What to Wear
Dressing modestly is strictly observed in temples and you will not be allowed to enter if you’re showing too much skin. It is recommended that you dress modestly all the time, not just for visiting temples to respect local customs. Keeping covered will protect you from sunburn in the day and insect bites at night. Before entering a religious site your shoulders and knees must be covered and you’ll need to remove your shoes and hat. It will be obvious were to leave your shoes outside the temple as there will likely be a pile of shoes or a shoe rack.
Head & Feet
The head is considered the most sacred part of the body in Buddhism and the feet the most impure. It’s therefore considered to be extremely improper to touch someones head. Likewise, pointing at things with your feet, putting your feet on furniture or pointing towards people with feet are rude gestures. This is why you’re asked to remove your shoes before entering and this is required when visiting a temple.
Temples are primarily a place of worship so be respectful and quiet. Never touch or sit near a Buddha statue or even the platform the statue sits on. If you choose to sit your feet should point away from the Buddha statue. Pointing is considered rude so to indicate something, use your right hand with the palm facing upwards. You should walk backwards when exiting the temple and get some distance between you and the Buddha before turning your back.
Interacting With Buddhist Monks & Novices
You should always try to be lower than the monk. If a monk is walking down the street if possible you should step down off the curb and if they are sitting, you should sit too before speaking to them. When seated ensure you feet are pointed away from them. Avoid eating or snacking around monks, particularly in the afternoon as they don’t eat in the afternoon. You should only use your right hand when giving or receiving something from a monk. Women should not pass anything directly to a monk and must instead place the object down to allow them to pick it up. This is to avoid the woman touching the monk as even brushing against them be accident could make them uncomfortable.
It’s easy to get carried away snapping pictures on your travels but you should always be mindful of local customs and peoples feelings. I’ve seen many tourists taking pictures of people without asking permission first – how would that make you feel? All you need to do is smile and gesture to your camera and many people will be happy to have their photo taken. They might then ask to take a photo of you.
Some religious sites have places where you cannot photograph so keep a look out for signs.