Among Asia’s distinctive attractions — and one of its most sacred places — are Buddhist temples. Visitors are expected to see several of them especially on trips to Southeast Asian countries particularly Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.
With its impressive make up, historical background and chock full of cultural information, Buddhist temples are among best examples to learn more about Asia, religion and local culture. Since foreigners are often welcome in Buddhist temples, we set these guides as simple reminders of manners and etiquette to ensure nobody offends anyone. And if such thing happens, Buddhists are gentle enough to forgive these ignorant mistakes.
Remove hats and shoes when entering the temple’s worship area. Without asking where to put them, a pile of shoes outside the edifice indicates where you can leave yours off.
- Dress decently when you’re entering the temple. This means shoulders should be covered and long pants is more desirable than shorts. Tourists understandably wear light clothing in Southeast Asia where climate is humid and shorts can offer more comfort. But respect should be on display, and some temples offer shawls or indoor slippers for visitors to use inside the temple.
- Switch off mobile phones or set them into silent mode to minimize likelihood of noise. Imagine places like libraries, which must maintain silence, Buddhist also needs to keep noise off to remain conducive for prayers.
- Respect the temple. Just like turning mobile phones off and dressing properly, respect is also conveyed by removing your headphones, spitting out chewing gum, refrain from smoking and talking softly inside the Buddhist temple.
- Standing up facing the monks and nuns as they enter the temple is also a form of respect.
- Sit down when talking to a sitting monk before striking a conversation.
- Consider donating to the temple, which is run on a thin budget, especially when you enjoyed your visit. A typical donation of US$1 or less is appreciated a lot.
- Don’t point using your index finger at people or things. While perfectly normal in the West, this gesture is considered rude around Buddhist temples. To point to someone or something, use your right hand with palm facing upwards.
- Do not touch a Buddha statue without asking for permission first. The same applies to taking photographs.
- Do not use your left hand when receiving or giving something from a monk. Always use the other hand.
- Do not eat inside the temple especially after noon, when monks refrain from doing so.
- Don’t point your feet at any Buddhist (not just monks and nuns) while sitting as this gesture is also considered rude.
- Buddhists sweeping the temple stairs do their job to prevent someone stepping on insects more than just removing dirt and impurities.
- A woman should never touch or hand a monk something. When this is breached — even brushing against their robes — requires fasting to perform cleansing ritual. Should a woman extend food or donations to a monk, it must be passed to a man first then to a monk. A monk’s mother is not even exempt from this rule.
- Symbolically representing a whole, enter the Buddhist temple with your left foot first and exit by leading with your right foot. While this is certainly not expected from tourists, doing so means you researched more about Buddhist custom and went the extra mile.
- It is best to visit a Buddhist temple early in the morning when the monks are just returning from their alms procession and temperature is relatively cooler than later in the day.