with their toes backwards.
5. Do not touch
Don’t touch or climb on Buddha statues. It is an inappropriate act. Keep a respectful distance and don’t get too close to a Buddha statue when taking a picture.
6. Be Respectful in the Temple
Buddhists of different countries pay homage to the Buddha in a variety of ways. Local Thais do it with making “Wai” 3 times. If you are a foreigner and don't know how to do it, bowing to Buddha’s statue or a monk is enough. Keep your head below the level of Buddha statues, images, honorable monks or nuns, to show respect. Letting your head rise above the Buddha is considered disrespectful.
7. Get permission before taking pictures
Taking photos of the temple and Buddha images is typically allowed in Thailand. But in some worship areas photos are not usually allowed. Before taking a photo, look for the temple’s rules written outside on noticeboards or just ask someone. Try not to take photos while worshipers are praying. Don’t take a selfie in the temple as it’s really disrespectful.
8. No expressions of affection in the temple
As you may know, public displays of affection are not appropriate in Thai culture so temples are definitely not the place for that.
9. Food and Drinks
Alcohol and smoking is prohibited anywhere in the temple complex and surrounding areas.
10. Give a donation
Almost every temple has a small box for receiving donations. If you enjoyed your visit, donating a small amount with some coin would be nice.
Advice for women
- In Buddhist culture, you should never touch a monk or his robes.
- If you want to give something to a monk, you must give it to a man to pass on to the monk, or place it at some place; you cannot give it to the monk directly.
- Women are not allowed to sit next to a monk.
- Women are not allowed to enter some areas of the temple.