Visiting temples in Thailand is a must-do for everyone who travels to the Land of Smiles. The majority of the Thai people are Buddhist, and this religion and philosophy play a huge role in Thai society and culture. We absolutely loved immersing ourselves in this unique culture, and we loved visiting temples in Bangkok and in Northern Thailand, and you’ll love it too!
However, you must remember that the temples are still actively used in Thailand as a place for prayer. When you visit a temple, you must take into consideration the etiquette for entering and behaving in a temple. Try not to disturb the Thai people who are worshipping there, and be respectful. We have put together a guide for everyone who wants to explore temples in Thailand, and want to know all the rules and etiquette. We also collected some important terms that might help you to understand the temples in Thailand.
How many temples are there in Thailand?
In Thailand there are over 40 000 temples, you can find a temple at almost every corner. There are thousands of temples in Bangkok alone.
Why are there so many temples in Thailand?
Temples in general play a really big role in the way of life in Thailand. Thai people go to the temples (wat) to pray for health, fortune, and Buddhism is a huge part of everyday Thai life. Temples are also residing places for monks. Every Thai man has to be a monk for 15 days before they are allowed to get married, some men stay monks for months or even years. Monks get free education and they live from the donations of the people, but everyone can turn to them for help and education as well. Temples are the center of community life and education as well, parents bring their children there to learn about the life of Buddha.
What are temples called in Thailand?
Buddhist temples are called “wat” in Thailand. All the temples have different parts, just like vihara, chedi or ubosot, read about these below.
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Thai temple terminology
bot or ubosot(h) – the ordination hall of the wat, and is where new monks take their vows. In structure, it often resembles (for laymen) the wiharn/viahara or sermon hall, but can be differentiated by observing the sacred boundary stones around it. Bots are sometimes only open to the monks. Inside an altar with several Buddha images.
vihara – (Buddhism) a type of Buddhist temple that usually has living quarters for monks or nuns, a shrine with an image of the Buddha, and a meditation space.
chedi (in other cultures and locations a similar structure is often called a stupa or a pagoda) usually is a domed solid structure. Inside or underneath relics of the Buddha or revered Buddhist teachers are located.
prang – a Khmer-style conical tower with a broad base – typical ones in Angkor Wat.
Lanna style – Classic Thai architectural style in Northern Thailand. Most temples are built in this style in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai old town (1296 – 1558) Lanna Temples originally were built around the chedi. The old chedis mark the sites of former temples and are almost the only temple structures that go back to the 13th-15th centuries, other parts of the temples are usually not older than the 19th century.
Khmer-style – Angkor wat in Siem reap. Hindu and Buddhist architecture of the Khmer Empire (802–1431), it ended with the fall of Angkor. These types of temples were adapted by Buddhist builders. The most typical Khmer-style building is the “prang”.
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General things to know about visiting temples in Thailand
- Most temples are open from 8 AM to 5 or 6 PM. The exact opening hours depend on the temple, and it’s only strict if the temple is a touristy, popular place. Otherwise, they close the temples for visitors at about sunset time. If it comes to popular places like the Grand Palace in Bangkok, or White Temple in Chiang Rai, they have exact opening hours and entrance fee as well.
- The entrance is usually free to most of the temples in Thailand, except for the highly popular temples. For example Bangkok – Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Grand Palace, Wat Suthat, Chiang Rai – White Temple
How to behave in a temple
- If it’s written, take off your shoes before you enter a building. Always take off your shoes before you enter a viharn.
- Be silent and be polite.
- Don’t hug or kiss
- Don’t smoke
- Sometimes women can’t enter some parts of the temple, or they can’t enter when they have their period. Always read the signs and respect them.
Dress properly and cover your body, otherwise, they won’t let you in. Read more about the dress code below.
Buddha and monks
Buddha and the images of Buddha are obviously considered sacred in Thailand, and any misbehavior in regard to a Buddha image is considered disrespectful.
Just like Buddha, monks need to be respected as well. The monks are usually very friendly, but they are not allowed to come in contact with women. Also, avoid touching them, and don’t bother them if you see them praying in the temple.
Here are some things you should not do
- Don’t sit higher than any of the Buddha images found in temples throughout Thailand.
- Don’t show your back to Buddha images or statues, don’t turn your back on them
- Don’t point your feet in the direction of Buddha image, monk or a teacher, out of respect, because Thai people consider the head as “high” and the feet as “low”.
- If you have a Buddha tattoo, cover it or if you have a necklace or shirt with Buddha on it, don’t wear it to the temple, because it is disrespectful.
- Don’t touch Buddha images and don’t climb up on the chedi and the stones.
What do you wear to temples in Thailand?
The dress code in the temples in Thailand, in general, is very important. Some temples are more strict than others, but here are some general no go’s:
- Don’t wear short skirts and shorts or even shortened trousers. Your knee can’t be visible, and in some temples, even part of the feet is forbidden. Make sure to wear full-length trousers or skirts. In most places, it’s not a problem if your ankle is visible, but for example in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, they will only let you in if you wear full-length trousers.
- It’s forbidden to wear tight-fitting trousers such as leggings or something that shows off forms and is too tight.
- Don’t wear any clothing that has holes in, such as ripped jeans.
- Don’t wear vests or any top without sleeves, because you can’t show your shoulders. You can wear t-shirts or cover your shoulders with some scarves. In some temples, such as the Grand Palace in Bangkok, scarfs are not enough and they won’t let you in if you don’t have shirts that cover your shoulders.
We hope you enjoyed this little guide, and we hope it helped you to prepare yourself for visiting temples in Thailand. We are sure you’ll absolutely love the experience! 🙂
Zsuzsi and Dante