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A guide to being respectful when visiting a Buddhist temple in Thailand

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A guide to being respectful when visiting a Buddhist temple in Thailand | Thaiger
Stock photo by Alex Azabache for Pexels

Not all tourists do their research before going to a temple. Some take photos with Buddha statues in a way that is disrespectful to some Thais. Some don’t dress appropriately. Before Covid-19, a security guard at the popular Wat Arun in Bangkok would blow a whistle at many tourists, telling them to cover their shoulders and knees.

Here’s a guide to on how to be respectful when visiting a temple in Thailand. These are merely suggestions and there are variations. A good guide is to watch what the locals are doing. The dos and dont’s are not black and white, but a helpful guide to general customs and expectations.

Dress appropriately

Thailand is hot, with Bangkok being regarded as one of the hottest cities in the world. And humid. Visitors to the country may have trouble getting used to the heat, opting to wear short shorts and shirts. But, in order to take part and experience the some 34,000 open temples or wats in the country, a certain attire is required in order to keep the sanctity of the Buddhist culture. And, it’s not just your clothing that needs to be adjusted; your behaviour, too, needs to be kept in check to keep from offending the culture and people.

For women, skirts or long pants that go past your knees are in order. Covering your shoulders as well is a requirement. Clothing that is too tight, such as leggings, are not allowed. See‐through clothes like and sleeveless tops are also not allowed as they reveal too much skin. Men have the same requirements as women, but are expected to wear long pants and shirts with sleeves.

Some temples are stricter than others, like Wat Phra Kaew, but the recommendations of keeping covered are acceptable at all temples in Thailand. But don’t worry if you come to Thailand and forget to pack conservative clothing, as it is very hot here and most Thais understand you may not be acclimated. To show their understanding and tolerance, many larger temples have clothing on hand that you can wear for a small fee.

Before entering the temple, it is important to take off your shoes at the door. Your hat and sunglasses should also be removed out of respect. But don’t worry about taking off your socks as they are acceptable to wear in the temples. Don’t step or stand on the door threshold going inside where the statues are held. As clothing is important to consider when visiting a temple, it is also important to adhere to behavioural guidelines.

Be quiet, turn your phone to ‘silent’

Such behaviours include staying quiet as the temple is a sacred place where people go to pray and observe Buddhist rituals. Being a “chatty Cathy” will be frowned upon, so save your musings for after you step outside of the temple. Don’t forget to turn your phone on silent as well and ask before taking pictures or look for the rules posted on a sign inside or outside the temple. If you must snap a photo, do not get too close to the Buddha statue. Taking selfies, however, could be considered disrespectful.

Don’t point

As with Thai cultural norms in general, it is important not to point at anything with your fingers or feet, especially at a monk or Buddha statue. People, too, don’t point at each other or even objects and instead use their right hand, with the palm facing upwards to indicate something. You may wonder why Thais place so much importance on behaviours, and that is because the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. So, when talking or sitting by a monk, you must never sit higher than him. Women should kneel with their toes pointing behind them, while men should sit with their legs crossed.

As interactions with monks are usually quite delightful, it is important for women to not leave the monk in a worse place than before. For, as a woman, you are not allowed to touch monks. If you do, the monk will have to go through a lengthy cleansing ritual to purify himself. If you must hand a monk something, put the object down with your right hand and let the monk pick it up. Women are not allowed to sit next to a monk and in some areas of the temples, they are not allowed to enter.

Pay respect to Buddha statues

The temple itself hosts a variety of Buddhists from around the world and it is important to be respectful in the temples. Don’t touch or climb on Buddha statues as it is considered very disrespectful. If you are a foreigner wanting to pay respect to the Buddha, bowing to the statue or monk is acceptable. But remember to keep your head below the level of Buddha statues, monks or nuns, or even images out of respect.

If you want to merge with local Thais in paying respect to Buddha, it is customary to wai 3 times (pronounced like ‘why’). A wai is how Thais greet each other, say thank you, and pay respect. It involves placing your palms together in a praying motion while bowing your head slightly.

To wai like a Thai, watch THIS.

When monks or nuns enter the room, stand up and wait for them to finish before sitting again. When ready to leave, don’t raise yourself higher than the Buddha statue and try not to turn your back to it. One suggestion is to back away from the statue instead. If there are pillars or statues in the middle of the room, walk around sacred objects in only a clockwise manner.

Be aware of ‘off-limit’ areas

There are certain areas in which tourists or visitors are allowed to enter. These areas are called prayer halls, or viharn in Thai. The viharn is where you can pray or see images of Buddha. It is important to not trespass into the monk‐only areas known as bots. But sometimes, it is hard to distinguish which areas are forbidden to visitors. Fortunately, a few hints can be found to direct visitors to the appropriate areas where to congregate.

Most bots, or primary areas for monks, contain a Buddha statue and are surrounded by 8 sema, or decorative stones in a rectangular shape surrounding a prayer hall. So, if you see a statue, look around and see if other visitors are gathering in the same place before you enter. Other signs that you may be in the right spot, include signs in English and donation boxes.

Give donations if you’d like

Upon seeing donation boxes, visitors may want to give money, but it is okay if you don’t. Other ways to support the monks and temples include buying trinkets at the temple. Be careful, however, bringing small Buddha statues out of the country as it is technically illegal. But, as long as the statues are not rare or antique, you may skip being reprimanded.

As with all visits to foreign countries, it is important to experience and appreciate the host country’s cultural traditions and practices. In Thailand, as long as you show respect and the willingness to adapt to the culture, Thai people are known for being very tolerant and understanding. Showing respect to them by doing a bit of research before entering such sacred sites as temples is always a good idea.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jonnie

    Sunday, March 28, 2021 at 11:28 am

    A very nice overview of the “rules of the road” for visiting temples.

  2. Avatar

    dee lee

    Sunday, March 28, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Great info ! Should be required reading for incoming Western tourists Hope you can re-publish the video on How to wei Thanks

  3. Avatar

    Issan John

    Sunday, March 28, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    “When monks or nuns enter the room, stand up and wait for them to finish before sitting again.”

    On what planet?

    NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, IN A BUDDHIST TEMPLE OR A “TAMBOON” AT HOME OR ANYWHERE.

    Absolute, utter rubbish – the opposite to what’s expected.

  4. Avatar

    Amy Sukwan

    Sunday, March 28, 2021 at 7:47 pm

    This is all wonderful and generally true advice but I wonder how it will hold up to Covid madness. To wit I refused to enter Wat Prathong in early January because I didn’t have a facemask. Like as in I only could find one in my bag. And there were three of us. Now in times past there was a delightful woman at the front of the main temple who offered sarong to borrow for free if you were immodestly dressed. She was replaced in early January by a man who was enforcing facemask compliance instead. What I found most insane about this was that he seemed to enforce NOTHING but facemasks. One woman was wearing Daisy Dukes that would have made Daisy Duke blush, while another man had PlayBoy Club XXX on the back of his shirt, with a very very scantily clad near nude. Everybody was wearing them, 100% in pictures, and I was told after my husband had used his facemask, that I could go in with his, and then my daughter could go in using the same filthy thing again. I snapped then and told my daughter I would rather pray outside as I did not want to be told yet again that she was some sort of disease transmission agent when I felt she was a gift from God. I went back to the grave area, where neither my dead in laws nor my husband before were bothered by my lack of face covering, and then came out front. My husband asked if I wanted to go inside. I told him no. He got fortune number 9. I wasn’t going to beat it.

  5. Avatar

    James Pate

    Monday, March 29, 2021 at 5:24 am

    Never heard about that stand up for the monk routine before. Never saw it, either. Sounds more like a Catholic thing.

  6. Avatar

    Issan John

    Monday, March 29, 2021 at 11:43 am

    “Never heard about that stand up for the monk routine before. Never saw it, either. Sounds more like a Catholic thing.”

    Not really “a Catholic thing” either (I was raised high church Catholic but have been a Buddhist for 30 years), although Catholics would stand up for a priest (not monks) at the start of a service.

    NOT, under any circumstances, correct for Buddhists and the complete OPPOSITE of what’s expected. God alone knows where this was dreamt up from, particularly as the advice was to “stand up and wait for them to finish before sitting again” since only the elderly and infirm “sit” in Buddhist temples while the remainder kneel.

    Absolutely terrible advice.

  7. Avatar

    Issan John

    Monday, March 29, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    Amy, I don’t know how things are in Phuket but I’m genuinely amazed that you not only took exception to being told to mask up inside the temple but that you only had one mask with you between the three of you BACK “IN EARLY JANUARY” WHEN PHUKET WAS OFFICIALLY IN SEMI-LOCKDOWN.

    … and then you “snapped” because the attendant, doing his job, didn’t realise that your daughter was a “gift from God” so had sterile immunity.

    … and now you’re complaining about it and think it’s “insane”!

    Regardless of what you think of the virus, you could at least have some respect for others inside a temple, particularly one where your late husband’s and in-laws’ ashes are.

    Un-B-frigging-lievable!

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Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Thailand. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.

Entertainment

Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws

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Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws | Thaiger
PHOTO: In Thailand, sex toys are very popular and very illegal.

While Thailand is a conservative country with conservative laws, the underground sex trade and sex toy economy is a thriving not-so-well-kept secret. Thailand is famous for its LGBTQ acceptance and red-light districts, but many don’t realise that most drugs, gambling, soliciting for prostitution, sex toys, and even vaping are against Thai law.

The customs department confiscated more than 4000 sex toys just last year, and owning or selling these toys carries a 60,000 baht fine or up to 3 years in jail. The strict laws are in place to align with the traditional Buddhist Thai society but seem very contrary to the underground sex industry Thailand is known for.

The need for sexual privacy rights and relaxed laws governing sex has been gaining popularity for years with the juxtaposition of strict laws and hedonism creating a very profitable black market. Bangkok’s red-light district is estimated to be worth US $6.4 billion, and in districts like Soi Cowboy, Nana, Patpong and Silom, sex trade and sex toys are sold openly even though it violates the law. The sex industry is thought to comprise up to 10% of Thailand’s gross domestic product. Then there’s Walking Street in Pattaya, Bangla Road in Phuket, etc, etc.

Still, Thailand is a Buddhist country with traditionally conservative values so laws are unlikely to change anytime soon. Even sex education in Thailand is geared towards the negative consequences of sex and not open to sexual rights or embracing sexuality, according to a UNICEF report in 2016. Those who oppose decriminalising sex toys and the sex industry believe that embracing it legally would lead to a rash of sex-related crimes.

Others argue that decriminalisation would be liberating and empower women by reducing the stigma of being sexually free. It would allow a modernized view on sexual well-being. It would also likely reduce teen pregnancy rates, by removing the negativity towards those who need or use contraceptive.

Nisarat Jongwisan has been fighting for the destigmatisation and legalisation of sex toys since 2018 when she appeared on a TV program speaking out against the Ministry of Culture. She now intends to use the Thai parliamentary mechanism for creating a petition and gathering 50,000 signatures, which would allow her to submit a bill to the parliament for a vote.

With strict laws, the black market will continue to grow. While sex toys and the sex trade can be criminalized, sexual desires are not easily quashed, and people will find ways to satisfy them. Without any regulation, black markets can profit freely, selling sex toys with no concern over fair pricing or quality control. The global sex toy industry sold nearly US $34 billion dollars last year, and with continued lockdown and the closures of entertainment venues, these sales are set to only increase, even in the face of Thailand’s conservative laws.

SOURCE: Vice

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Thai Life

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story

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“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story | Thaiger
Pope's pit viper / Stock photo by Thai National Parks via Flickr

The following story was written by Amy Sukwan, an American who has been living in Thailand for 7 years.

To share a story with The Thaiger, click HERE.

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” my 8 year old daughter Eliza said, waking me up in the middle of the night.

I came out of our modest bungalow in Phuket at some unholy hour in the middle of the night, to see what my daughter’s whole “snake” thing was about. In the light of our front porch light, about 3 metres from our front door, 3 of our cats were surrounding something that looked at first to me to be a stack of rotting bananas.

“Eliza it’s nothing.” I tried to assure my daughter. Right at that moment the rotting bananas rose up into an aggressive posture as 3 cats circled it, hissing viciously. It was a surreal sight in the porch light.

“Mommy can you kill it!” My daughter begged me, as the thing, about four feet or over a meter long, lashed at one of our cats, who was quick enough to jump away. The snake had a big head that I could see in the porch light. It was distinctively mallet shaped, in what I was pretty sure was the viper class.

As much as I wanted to go back to sleep and pretend that this was all a bad nightmare, I now had a crying, frantic daughter who was terrified for her cats and a situation that I was quickly recognizing was pretty bad. Mai dee.

I needed to call in backup – my Thai husband. Eliza was already screaming his name. “Ka! Loon Ka!” My 8 year old screamed.


There are many venomous snakes in Thailand. Most people know about cobras but the viper class is the most deadly in the world, as vipers are both unpredictable and very difficult to charm. I was looking at a pit viper of some sort, I was pretty sure.

Snakes normally don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. But interactions are most common late in the dry season in Thailand, as it is now, in late March, as the snakes slither around houses in search of water. Thais don’t want them around for obvious reasons. You don’t want venomous snakes to breed and make babies close to your homestead.

If you are not sure if a snake is venomous or not, a good rule of thumb is to look at its head size in proportion to its body size. If the snake head is close to the same size as the rest of its body, and the snake is generally more wormlike in appearance, it is probably not venomous. If the head is large, say two or more times the diameter of the body, it might be poisonous. This does not constitute medical advice. If you get bitten by a snake, you should go to the hospital.


My husband woke up as Eliza was screaming for him. He came out groggily but as soon as my daughter pointed at the snake he saw the problem. “No good! I kill!” Ka said as he grabbed a machete from our kitchen rack. He wasted no time in coming to this decision.

So after being bathed in the surreal sight of three cats circling a hissing, striking, and very likely deadly serpent under our porch light, I got to be treated to an even weirder view. Ka went full Steve Irwin on the snake as he danced around with the machete. The viper sideswiped and tried to strike him. Then, it suddenly backlashed and made contact with his knee. Both me and Eliza cried out from the sidelines.

“She bit me!” Ka said as he macheted the viper’s mid body, and then its neck. Among my many shortcomings is a complete inability to gender snakes. So I will remain with my husband’s classification of the viper as female.

The snake stilled over the course of several minutes as my eight year old screamed in terror. It still seemed to be wiggling even five minutes later, though its body slowly stilled. Ka helped me put it in a plastic bag.

“You go hospital now!” I screamed at him.

“No worries. She don’t bite me with poison.” Ka seemed sure of this. He’d grown up on a 50 rai spread of backwoods in Phuket and was something of a designated snake killer.

My husband had tracked and killed a 5 foot long snake months before, which he had assured me had no poison, but which he had not wanted around the house. I was able to identify that one through Google images and a snake discussion group as an Indochinese Rat snake, which was indeed not venomous.

There was only one bite mark on his knee the viper had come in from an unusual angle and only one fang had punctured through. But I could see from closer inspection of the now dead snake what I had already known. It looked like a dark green Pit Viper. She was about 4 feet long, or maybe 130 centimetres. The poor girl had probably been looking for water.

Symptoms of a poisonous snake bite include pain at the site, swelling, and changes in heart rate or breathing. Needless to say Ka is still alive and well, and probably had enough experiences of snakes to know that this was a dry bite, or one without venom, as about 50% of snake bites are. I wouldn’t have taken my chances on this, though.

The reason that poisonous baby snakes are thought to be more deadly is not because they have more venom, but because they always release venom when they do bite. I prayed in Buddhist style for the snake to have a better life next time, as she had made merit by not killing either our cats or my husband. But for the amateurs out there, I wouldn’t advise going to Steve Irwin about these things. Normally snakes bite you because you bother them.


It turns out that sometimes you chase the story. And sometimes the story chases you.

I’d seen a recent post on The Thaiger asking for guest bloggers to share their stories regarding Thailand. I think I laughed out loud on reading it. After 7 years in the “Land of Smiles,” with 2 Thai husbands and after giving birth to 2 children here, I’d like to think I’ve seen it all. I probably have 10,000 stories.

But what do I want to write about? Should I mention my early days as a farang in Thailand, during the time when I was working as an OPC for a timeshare? Do I want to give advice on making visas, as an American staying in Thailand or for a Thai going to America? Should I talk about going to Thai hospitals? Or maybe I should write something about Thai Buddhist funeral proceedings? I’ve put my first husband and both my mother and father in law in the ground at Wat Prathong. Should I talk about ASQ and travelling during Covid madness? Or should I mention the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan? I’ve been to five of those, personally.

This weekend I was harvesting cashew fruit with a Thai friend of ours in Phuket who has a large spread of family land. We burnt the cashew nuts, and I thought that this would make a great story, as many farang ask me about growing and harvesting practices in my little outback area. Unfortunately a quick Google search revealed that cashew nuts are dangerous, even to people without allergies, as they contain a chemical close to poison ivy. Only professional processors should deal with cashew nuts, in short. I’ve been eating the fruit and burning the nuts for years. But I gathered that life is too dangerous. So much for that story.

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Food Scene

Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month

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Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month | Thaiger
PHOTO: Yum yum, it's airline food 'on the go'

Warning. Some low-altitude turbulence is coming to a 7-Eleven near you. Thai Airways has cooked up a new money-making scheme during Covid-19 to sell its airline food in 7-Eleven. Set to take off on April 15, the mostly grounded and indebted airline will attempt to offset its losses during the pandemic by selling food in the ubiquitous convenience store and other supermarkets throughout Thailand.

It’s a clever strategy for a struggling company, but will customers take the bite? Surely a few crispy pork and rice dishes will knock the edge of that 300 billion baht debt!

Claiming that their busy flight schedule has always previously stood in the way of the airline’s foray into the fast food market, Thai Airways now has the supply (and time) with most flights grounded by the pandemic’s decimation of the travel industry and less hungry mouths to feed in the sky.

The first meals schedule to arrive on the shelves of 7-Eleven just after the Songkran holiday are Thai Airways’ halal chicken biryani dish, and the traditional Thai dish nam phrik long ruea, crispy and fluffy fish and sweet pork served in a fermented shrimp chilli paste. The primary push into the food industry will be more unusual meals to stand out in 7-Eleven’s selection.

The question remains whether the food selection will fly off the shelves, but the airline’s hopes are high after their airline launched pop-up restaurants in September and the public ate it up. It seems that, contrary to a million stand-up comedy jokes about how terrible airline food is, people have really missed it with so much cancelled travel due to border closures and restrictions.

Thai Airways hopes this creative departure from their main business will help bolster the struggling airline, who were previously denied a government bailout after declaring bankruptcy last year. They have tried everything from the pop-up restaurants to jumbo yard sales to renting out flight simulators. Even with the sharp reduction of flights due to the pandemic, flying will still be the company’s main mealticket, but they hope meal sales will make up for low ticket sales until the travel industry recovers.

So stow your tray table and fasten your seat belt as we see if the 7-Eleven offerings of Thai Airways’ food takes off.

(The Thaiger has a better solution. Let 7-Eleven lease Thai Airway’s grounded planes and run the whole business instead)

SOURCE: Coconuts Bangkok

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