It’s hard to imagine going to Thailand without ever visiting a Buddhist temple. They’re everywhere (but much less numerous in the southern beach provinces). Wats, as they’re known in Thai, hold the cultural keys to the Siamese Kingdom.
I’m not Buddhist. I’m not really religious at all. But I was married in a Thai Wat in a ceremony that included 9 monks (9 is a lucky number in Thai). I wasn’t quite sure what happened during the ceremony; but when it ended, I was married. I’ve attended many high ceremonies in wats. I’ve tagged along with my wife and her family and friends countless times to pray or visit a monk at a wat. I’ve photographed more Wats, inside and out, than any other subject in Siam. So here’s a quick do and don’t list when you visit a wat.
1. Relax. No one cares if you’re Buddhist or not, or even if you have a religion. If you enter with respect, you are welcome.
2. Take your shoes off before entering a wat. (This is a bright line rule. Don’t mess with it.)
3. Don’t go into a Wat if you’ve been drinking.
4. Feel free to approach the altar and Buddhist statuary. Wats are home to Buddhist artwork and you’re welcome to closely view it.
5. Feel Free to take photos of anything you like. But do not pose in any manner with the Buddhist statuary. Posing with Buddhist iconography is seen as making fun of the religion.
6. Speak quietly and don’t let the kids run wild. (Did I really have to tell you that?)
7. If people are praying, you’re welcome to continue looking around and taking photos. (Do not stand between the worshiper and the Buddha they are praying to.) Just be respectful of the worshippers. They won’t mind at all.
8. If you want to show respect, it’s common to wai the Buddha.
9. Casual dress is appropriate (Not swimwear or revealing clothes); but refer to the next paragraph
And here’s one more protocol you may experience. Some of the most important wats don’t allow you to wear shorts inside. But here’s why you don’t have to worry. Those few high wats that do have a dress code will enforce it for you. In other words, as you approach the wat (and these high wats are all well-visited) the lay people that volunteer at the wat will politely tell you the dress code AND they’ll have a pair of fisherman pants ready for you to wear.