If you want to get involved in the traditional side of Songkran, visiting a temple is a great way to experience Thai culture and religion. Here we run down what you can expect when visiting a Thai temple as well as temple etiquette.
Which Temples to Visit
If you’re in the heart of Songkran, Chiang Mai, then some great temples to visit include:
- Wat Chiang Man: Found in the north-east corner of the old walled city, this was the first temple built in Chiang Mai and houses two rare Buddhist statues: the Crystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha.
- Wat Suan Dok: found 1km west of the old walled city, this temple has a huge 500-year old Bronze Buddha, one of the largest in Thailand. The surrounding gardens are beautiful, originally being a royal flower garden.
- Wat Bupparam: Situated 500 metres east of Tha Phae Gate, this temple houses beautiful statues including a wood, gold leaf and green gemstone Buddha images.
When visiting a temple for the first time, don’t expect the Hollywood version of Buddhism in a Thai temple (a la the start of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls) or you may be disappointed. Monks are remarkably friendly and many may practice their English skills with you or even offer to exchange email addresses.
Don’t be too taken aback, enjoy interacting with them and be friendly while also respectful. The rules for monkhood are slightly relaxed in Thailand, so monks are allowed to eat and you may even see some smoking or using mobile phones. It’s certainly a strange sight to see a fully robed monk waving incense around, then hear his phone go off, reach inside the folds and answer it!
Be sure to thank the monk before saying goodbye and give them a respectful prayer-like ‘wai.’
A Traditional Songkran Temple Fair
Typically, Thai temples include a courtyard with small worship areas scattered around. The sheltered areas containing Buddha statues are called Bots. When in the temple, follow these rules:
- Dress modestly. Even though you may have just come from water fights, remember that you wouldn’t wear swim clothes to a church back home. So men and women should wear sleeved tops and your shorts should cover your knees (sorry girls).
- Take off your shoes, hats and sunnies before entering.
- Turn off your phone, take off your headphones and speak quietly.
- Step over the wooden threshold into the temple, not on top of it.
- When sitting in front of Bots, stand up when monks enter.
- Don’t get in the way of locals who are there to worship.
- Back away from the Buddha images rather than turning your back.
- Don’t touch the sacred objects.
- Do not point at a monk or a Buddha statue.
- Do not take photos of monks who are worshipping.
- Don’t raise yourself higher than the Buddha statue (e.g. by sitting on the raised platform for a photo.
- When sitting in front of a Bot, have your legs tucked underneath you as the worshipers do.
Let’s Go To the Temple
Visiting a temple in Thailand is a truly memorable experience. These temples can be found just about everywhere, many have elaborate designs, beautiful décor and come loaded with historical and cultural significance.
No Songkran adventure, or Thailand adventure could be considered complete without visiting a select few of these remarkable places of worship.