Buddhist temples are a huge part of Thai life and culture, and a big draw for tourists. However, before you step foot inside these sacred structures, there are a few things you should know. Strutting some proper temple etiquette is a great way to show respect, and to make the experience a little more sacred.
1. Think before you dress.
If you’re planning to hit up a few temples, plan your day’s wardrobe carefully. The rules are a little different for men and women, but generally conservative dress is best. No tank tops or short shorts for either gender, and even flip flops can be considered a temple no-no.
For men, the best bets are longer shorts and a sleeved shirt. Women are generally expected to wear sleeved shirts and longer skirts or more demure dresses (still with sleeves). Some temples, namely Wat Phra Kaew, is even more conservative, and only long pants or only dresses are permissible. Luckily, if you make an unexpected temple visit, you can sometimes borrow more suitable clothes, but if you don’t have the proper footwear you’re usually out of luck.
2. Watch your step.
Every temple has a clear threshold, and how you enter it is very important. Never step directly on the threshold, but rather step over it. Thai Buddhists believe the temple threshold is home to holy Buddhist spirits, and disturbing them by stepping on threshold will not earn you any fans.
3. Turn that phone (yourself) on silent.
Thai temples are oases of peace and quiet, but it’s up to you to help keep them that way. Honor the monks and those around you by keeping the volume down.
4. Share the wealth.
Most temples rely on donations. If you had a nice experience, earn some good karma points by giving a little back.
5. No hats, no shoes THEN service.
Take off your hat and shoes when entering a temple. In most cases there will be a pretty obvious place to keep them while you enjoy the temple interior.
6. Mind your fingers.
Pointing is considered quite rude in a temple setting. If you want to draw attention to something, motion toward it with your entire upturned palm instead. Also, remember to use your right hand if possible.
Beyond that just enjoy your experience. The Thai love to share their culture, and you’re even welcome to take pictures in most temples. If you have some lovely Thai temple photos or any additional tips please feel free to share!
Photo available at Asia Explorers.