Temple Etiquette, Thailand

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Buddhism was introduced to Thailand more than 2000 years ago and plays a pivotal daily role in the Land of Smiles where Buddha’s way of life forms part of 95% of the population’s lives. There are 40 717 Buddhist temples in Thailand, about 200 000 monks, 85 000 novices and more than 20 million visitors a year but there is one problem: Respect. Or rather, the lack of respect. 

TempThai1bWat Yai Chai Mongkhon

The first thing one can do to understand a religion is to respect it.

But too often the attitudes, behaviours and presence of visitors shout the total opposite of respect. Monks get disturbed mid-ritual by loud mouths, cameras are raised, selfie sticks rule the day, skin is exposed, inappropriateness is common and temple etiquette is out of the window.

TempThai2aWat Chiang Man

The temples in Thailand are impossible to miss. The architectural masterpieces are everywhere; some glitter in gold while others are 500-year old ruins. No trip to Thailand is complete without finding a quiet corner on the temple grounds and soaking it all in; the smell of the incense, the chants and the sights.  

TempThai12bWat Phra Sri Sanphet

Just remember to pace yourself with your number of temple visits to prevent “temple burnout” and always be respectful. Below is a list of basic temple etiquette to keep in mind when visiting a place of worship in Thailand but it also applies to general travel etiquette for Thailand.

TempThai8Wat Ratchanatdaram

Visiting Temples in Thailand: 10 Commandments

TempThai6aWat Pho

#1 – Thou shalt showeth respect for the local culture, religion, people and traditions.

#2 – Thou shalt not appeareth semi-naked; thou shalt covereth thy butt, knees, chest and shoulders.

#3 – Thou shalt haveth manners and not shove thy camera into a monk’s face.

#4 – Thou shalt remove thy shoes when entering the worship area.

#5 – Thou shalt not be higher than a Buddha statue.

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Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

#6 – Thou female fingers shalt not touch a monk or his robe.

#7 – Thou shalt not point to a monk or Buddha statue with thy fingers or feet.

#8 – Thou shalt not disturb or get in the way of worshippers.

#9 – Thou shalt keepeth the peace and keepeth the noise down.

#10 – Thou shalt not pose with thy loved one for a photo while showing public affection.

TempThai3aWat Chedi Luang

Temple Etiquette: Bonus Commandment

#11 – Thou shalt use thy common sense.

TempThai11Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Favourite Temples in Thailand

There is far more to Thailand than temples and temple visits might not tickle everyone’s fancy, but for me it’s a window into the soul of a country. During my time in Thailand I positioned myself to see a few temples but I also stumbled upon a lot of temples by accident. Here are a few of my favourite temples (and temple ruins) in Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

TempThai10aWat Mahathat

Bangkok

Wat Bovorn Nive

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The temple with Buddha’s footprint.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

The temple with the reclining Buddha.

Wat Ratchanatdaram

Wat Ratchanatdaram

The temple made from iron.

Wat Saket

Wat Saket

The golden mountain temple with all the steps.

Ayutthaya

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

The most historically important temple in Ayutthaya.

Wat Mahathat

temple etiquette Thailand

The temple with Buddha’s head in the roots of a tree.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

temple etiquette Thailand

The temple where the Buddhas are lined up in orange robes.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

temple etiquette Thailand

The one with the remarkable square Chedi.

Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Khun

white temple Chiang Rai

The White Temple that may cause temporary blindness.

Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang

temple etiquette Thailand

The temple that got shaken by an earthquake.

Wat Chiang Man

temple etiquette Thailand

The temple with all the elephant statues.

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Whatever you do in Thailand, wherever you go, whoever you meet, always show respect. Respect the buildings, respect the animals, respect their way of life and respect the people of Thailand. And remember to enjoy, explore and have a smile on your face in The Land of Smiles.

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Read more about my visit to Wat Rong Khun, the White Temple in Chiang Rai and read about the enlightened cats of Thailand’s temples.

TempThai6bWat Pho
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
TempThai4Wat Bovorn Nive