Thailand is a well known Buddhist country where Buddhist temple and monastery can be found in abundance. Here’s some basic do and don’t when visiting Thailand.
The list of do and don’t seems lengthy and intimidating. However, the effort taken to observe them reflects our sincerity as an individual.
Although Thailand is a Buddhist country, not everyone in Thailand is a Buddhist scholar. Folk beliefs had been integrated into daily life along with Buddhist practices. Therefore it is good to know and wise to be considerate towards other’s belief when we are the guest.
RESPECT – A good guest respect his host (see or unseen).
Earnest respect towards others can be felt and will be much appreciated. To show respect, here’s a few golden rule and body language to watch out for when visiting a Buddhist temple.
Leave your shoe outside – shoes carry dust and steps on filth on the road. So we keep an abode clean by leaving dirty shoes at the door steps. DO NOT WEAR SHOES INTO A TEMPLE HALL. (watch out for signs that demarcate places where shoes are not allowed)
Dress modestly – In asian culture, it is impolite to dress revealingly in a temple. Although the tropical heat is hot, but we still need to cover up. An easy way around that is to carry scarf that you can use to cover up yourselves before entering the monastery. Cover up the bare shoulders and wrap a scarf around waist to cover your legs if you are in shorts.
Hats off – It is also considered disrespectful to be wearing a head dress or hat inside a temple hall.
Eating tidbits and enjoying the view – It is not appropriate to eat a bag of chips while strolling in a temple compound.
Object of veneration
Object of venerations are place prominently in a temple hall. For example, Buddha imagery, monk imagery and imagery of past Kings. Do not point your finger at them. If you need to indicate a holy object, use an entire palm. (fingers joined and pointing to the object of veneration)
Do not leave Buddhist articles or books or photos or imagery etc on the floor or low lying places.
Respect any “No-photo” signage.
Do not touch anything on the altar.
It is tempting to take photo of / with giant buddha statue. When doing so, we have to show respect too. Do not climb the statue to pose with them. “Creative” / “naughty” shots like the following will be frowned upon by devout Buddhist in Thailand.
Do not carry Buddhist article below the hip level. Therefore hanging a Buddha image as an accessory at your waist is considered offensive. If you have image of Buddha printed on your shoe, don’t wear it in Thailand. (I would advice against wearing such shoes anywhere else.) If you already have a tattoo of Buddha on your butt, your back or your leg? (don’t flaunt it in public. I also discourage getting such a tattoo in the 1st place)
Inside a prayer or meditation hall
Do not sit pointing your feet towards the image of veneration. If you wish to enjoy the serenity of a Buddhist prayer hall, please ensure your legs are not outstretched and pointing at the object of veneration. That includes the monks who may be sitting there too.
Sit on the floor and at a corner or by the side where there is less human traffic so that you do not block others’ path.
No talking and chatting – Silence is golden. Keep your handphone silent and help preserve the serenity of the temple hall by speaking softly if you must. Otherwise, please do not talk or chat inside the prayer/meditation hall. If you wish to do chanting, do so softly (barely audible) or mentally.
Association with monks
The monks in Thailand are also respected as living legacy of Buddha, it is considered rude to point at a monk with our index finger too.
When interacting with a monk or nun, do so in a manner such that our body is lower than the monk or nun. For example if a monk is seated, you should seat on the floor before starting a conversation with them. Talking to a seated monk while we are standing is considered rude. That’s considered as talking down to them…..
In Thailand, monks are prohibited to have any body contact with women. Even a handshake is not allowed. If a woman needs to give something to a monk. she has to pass the object to man and the man will help hand it to the monk. When that is impossible, she places the object on a piece of cloth or container and the monk will pick it up. (get the idea right?)
Mummified monks and relics
In Buddhism, some practitioners may leave behind relics after cremation or their body may remain intact and free from decomposition. When this happen, the relics or naturally mummified body may also become an object of veneration. Buddhist pay respect to such relics.
Although a Buddhist country, you’ll still find non Buddhist belief being practiced. Therefore not all shrines are Buddhist. If you see these tiny cute houses, they house the local earth bound spirits. Here’s a link where you can read more about them. As a Buddhist, I leave them alone. http://www.bangkok.com/shrines/spirit-houses-four-kinds-of-spirit-house.htm
The Thai loves a good ghost story and belief in the spirit world is much alive. In some cases, spirits that had been tamed by monks are bounded to do good deeds to earn merits. Here’s a link to a famous ghost temple in Thailand. http://www.bangkok.com/shrines/mae-nak-shrine.htm
As a tourist, we may visit but I would not be praying to it. However, if I can respect a fellow Thai friend with a “wai” gesture, I think there is no harm doing so towards a spirit. I think that is basic courtesy.
Donation to a Monastery.
Although Thailand is a Buddhist country, do not expect every citizen to be living saints. If you intend to donate towards the upkeep of monks or monastery do so by dropping your donation inside the donation box within the prayer hall.
Conman and cheats
Beware of conman loitering around a temple pretending to be employed staff or volunteer. They try to collect donation from unsuspecting tourist. Some are so “professional” that they may even issue receipts etc to make their act convincing.
Beware of “kind” taxi divers or tuk tuk driver informing you that the temple attractions are closed to public for whatever reasons. They then offer you a ride to visit a better temple attraction. I wouldn’t jump into their car. Feel free to check out the temple on your own to make sure if it is really closed to the public.
Some temple has designated counters where a blessed amulets can be obtained upon making donation of certain amount. They are usually made by the monks for fund raising purpose. Such amulets are not souvenirs. They are holy objects that can be venerated at an altar. Usually, the Thai Buddhist will wear them as a pendant. Therefore please do not buy them as souvenirs to be used as key chains or bag accessories.
Images of Buddha embracing a consort are tantric. Although popularly depicted in Tibetan Buddhist books, they may offend Thai Buddhist. Please keep them hidden and not on public display when in Thailand.
Therefore walking around a Thai temple in a t-shirt printed with such imagery is in bad taste. I know of Thai Buddhist whom are deeply offended by such imagery. To them such images are blasphemy.