Etiquette for Visiting Thai Buddhist Temples

Do's and Don't s when you visit a Thai Temple

Etiquette for Visiting Buddhist Temples in Thailand

There are certain protocols and etiquette when you visit a Buddhist Temple in Thailand and have an audience with a Monk. Thailand is a 95% Buddhist country, with the local people having a special reverence to the Monks and Temples that they use for worship. As a Visitor to Thailand you want to make sure you learn the etiquette and local traditions when visiting a Buddhist Temple in Thailand

Rules When Visiting Thai Temples

Thailand is full of beautiful Buddhist Temples in every city that are often free or cost very little to visit.  Visiting a Buddhist Temple you will find yourself surrounded with history, intrigue, impressive architecture and carved reliefs, many temples are wonders.  Most Thai Temples are peaceful and quiet, and wandering the grounds of a temple while lost in your own thoughts can be a meditative experience, no matter what your religious beliefs are.

You don’t have to practice Buddhism in order to take advantage of the for visiting Thai temple. All temples are open for visitors of all religions and they all are warmly welcomed by the monks and other people there. However, if you are foreign to Thai temples and culture, there are a few rules of etiquette that should be followed for you to show the respect and engage in proper behavior when visiting temples in Thailand.

We will cover some of the Basic Do’s and Don’t when visiting a Buddhist Temple in Thailand, and then extend those protocols if you are lucky enough to be getting a Sak Yant by a Monk at a Thai Temple.

Etiquette for Visiting Buddhist Temples

Rules for Visiting Buddhist Temples in Thailand

Some of these rules for visiting Buddhist Temples in Thailand are common sense and others might seem odd to the foreigner visitor.  Never the less, being disrespectful to the Temples and Monks is an indiscretion you do not want to make during your travels.

Always keep in Mind, no matter how liberal the country is where you come from – there is a class system in Thailand – You are NOT EQUAL to a Monk. Think about how you would act towards a judge in a court of law, who looks as if they might let you off with a warning for some indiscretion, and is just waiting for you to give them any reason to throw the book at you.

There are certain things you need to do and don’t do when you go to visit a Thai Temple or you have an audience with a Thai Monk.  This is especially true when requesting a Sak Yant Tattoo.

Rules for a Visit to a Thai Temple | Buddhist Temple

1) How to Show Respect at a Thai Buddhist Temple

Remove Distractions

Turn off mobile phones, remove headphones, lower your voice, avoid inappropriate conversation, remove hats, and no smoking or chewing gum. You are entering a consecrated area, where locals go to commune with the sacred, so any hint of irreverence might cause deep offense.

Respect the Buddha Statues

Never touch, sit near, or climb on a Buddha statue or the raised platform the statue sits on. Get permission before taking photographs and never do so during worship. When exiting, you should walk backwards and get some distance between you and the Buddha before turning your back.

Don’t Point

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.  When sitting, men should cross their legs and women should kneel with their toes backwards. Pointing at things or people around the temple is considered extremely rude. . When sitting, never point your feet at a person or image of Buddha.

No Public Displays of Affection.

Public displays of affection is considered low class behavior in Thai Culture.  It goes without saying that visiting a Buddhist Temple in Thailand you are on holy grounds. Reframe from this cultural taboo especially at a Buddhist Temple

 

2) Dress Appropriately at a Thai Buddhist Temple

Most tourists can forget 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.

Clothes in plain colors are recommended.  Black is a funeral color so best to not wear black clothing.  If you visit the temple wearing unsuitable clothes, some bigger temples may provide you clothes to cover yourself up properly for a small fee.

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.

How-to-Dress-at-a-Thai-Temple

3) Etiquette when Interacting with a Buddhist Monk at a Thai Temple

Greet the Monk with a Wai

When you greet a monk, you “Wai” and keep your body lower than their position, it is polite to be the first to wai as is a sign of respect to the monk or elder.

First thing you have to do is bow 3 times to respect as Buddhism way;

1 for Buddha
2 for Buddhism and
3 for Monks

sak-yant-blessing
Remain Lower than the Monk

Buddhist Monks at Thailand Temples hold a position of authority.  One of the things you do to show your acceptance of this is to always remain lower than the Monk.  When they are seated on a raised platform you sit in front of them in a sitting or kneeing position

Don’t Eat

Monks have to eat before noon, so be mindful that snacking on food and drink in their presence is considered impolite.

Women do not Touch Buddhist Monks in Thailand

You may have heard, Monks don’t touch women, including his own mother. This is a misunderstood aspect.  Buddhist Monks can not touch a women if it is likely to invoke sexual thoughts.  Obviously their are old Monks, Gay Monks and Monks with sufficient purity that this is not an issue.  Look at any photo of the most famous Monk in the world the Dali Lama.  He is always touching females. 

However in Thai culture they go the extra step of looking badly on holy men touching females, so many Monks just don’t to avoid local gossip and any potential trouble.  This is particularly true in the Temple grounds. 

Do’s and Don’ts Etiquette when Visiting Buddhist Temples

Dos for Visiting Buddhist Temples in Thailand

 

  • Do remove hats, sunglasses, and shoes when entering a worship area.
  • Do silence your mobile phone, remove headphones, and lower your voice.
  • Do show respect; now is not the time to share the latest joke you just heard.
  • Do step over the wooden threshold to the temple rather than on top of it.
  • Do stand up when monks or nuns enter the room.

Don’ts for Visiting Buddhist Temples in Thailand

  • Don’t point at a monk or Buddha statue, either with fingers, feet, or something in your hands.
  • Don’t touch or turn your back to an image of Buddha.
  • Don’t smoke, spit, chew gum, or snack while walking around. Many Theravada monks do not eat after noon.
  • Don’t disturb monks or anyone else who came to worship.
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