Buddhism in Thailand: Temple Etiquette

Author: tamarindcandy

Are you up for a temple-crawl around Chiang Mai? Great! So am I-there’re entire streets lined to either side with nothing but temples. If you’re interested in Buddhism and Thai architecture, you’ll be in for a treat. Before we get around to where to find those temples and which ones you should consider visiting, though, you might want to keep a few things in mind to make your sightseeing as smooth as possible.

1. Temple dress code.

What do you wear in a Buddhist temple? It’s not that Buddhists are prudes who hate your bodies or think everyone should cover up from neck to toe, promise. It’s just that you wouldn’t wear bikini briefs to a church, a graduation ceremony, or a funeral either (unless you want to be politely asked to leave), would you? So put on something, they aren’t strict. T-Shirt and jeans, the standard-issue uniform of tourists everywhere, will be fine. Shorts are okay as long as they’re of a reasonable length.

2. Cameras.

Some temples’ halls house relics and antiques, which can be damaged by camera flashes. They will therefore put up signs requesting that you not take pictures. It’s a simple rule, and easy enough to comply with.

3. “No entry.”

Buddhist monks are celibate and certain parts of temples are barred to women. Yes, it’s not a model of feminism, but visiting Thailand for a vacation is neither the time nor the place to advance the women’s movement cause.

4. Basic courtesy.

Again, monks take their celibacy seriously; this means no contact with women, though in general regardless of your gender you shouldn’t be trying to shake hands with them in any case so men shouldn’t be grabbing at them either. Likewise, even if you are an atheist or a Christian, please try to respect the icons and representations of Buddha or Hindu gods. No touching, handling, climbing, or creative redecorations.

5. Off with the shoes!

This isn’t just for temples but for Thai houses, several establishments and restaurants: take off the shoes. They don’t really want you to track the dirt, mud, and possibly animal droppings onto their nice clean floors and carpets, and you wouldn’t want to walk in those either. It’s a sensible custom. Try it at home sometime.

6. Leave something.

A few coins in the donation boxes or a small bank note or two. Think of it as an admission fee-those lovely roofs and finials have to be maintained, after all, and they can’t do it on empty air. Every little bit helps! Take out some of that cash you were going to spend on a cup of Starbucks and distribute it across several temples. You can still get nice coffee from a non-franchise café (it’ll taste just as good if not much better) for half the price of Starbucks. Some temples have shops attached to them and, usually, if you buy souvenirs from those parts of the earnings will also go to the temple, if you don’t feel like just giving away small change.

Simple, right? None of this is a hard-and-fast rule-all you need is to arm yourself with that greatest of weapons: common sense. Don’t be that guy; don’t be the stereotypical rude tourist nobody likes. Besides, you don’t really want awkward incidents to disrupt your Chiang Mai holiday!


Joanne Chong works in Business Development as an expert at the Empress Hotels Group, a family of Chiang Mai luxury hotels providing the best value for three/four-star Chiang Mai accommodation suited for Chiang Mai holidays and long-stays, convention facilities and fine dining in the city center.

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