Observing temple and sacred site etiquette while in Thailand

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Thailand’s temples and other sacred locations of worship are beautiful places to visit, havens of serenity and calm and rich in historical and religious significance. They are held in the highest respect by the Thai people and while tourists are openly welcome, there is a certain etiquette that is expected.

Observing the do’s and don’ts of conduct will enhance your visit and earn the appreciation and gratitude of the Thais.

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Keeping these few pointers in mind will help ensure your visit to any Thai temple or other sacred site is a wonderful experience:

Dress Appropriately – Swimming shorts and tank tops may be the ideal choice for the beach, but such attire should not be worn when visiting a temple. These are, after all, places of religion and visitors are expected to dress appropriately. For men, this means a shirt with sleeves and long pants or shorts that cover the knees. For women, it means a skirt that is longer than knee length and a top that has sleeves, not spaghetti string straps. For both men and women, shoes are the norm or if wearing sandals, these should have a strap at the back.

Remove Shoes – Anyone entering a temple is expected to do so barefoot. Shoe racks or designated spaces to leave your shoes are found outside all temples.

Step over the Temple Threshold – Most temples have a raised threshold, which should be stepped over and not on.

Point Your Feet Away – If sitting in front of a Buddha statue, make sure your feet are pointing away from the statue and never directly toward it, as this is a sign of disrespect. Similarly, pointing the Western way is considered inappropriate in Thailand and thus if you want to point out something, hold out your hand palm upward and point with the four fingers facing forward.

Physical Contact with Monks – Women aren’t allowed to touch a monk or his robes. In the case a female wants to pass something to a monk, she can give it to a male to give to the monk, or put the item down and allow the monk to pick it up.

Taking Photographs – Most temples allow photographs to be taken. But it is important to note that when taking a photo, it’s considered rude to get in anyone’s way to take a shot, especially those who are praying or making a donation.

Respect Buddha Images – These are sacred objects and it goes without saying one should always act in a respectful manner around them. And don’t touch or point at the statue, always walk around it (and any other sacred object) in a clockwise manner and never turn your back to the statue; back away a short distance before getting up and turning around. Also, do not raise yourself higher than the Buddha image.

Other etiquette pointers to make note of:

Remove hats and sunglasses.

Turn off your mobile phone or switch it to silent mode.

Don’t speak loudly or yell.

Don’t smoke, chew gum or munch on snacks while walking around.

*Images of some of the most-visited temples in Thailand