Please dress respectfully when you visit any temple in Thailand. Make sure your shoulders are covered (no vests, tank-tops or spaghetti straps) and although skirts or shorts are acceptable at many temples, they should be smart and at least knee-length. Dress regulations are stricter at Thailand’s more important temples and those with royal connections such as Wat Phra Kaew at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. At high profile venues like this, visitors should dress extra conservatively with long trousers for men, and a below the knee skirt/dress or trousers for women.
If you’re out for the day sightseeing, a sarong is a practical solution. It’s lightweight, takes up no room or weight in your bag, and for any impromptu temple visits can be pulled out to wrap around the shoulders or waist.
Take off your shoes before entering the temple buildings. If you are wearing a hat, that should also be removed before going inside and either kept in your hand or, better still, place it in your bag. Shoes are normally left on a shelf or near the steps outside the wat, but at some popular Bangkok temples you may be advised to place them inside your bag.
Inside the wat, keep your head lower than Buddha images and monks. You should also sit with the soles of your feet pointing away from Buddha images and monks. If you observe Thai people inside the temple you will notice that they sit on the floor with their feet tucked behind them.
Don’t sit on the platform or chairs reserved for monks. Monks are prohibited from touching women and women should never hand anything directly to a monk.
Keep your voice down in and around the temple and smoking, vaping, and alcohol are not allowed inside temple grounds.
Respect Thai culture
In Thai culture, all Buddha images are regarded as sacred no matter how old they are or if they are in a state of disrepair. At locations where there are ancient ruins like Ayutthaya or Sukhothai, do not touch, climb or sit on any of the Buddha statues.
It’s believed that the guardian spirit resides in the raised threshold of homes and temples. Stepping on it is not polite and is also thought to bring bad luck, so if you see a raised threshold, step over it and not on it.
At some locations, especially in North Thailand, local culture prohibits women from entering specific areas of the temple which are regarded as particularly holy or auspicious. Signs in Thai and English will let you know if anywhere is off limits. While it may seem unfair, old traditions and superstitions play an important role in day to day life in Thailand.
Take photos respectfully
Although you are allowed to take photos inside most Thai temples, please do so respectfully. Take photos discreetly from a kneeling position and don’t use a flash.
Entry to many Thai temples is free, but there are some which charge non-Thais a small entrance fee. Thai Buddhists will usually leave a small donation to make merit when they visit a temple, so you can consider the entrance fee as your way of earning good karma and helping with the running costs of the temple. At temples where entrance is free you’re not obliged to leave a donation, but if you’ve enjoyed your time there and have been taking photographs, you can put some money (20 Baht is reasonable) inside one of the collection boxes.
What To Wear In Temples In Thailand
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably asking yourself, what should I wear when visiting temples and other places of worship, including Buddhist temples in Thailand?
Throughout your visit, it is important to dress respectfully and modestly. It’s important for the Thai people that you maintain a decent demeanour whilst visiting their sacred sites.
By showing you respect for their local customs and traditions, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in these sacred places.
I’ve visited Thailand twice, on both trips I was in the country for a few months at a time. This gave me plenty of opportunity to visit so many temples. Read on, and I’ll tell you everything about how to dress in Thailand.
General Temple Etiquette In Thailand
When visiting Buddhist temples in Thailand, it’s essential to follow the correct Thailand temple etiquette. You can enter most temples as long as you are respectful of their religious customs and traditions.
- Ask permission before taking photographs or videos, as some areas may be considered sacred or photography may be restricted.
- Within the temple grounds, maintain the serene atmosphere by speaking softly and refraining from disruptive noise. It’s also a good idea to put your phone on silent mode.
- Pay attention to the locals or signs indicating proper sitting or kneeling positions, particularly in sacred areas or during ceremonies. Ensure that your feet are not pointed directly at Buddha statues or sacred objects, as this is considered impolite.
- When you enter a temple, you will be facing Buddha. It’s considered disrespectful to turn your back on Buddha, so exit by walking backwards, to the door you came in, or through a side door.
- It’s ok for non-Bhuddishts to make an offering. If you wish to make an offering, follow the designated areas and any guidance provided by temple staff or local worshippers.
- Conduct yourself mindfully, refrain from touching or climbing on statues, and avoid any behaviour that may be seen as disrespectful.
It’s worth noting that even in ruin sites like Sukhutahi and Ayutthata you may still have to abide by some of these rules. You can read my article about visiting the ruins of Ayuthattha, and what not to do there – Spoiler: I got told off by the guard!
Read Next: The Best Temples in Bangkok
Are There Any Colours Not To Wear In Thailand?
In Thai culture, colours hold significant symbolism, and being aware of their meanings can contribute to respectful interactions and cultural understanding.
While there are no strict rules regarding colours to wear in Thailand, it is helpful to keep certain associations in mind. Here are some considerations:
- Red: In Thai culture, red is often associated with strong emotions, including aggression. Additionally, it can be linked to political movements. It is advisable to be mindful of wearing red during political rallies or protests to avoid any unintended associations.
- Yellow: Yellow holds a special place in Thai culture as a sacred colour associated with Buddhism. It is commonly worn on Mondays to pay homage to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. However, during politically sensitive periods, it is wise to avoid this colour as yellow can be associated with political affiliations.
- Black: Black is traditionally worn during mourning and funeral ceremonies in Thailand. While it is acceptable to wear black in everyday situations, it is considerate to avoid all-black attire, especially during joyous events or celebrations.
- White: White is often associated with funerals and represents death in Thai culture. While wearing white in daily life is generally acceptable, it is advisable to avoid all-white clothing during festive occasions to show respect for cultural customs.
- Orange: Orange is the colour linked to Buddhist monks and their robes. To demonstrate respect, it is recommended to refrain from wearing bright orange attire that resembles the garments of monks.