Temples are a popular tourist attraction in Thailand, and it’s easy to see why with the beautifully decorated temples and chedies (the large cone shaped shrines) ornate in gold, the relaxed peaceful ambience and the soothing mantras echoing through the grounds whilst the monks are in prayer or blessing temple goers.
It can be a little daunting if you’re not sure of protocol, so here’s a few tips to help you fit into this very spiritual attraction.
Women should cover up
Keep exposed skin to a minimum (head shawls not required!) . This is a consideration for monks who abstain from sex, many of which have done so for many years. It is a measure to prevent ‘inappropriate thoughts’ which may disrupt their inner peace.
If you forget this, and arrive at the temple in hot pants, don’t worry too much. There are usually smalls stalls at which you can borrow or rent sarongs to wrap around your waist and cover up.
Women cannot touch monks
Similar to the point above, this is to reduce inappropriate thoughts. Also, this is a fact that is considered always, even outside of temples. It is sometimes amusing watching considerate Thai women shying away from monks that pass nearby, in an attempt not to break this rule. (this can happen on buses quite often!)
When passing offerings to monks, you usually place them in front and let them take them, do not hand them things directly.
Monks cannot receive money
They can receive food, and if you wake early enough (just after sunrise) you will see monks walking the streets on their daily pilgrimage to collect food to be eaten at the temple. Temples CAN receive money however, and as you will discover is a large part of the temple visit – so remember to bring some spare change and 20 baht notes with you!
Know how to act around the monks and in the temples
You should try (the attempt is enough) to keep your head lower than seated monks. You will see Thais stooping constantly when they come into temples to pay respect and prayer. If you want to pay respect and make offerings, you can usually copy nearby Thais who are more than happy to educate westerners in their ways. Be careful of your feet. Don’t point them at monks or Buddha statues/pictures, and sit with the soles of your feet forwards!
Remember that this is their church, and not a tourist attraction, so be respectful and keep the noise down! Imagine how you would expect tourists to act if they were visiting your church at home!