You don’t have to practice Buddhism to visit a temple in Thailand. Temples are open for visitors of all religions and they all are warmly welcomed by the monks and other people there. However, if you choose to visit Thai temples, there are a few rules of etiquette that should be followed for you to have proper behaviour when visiting temples in Thailand.
Clothing should be slightly loose so that it will be more comfortable to bow to the Buddha images and the monks. When travelling it’s a good idea to bring a shawl to cover your legs or shoulders in case you happen across a temple you would like to explore. Temples are literally everywhere in Thailand. You might find one in a cave to stumble across one in the middle of the jungle. Expensive flashy items such as diamond and gold are best left at home and not worn to the temple. Excessive makeup or perfume should be avoided.
Entering a Thai Temple
Remove your shoes and leave them outside at the steps. Take off and hats, or sunglasses before going inside. The doorways have raised thresholds. Step over the raised threshold, not on it. It’s believed to be home to protective spirits so please don’t step or sit on it.
When you enter the temple locate the principal Buddha image, (the largest Buddha statue) and prostate to that one first. Bow three times with your head touching the floor. If there are monks in the hall you can rotate to them and bow in the same way.
When greeting or saying goodbye, give the highest wai, Thailand’s famous prayer-like gesture with a slight bow, and don’t maintain eye contact. The higher the wai, the more respect shown. Monks aren’t expected to return the gesture. Temples are quiet places for meditation so make sure your voice is soft and your phone is on silent mode.
Inside temples or at a stupas Buddhists practice pradakshina, the practice of going around sacred spaces clockwise. When you go clockwise, you are moving with certain natural forces (in the northern hemisphere) It is believed this helps absorb and reverberate good energy.
Body Language Matters
Always face forward in the temple. Do not turn your back to the Buddha to snap a selfie. Make sure to keep your feet tucked behind you so they don’t point at a monk or the Buddha. Pointing with fingers or feet is considered an insult in many Asian countries including Thailand. You do not stand above a monk as a matter of politeness. Try not to stand while the monks are seated.
Public displays of affection like hugging or kissing are frowned upon. So even if you are at the temple for a Thai wedding blessing, you need to wait until you are outside to kiss!
Unsurprisingly, there are extra rules for the ladies! Women are not allowed to sit next to monks or hand them an offering. Parts of temples or entire temples i.e. the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Sri Suphan, are completely off-limits to women. Women may never touch a monk or his robes. Even hugs from a monk’s own family are forbidden while he is in monkhood. Touching a monk on accident (e.g., brushing against the robes in a crowded place) requires the monk to perform a lengthy cleansing process. If you must hand a monk something (e.g., an offering), put the object down and allow the monk to pick it up. Use your right hand.
Breathe and enjoy the serenity of the sacred space. In Buddhism mindfully existing in the present is a vital way of reducing suffering and promoting good action. Enjoy the calming aura.
Monks don’t earn any money. Monks spend their life studying, meditating and teaching. In return, people can always go to the temple to seek help from a monk. Temples also provide shelter and education for children whose parents can not afford to send them to school. If you’ve enjoyed the temple or taken photographs please leave a small token of your appreciation (20 Baht or more) in one of the donation boxes.