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How to Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples

Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples

My two trips through Southeast Asia have one very big thing in common: an obsession with visiting Buddhist Temples. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that not everyone knows how to respectfully visit Buddhist temples. I’ve now visited over 100 Buddhist temples and although each temple is unique, the common courtesy for visiting is very much the same. I’ve seen varying degrees of disrespect, and I’m sure that much of it isn’t intentional. So, I thought I would put together a little guide on how to respectfully visit Buddhist temples.

TO START, HERE’S A LITTLE REMINDER ABOUT THE BUDDHA

Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples

Buddhism is one of the major world religions. While the Buddha has become a lifestyle icon or piece of pop culture in much of the Western World, that is not the case in Southeast Asia. The Buddha extremely respected and revered in these countries and should be treated as such. Making small faux pas, like not knowing you shouldn’t stand taller than, or point your foot at a figure of the Buddha is one thing. But people climbing on figures or putting their arm around figures or even exposing their bare bums in temples are not acceptable.

QUICK TIPS TO RESPECTFULLY VISIT BUDDHIST TEMPLES

Climbing Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang is a must for any visit to LPB

✈︎ Take off your shoes + hats before entering any temple. It’s disrespectful to wear these into temples.

✈︎ Dress modestly. Shoulders and knees are to be covered – this is for both men and women. Also, women, don’t wear anything too low-cut (I’ve seen people asked to leave or not enter for this). I started to travel with elephant pants and a scarf or kimono in my backpack just in case I saw a temple I wanted to visit.

✈︎ As I mentioned before respect the Buddha. There are a few crucial things – don’t touch the Buddha, don’t point your feet toward the Buddha and don’t stand taller than figures of the Buddha.

Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples   Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples

✈︎ Show respect for monks as well. Monks are also very revered and you shouldn’t touch them (especially females) and always try to stand lower than them. If you’re planning to talk to or interact with them, dress conservatively. Ask permission before getting in their face and photographing. No need to learn in a local language, simply point at the camera and you’ll be able to tell if they’re okay with it.

✈︎ Don’t point. This may seem strange, but it’s considered rude to point at anything with your index finger. If you wish to point something out, do so with an open, right hand – palm up.

✈︎ Make sure photos are allowed. Before you start snapping pics, make sure that it’s allowed. Also, even if they are allowed, be respectful. Remember people are there practicing their beliefs. Ask permission before taking photos of a devotee. Also don’t put your selfie or perfect IG pic over someone’s personal experiences.

Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples

✈︎ Be generally respectful. Have your phone on silent, don’t eat in a temple, don’t have your headphones on, don’t smoke, etc.

✈︎ Greet monks with a bow. It’s very customary that when a monk or nun passes or enters, you put your hands in front of you, palms together and bow your head slightly. It’s a sign of respect. I actually found myself doing this to most people.

✈︎ Don’t point your feet at anyone. The Buddha and monks are the big no-no, but it’s also seen as rude to Buddhists in general. As it’s the lowest part of your body.

Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples

✈︎ Women, in addition to not touching a monk, don’t hand them anything directly. I learned this in Bangkok during a festival. I tried to give a monk money for a blessing (see photo above), and he tapped the table for me to set my money on. It would also require a cleansing ritual.

✈︎ No PDA. It’s very disrespectful to show affection in a temple or its grounds. Don’t hold hands, kiss, etc.

Respectfully visiting Buddhist temples is a huge part of traveling through Southeast Asia. It’s a great experience to give an in-depth look into the culture. When you do it with respect, you open doors to an opportunity to have positive interactions with locals and learn something new. 

DID I MISS ANYTHING?

This is knowledge I’ve acquired from Buddhism class in college, cultural anthropology classes and lots of experience visiting temples. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t missed anything.

Did You Enjoy This Post? PIN IT So Others Can Too!  Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples   Respectfully Visit Buddhist Temples



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35 Comments

  • Reply
    Patricia
    January 27, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Some of these points I did not know about. I was in Thailand for two months and usually had a pair of elephant pants in my bag as well for the same reason!

  • Reply
    Josh Gross | The Jaguar
    January 27, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Great advice. I had no idea about the majority of the norms you mentioned (some seem like common sense), especially the rule about not pointing your feet at anyone. It seems like that might be a hard norm to remember.

  • Reply
    Alyson Long
    January 27, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    This is something that bugs me so much! Girls practically naked, often Instagrammers, pouting and posing in front of the temple or even the Buddha. We wear long trousers and long sleeves always because of the sun, so we’re fine, but some of the things you see! It’s unbelievable. I should print this and staple it to their foreheads ; )

  • Reply
    ibpld
    January 27, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing this broad list of things we should know about Buddhist temples. Most of the things are pretty common signs of respect. I did not know about standing taller or about pointing your feet. And I didn’t know about handing something to monks. Always good to know proper etiquette before entering. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Mama Munchkin
    January 27, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    These are excellent tips. Our first visit to Bali was stressful for me because I had not done the proper research and I wasn’t exactly sure how to dress or act. I took time to chat with our hotel staff to learn more before heading to any temples but this post would have been much more handy. Pinning for later.

  • Reply
    Indrani
    January 28, 2018 at 1:45 am

    This is such a important post! Like it or not we must follow the customs of a country we visit without questioning them. You have done well to document them here.

  • Reply
    Anuradha Goyal
    January 28, 2018 at 2:20 am

    This is such a useful post. Without knowing these small cultural nuances people end up offending unintentionally. This would help them see temples in the east more respectfully.

  • Reply
    Danik
    January 28, 2018 at 4:39 am

    Fantastic advice here. I first visited a Buddhist temple back in 2016 and was a bit of a culture shock for me (not sure why) but I was ok after a while. Visited several since then and I love the peace and harmony of the temples.

  • Reply
    Vanessa
    January 28, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Fantastic advice! What I love best about it is that all the tips actually do double duty – modest dress also prevents sunburn and bug bites. Respectful bows can be the ice breaker to make a new friend. Pausing to think and check before you snap away might result in getting a more composed, interesting photo.

  • Reply
    Elaine Masters
    January 28, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Thank you for this! I’ve seen poor behavior in temples in Japan and mostly by Westerners. Knowing about the feet and not handing money or anything to a monk directly is helpful. I’ve never found a monk who allowed me to take their picture!

  • Reply
    carrieemann
    January 28, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    Great tips. So many tourists behave so badly at religious sites, I often wonder what they’re thinking. When I was in Malaysia I saw one couple try to ARGUE about getting kicked out of a mosque when they decided to start making out in the middle of the big hall during Friday prayers. I hope this post encourages more people to think more about being respectful.

  • Reply
    SherianneKay
    January 28, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    Man, I imagine most of these are not adhered too. Wasn’t aware of the feet and standing lower, good to know!

  • Reply
    Julia Thompson
    January 29, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I loved visiting the temples in Bali and Thailand! They are so gorgeous and I find them peaceful. I had no idea about some of the customs such as standing lower than the Buddha, not pointing your feet towards monks, and no pointing. I hope I didn’t commit any of these acts when I was there! Do you have a favorite temple that you’ve visited?

  • Reply
    Juliette S
    January 29, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    Excellent post here – these guidelines are so important to respect! If someone was entering your house, you would hope people respected your place and adhered to whatever guidelines/house rules you had – so it’s really no difference when visiting temples. I didn’t know the direction of your feet could cause offence – or not to hand the monks anything. Really great article and very thorough.

  • Reply
    Dorene
    January 29, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    These are great tips Paige, sadly there are alot of people that don’t take this seriously. I’ve seen a girl get kicked out of a temple by a monk because she outright refused to cover her shoulders (and there was a free robe for her to put on) these are the things that give foreigners and tourism a bad name. Great post!

  • Reply
    Tom
    January 29, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    This is a very insightful post. I had no idea you can point your feet towards the Buddha. I would definitely have done some of these things, especially pointing at the Buddha! Good job I read you article, thanks for the valuable info!

  • Reply
    Meg Jerrard
    January 29, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks for this guide – it’s really sad to hear that not everyone knows how to respectfully visit Buddhist temples. Travel should always be about respecting other peoples cultures, and that measn researching what is appropriate dress / behavior before you visit religious sites. Very clever to have carried clothes to cover up in your backpack in case you were going to visit. I’m always amazed at tourists who get indignant when they get turned away from a temple for not having respectful clothing. Very good poin on making sure photos are allowed, I ‘ve been to many places where they’re not, and it makes me so mad when I see tourists disregarding this.

    These are really helpful tips, I’ll schedule some social media shares 🙂

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    January 29, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Great tips about how to be respectful inside Buddhist temple. Just like wearing veils inside mosques, didn’t know about pointing feet!

  • Reply
    Anita Hendrieka
    January 30, 2018 at 4:54 am

    I am so glad you wrote this post on respecting Buddhist Temples. On a recent trip to South-east Asia I was shocked to see the ignorance that was given to the Monks and the Temples. I guess it all comes down to education so posts like these are needed, thanks! 🙂

  • Reply
    Christine
    January 30, 2018 at 8:07 am

    This is an excellent guide! It’s sad how a lot of people don’t even care on following simple guidelines such as dress appropriately in temples with the notion that they are free to do what they want. Worse, some of these people don’t even take a moment in paying respect to the place of worships. I am not a Bhuddist but I try to offer a silent prayer of gratitude in every temple I visit to.

  • Reply
    AllGudThings
    January 30, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    That is such a great, valuable and helpful post. I agree with each of the pointers you have mentioned here. We observed all of these while visiting Buddhist Temple in Thailand. I just hope that your posts spread and make people aware about the dos and dont’s in Buddhist Temple. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    amit
    January 30, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Some very good points here, having spent a lot of time traveling and living in SE Asia, you have to use common sense when visiting Buddhist temples but unfortunately common sense seems to be lost on a lot of people. I do like you point about not showing feet, I don’t think too many people are aware that is offensive. Really good post to educate people here.

  • Reply
    Reshma
    January 30, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    Wow, this is such a useful post. Having traveled in SE Asia, I have witnessed so many instances where people are doing things to offend those in the temples, although in most cases it is due to the lack of knowledge. I once violated a rule as well in Cambodia as I was not aware, though I apologised later, it is always better to know to be safe and respectful than be sorry! You have done a great job putting it altogether. Any one planning their SE Asia trip should go through this post.

  • Reply
    Jenna
    January 30, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    These are such great tips and so important to think about. It’s so great to give people a reminder to be respectful when visiting important cultural sites like this. Didn’t realize that you shouldn’t stand taller than the Buddha, and interesting tidbits about the monks too. Thanks for sharing some great reminders!

  • Reply
    Adelina
    January 30, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    What a useful post! I always feel like I’m floundering when I visit a temple never sure if I’m doing things right. As a female I didn’t know that i wasn’t allowed to hand something directly to a monk. Thanks for sharing that. Will have to keep it in mind.

  • Reply
    Sally E
    January 30, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    These are such great tips! I’ve seen quite a number of tourists not following some of these rules (especially dressing modestly) which is always disappointing. I appreciate that you put them all together especially because some are definitely not obvious (like no pointing!)

  • Reply
    Medha Verma
    January 31, 2018 at 2:26 am

    Thanks for all these tips! I think its really good that you’ve covered everything that one needs to know and keep in mind while visiting a Buddhist temple. I’ve been to many and I know about most of them but honestly, I did not know that its considered rude to point your feet at anyone in general, in Buddhism. That’s very interesting to know!

  • Reply
    Cat
    January 31, 2018 at 5:24 am

    We loved visiting all the temples in South-East Asia too and it was really frustrating seeing a lot of people acting really inappropriately. It’s such a humbling experience. These are all tips everyone should adhere to!

  • Reply
    diningtraveler
    January 31, 2018 at 6:56 am

    This is a must read for anyone going to Southeast Asia. I always cringe when I see people doing all the donts you mention. A lot of these are applicable to churches as well. It’s crazy to see tourists trying to take photos during mass!

  • Reply
    lukeandmeagan
    January 31, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I had no idea about many of these things, just because it’s not an environment I’ve been in before – and I’m happy to have learned more from you. But the fact that you had to mention some really basic, common sense things makes me very sad and kind of angry that we’ve gotten to a point (or maybe the West has always been here?) where general respect is no longer something that many travelers offer by default. I about fell over when you mentioned people baring their bums in public, much less at a temple! Thank you for the educational moment! 🙂

  • Reply
    umiko
    January 31, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    These are great tips! Some I know, some I just knew it from your post. I think everyone has to respect other traditions or cultures when he/she goes for a visit; everywhere. You can’t push your culture to be excepted wherever you go. Great post. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Candy
    January 31, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    The dress code is a great tip. I’m so used to wearing tank tops and shorts during the summer and didn’t know what shoulders and knees needed to be covered at a Buddhist temple. Good tip on carrying a scarf 🙂

  • Reply
    Cat
    January 31, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    This is a very helpful post for those visiting buddhist temples! I didn’t know that women can’t hand things to the monks directly. Glad I do know so I don’t offend them when I visit!

  • Reply
    HoneyTrek
    February 1, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    Great post! I would just say that taking the time to look what others are doing is a great tip. And that goes for anywhere in Asia, not just the temples. And go into the experience with an open heart and heaps of respect for these ancient cultures and you will have a wonderful experience.

  • Reply
    Top 10 in Luang Prabang, Laos - For the Love of Wanderlust
    February 6, 2018 at 6:48 am

    […] Luang Prabang is well known for its beautiful temples in the Old Town and all around the city. In fact, 34 of the temples (or wats as they’re known in Laos) are protected UNESCO- protected since the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had a fantastic time popping in and out of them across the city. It’s a great way to spend an entire day! Don’t forget to do this respectfully! […]

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