Visiting Thailand’s gorgeous temples is often a highlight of a visit to the country. History, culture, and atmosphere all combine for a uniquely Thai experience.
You don’t have to be Buddhist to visit a Buddhist temple in Thailand. But just because you don’t practice the religion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect it, especially in a place of worship. Following a few simple guidelines will make your visit better for both you and for the Thai worshippers and monks. Below are some tips both for behavior, and for making the most out of a visit.
Go in the morning
This tip has less to do with your behavior than it does ensuring your visit as the best ambience. Arriving early in the morning to one of Thailand’s wats can be an amazing experience. Monks are out receiving their alms at dawn, the sun is rising, and there’s a feeling of calm serenity throughout.
Besides the environment, the air is usually much cooler. Furthermore, there will be fewer tourists early in the morning.
I see far too many tourists wearing clothes that are inappropriate for temples, and usually Thais are too polite to correct them (however, you can also be refused entry). Though the dress code might seem strict by Western standards, remember that it’s all relative. You wouldn’t walk into a Catholic cathedral in your bra or boxers would you? Of course not. Well, wearing inappropriate clothing (shorts, hats, or shoulder-bearing shirts) is the equivalent of that for Thais. Respect it.
Mind the monks
Monks are holy. Going back to the Catholic reference: you wouldn’t flirt with a priest, would you? In a similar vein, women should not touch monks. If I see a monk coming towards me on the sidewalk, I step down into the street as we pass. I don’t make a big deal out of it; I just do it and then step back on, never breaking my stride. Women should not even touch the robes of a monk, so making room helps eliminate that chance.
Besides minding your dress and your way with monks, you should also watch your voice level. Speak quietly, don’t bring food or drink inside, spit out your gum, take off your hat, and generally be on your best behavior. Don’t touch any Buddha statues or holy trees, and remove your shoes when you enter the inside of a temple. (Hint: look for the telltale piles of shoes outside!) Everyone around you will appreciate the effort you take to be respectful.
Get a guide
For larger, more popular temples, such as ones in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, getting a guide can be very helpful for interpreting everything that you see. Guides can point out small details, offer historical context, and explain nuances and subtleties in art and architecture. Hiring a local guide is not only a great way to support local economy, but it will enrich your own experience.
Any more tips for a temple visit in Thailand?