So many tourists come to Thailand to see the beautiful pagodas, stupas and temples—it’s very exotic and mysterious to someone who is not from that culture, so it makes sense why people would treat these places as a tourist attraction. Tourist attractions however, are usually noisy, crowded, too much activity, and have a very different atmosphere than a temple’s.
There’s a Buddhist story about how Buddha recommended that his monks and nuns practice meditation and self-reflection in a quiet place, and if they were to gather in a monastery, to pay respect to the teacher and the other monks in the place by staying quiet so as not to disturb them, and by placing both palms in a prayer position in front of the heart while giving a small bow.
If one notices the way temples are built, they are usually spacious and have high ceilings. The grounds are divided from the public space to a more religious space inside—this is precisely because even the laypeople, the devotees, for them, this is a place of worship and respect. A sacred space is a sacred space. For a tourist, the temples become a sideshow, so they dress inappropriately, take photos when they shouldn’t, talk loudly, and do other things that may offend the people who use the temples daily as part of their religious practice. Of course, tourists don’t usually mean to be offensive—so if you find yourself on a temple tour in Bangkok, here are a few tips so you can enjoy your trip without offending the locals.
- Dress appropriately. Men should have trousers or shorts that go below the knees, shirts with sleeves only. For women, a long skirt or sarong will do, and a shirt with sleeves. This is to respect the place as well as the monks’ and nuns’ vows of celibacy.
- If you are asked not to take photos, do not take photos. Some of the relics you will see are relics believed to be holy or important to the locals—if you ignore them, you might as well break the relics in front of them too.
- Maintain silence and listen to your guide respectfully, if you have one. If you don’t, stay quiet, unless you are outdoors in the area where people can wait. Otherwise, the monks, nuns and devotees are busy meditating! You might join them if you wish.