Thailand is a relaxed country. That’s why many tourists seem surprised when they visit a Thai temple and discover there are many rules. Some tourists try to get around the rules, but find out quickly that Thais won’t allow this to happen.
As Buddhists, Thais take great care of their religion and their temples and hope you will too. So, if you plan to visit a Buddhist temple in Thailand (and you probably will, as there are tens of thousands of them), follow these quick etiquette rules and you too will know how to visit a Thai temple correctly.
Dress Appropriately – When you visit most Thai temples, you will be expected to dress appropriately. For men, that means no short shorts and no tank tops (shirts must have sleeves) and, if the temple you are visiting is Wat Phra Kaew, you will be expected to wear long pants, and sandals with a strap at the back (i.e.: no flip flops).
For women, you must wear a skirt that is longer than knee length and you are not allowed to wear pants. Shirts must also have sleeves; no spaghetti string straps allowed. Also, sandals are acceptable, but must have a strap around the back (again, no flip flops or backless sandals allowed).
If you arrive at Wat Phra Kaew wearing unsuitable clothes, you will be able to borrow something suitable, but if you have incorrect shoes you will not be allowed to enter the temple.
Other temples also will often have pants you can borrow. For me though, I don’t like wearing clothes other people have worn, so I always make sure I’m properly dressed.
Keep The Noise Down – Running around making a lot of noise will not be tolerated. Behave respectfully. If you have children with you, also make sure they don’t run around shouting too much although small lapses will be allowed for tiny children, as Thais love kids.
Remove Shoes When Entering The Temple – Outside every temple, you will see shoe racks where you can place your shoes when you take them off.
Don’t worry, you can safely leave them there – they won’t have disappeared when you get back. Everyone going inside a Thai temple is expected to be barefoot as it shows respect to Buddha.
Step Over The Threshold and Not On It – There is a raised threshold to most Thai temples and you’ll notice Thai people step over it. Don’t step on the threshold when you walk into the temple, but step over it also. Thais believe that holy Buddhist spirits live inside the threshold so don’t stop on it for fear of disturbing them.
Sit With Feet Pointing Away From Buddha Statues – You will notice when you visit Thai temples that most people sit on the floor with their feet pointing behind them, i.e.: away from the Buddha statues. Feet are deemed as being unclean in Thailand and pointing your feet at any one is very disrespectful.
Pointing your feet at a Buddha statue is the height of disrespect so make sure, if you sit down, that your feet are not pointing at the Buddha.
Women Should Never Touch Monks – In Thai Buddhism, women are not allowed to touch a monk. So, if you are female, don’t sit next to a monk, don’t touch a monk and, if a monk is walking towards you, politely step to one side so they can safely pass without touching you.
If you want to give something to a monk and you are female, you must either give it to a man to pass on to the monk for you, or place it on a special cloth that will be offered to you by the monk. This way, the monk can pull the cloth towards him and pick up the item from the cloth, without touching you.
Don’t Point – It is rude in Thailand if you point the Western way. If you want to point out something in a temple to someone else, hold out your hand with the palm facing upwards and point to the object with all four fingers facing forward.
You Can Take Photographs – Surprisingly, it’s allowed in most temples to take photographs, even during elaborate ceremonies. You’ll see Thais happily snapping away too.
Just make sure you don’t get in anyone’s way, especially those who are making merit (praying and donating) as this is considered rude.
The only temple I have been to in Thailand where you are not allowed to take photographs is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha but, if you’re not sure, just check around the door before you walk into the temple. There will be big signs up in English and in Thai if photos aren’t allowed.
Thai temples are beautiful buildings and interesting to visit. Just follow these few simple etiquette rules, and you will have no problem. Don’t forget too, if you do make a mistake, just smile and apologize and all will be forgiven.