Temple Etiquette: How to Behave at Thailand’s Temples

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Rooted in Respect: The Slumber Guide to Thai Temple Etiquette

A visit to one of Thailand’s ornate temples is a real highlight of any trip to the country. There are a few simple rules to follow when you make a visit to one of these wonderful places. Temple etiquette doesn’t take much effort and is very appreciated by locals and monks alike.

The shining white stupas, the gleaming gold decorations, the orange-robed monks meditating in brightly-painted prayer halls. A visit to one of Thailand’s many beautiful temples is a memorable and unique event which should not be missed.

Buddhism is a conservative religion, however, and there are a few basic rules to follow when you visit a temple in Thailand. Following these guidelines will show respect to local people and help you enjoy your outing to the max.

Temple etiquette in Thailand

Dress Appropriately

The first thing to think about when you’re planning your visit to a temple is to choose your clothes carefully. Women should make sure they cover their shoulders and knees (a calf-length skirt is fine), and men should wear a t-shirt rather than a vest top. Do your clothes have to be somber colors and designs? No, but steer away from any overly ‘liberal’ logos or images that might cause offence. If your nan would be OK with it then it’s probably OK for a temple!

Show Off Your Toes

When you get to the entrance you’ll probably see a weird and wonderful collection of sandals waiting outside. It’s time for your footwear to join them! Kick off your shoes and embrace the barefoot lifestyle inside. In the middle of the day it can be hot underfoot so try and stay in the shade round the edges of the compounds. If the temple is popular it may well have cloth matting laid down to help you get around without singeing yourself.

Keep the Peace

One of the best things about a Thai temple is the feeling of peace and quiet. This is a place for calm contemplation rather than an impromptu stand-up routine. Gold in Buddhism represents purity, so keep this in mind when walking among the intricate architecture and sacred areas. Shouting and raucous laughter aren’t against the rules per se, but they’re disrespectful to other worshippers and may upset other visitors and resident monks. Save the Khao San anecdotes for the beach bar afterwards!

Buddha is Sacred

It might sound obvious but a key part of temple etiquette is showing respect to Buddha. Never point your feet at any images featuring Buddha, and don’t turn your back on the images in close proximity. Don’t sit on any platforms that are higher than a Buddha statue and don’t carry any statues with you either on temple property or when leaving the country – it’s illegal and carries a hefty fine.

So, what CAN you do?

We’ve talked a lot about what you can’t do in Thai temples, but what can you do? You can wander the compounds and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, admiring the ornate decorations and joining in with locals at prayer and meditation. You can enjoy ‘monk chat’ and debate theology and religion with English-speaking brothers who live in the temple grounds.

But the best thing is that unlike Buddhist temples in Japan, you are perfectly at liberty here to take as many photos as you want (as long as there are no signs that say otherwise). So, charge up your camera and get ready for a treat.

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