Temple Etiquette in Thailand

Soft, palm-fringed white sand beaches, golden temples that glitter in the sunlight, smiling faces, a cuisine that is hot and sweet at the same time, and a rich vibrant culture that is unforgettable…this is just some of what awaits visitors that journey to amazing Thailand.

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Thailand’s temples are an integral part of the country’s culture.   Approximately 95% of the population of Thailand is Theravada Buddhist and they believe that this is the closest to the original teachings of the Buddha.  As a result, Thailand is brimming with temples or wats.  There are more than 33,000 active temples in Thailand, some modern and others of great historic significance; there are also numerous temples that have been preserved as archeological sites.

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Visiting a temple for the first time is an amazing experience that gives visitors an inside look at this fascinating ancient culture. In general, Thais are very easy going and rarely offended; however, there are rules of etiquette that should be followed when entering a wat or temple.  These rules are straight forward with some being based on common sense and others based on local and cultural beliefs and traditions.

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Temple Etiquette - Clothing

The general rule is that both men and women should cover their shoulders and knees; ideally covering your ankles as well.

  •  Dress modestly. Do not wear a shirt that bears your shoulders or upper arms. A t-shirt, collared or polo shirt is fine, a tank top is not.
  • Wear long pants (trousers, capris) or a knee-length long skirt to cover your legs when entering a temple. If you visit a temple in shorts you will have to purchase a cover-up.

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  • Do not wear flip-flops to a temple; wear proper shoes with socks.
  • When entering any temple building, shoes must come off. You can leave your socks on (a good thing because temple floors can get hot), so you might want to bring another pair.

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Temple Etiquette - In General

  • Always be respectful in front of a Buddha image.
  • Do not step on any threshold when entering wat buildings, because Thai people believe one of the nine spirits that live in the temple resides in the threshold.  It is considered bad manners and bad luck to place your foot on a raised threshold.
  • No matter how small, you must never sit with your feet pointing at a niche or Buddha image.
  • According to Buddhist tradition, never touch a monk if you are a woman.

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  • If are a woman and you want to give something to a monk give the item to a man and have him pass it on to the monk.
  • Do not point using your index finger as this is considered impolite.  To point something out in a temple hold out your hand with the palm facing upward and four fingers pointing forward.
  • In most temples photos are permitted, but when in doubt check the signs near the entrance of the temple.  That said never take a selfie with a Buddha and never take a photo of worshipers.

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Tours of Distinction is offering a small group tour with a maximum of twenty people to Thailand February 12-24.  “The Grand Tour of Thailand” includes roundtrip International and Domestic air, transfers, 11 nights in superior accommodations, 25 meals, drinking water, and cold towels daily, ToD Professional Tour Director, gratuities for Tour Director, local guides, and drivers.  Excursions include tours of Bangkok, Local Khlongs, Thai countryside, a rubber plantation, visits to Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, Hilltribe Community, Gibbon Rehabilitation Center, Ayutthaya, Chaing Mai, and a walking tour in Phuket.