Nearly 98% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist of the Theravada school. This section will help you to understand the way of Thai life with The Buddha. For centuries, Buddhism has been central to the lives of Thai people. Everything is tied to Buddhism in one way or a another.
The Thai people are a very religious people. For most people, Buddhism underlies all activities and is the backbone of Thai culture. Thailand is perhaps the only country in the world where the King is constitutionally stipulated to be a Buddhist and the upholder of the faith. As in most other Theravada nations, Buddhism in Thailand is represented primarily by the presence of Buddhist monks. When strolling around Bangkok’s streets you will see images of The Buddha and small altars dedicated to worship. Restaurants and shops may have small altars for this reason. You can see people doing prayers and small gestures towards statues of The Buddha.
All Buddhist images are considered extremely sacred. Sacrilegious acts are punishable by imprisonment, even if committed by foreign visitors. Please remember to respect all Buddhist religious items, places, rituals and people. Also note that Buddhist monks cannot touch or be touched by females.
When you’re going around Bangkok you might see small temple style altars or miniature houses in front of buildings. Even bigger corporate skyscrapers might have one of these at the front or corner of their property. These are called “spirit houses”. The meaning of these spirit houses is to accommodate spirits that could otherwise disturb people’s lives in the actual building, therefore spirits need their own house to live in. They also provide a shelter for the spirits who protect the home, gardens, and business of the owner. The spirit house size is also related to the owner’s house, whereas cheaper houses are built from wood, more expensive ones are bigger in size and made of concrete and have more decoration. It is easy to confuse spirit houses with altars which are also seen frequently around Thailand. In front of the spirit house you can see offerings which are frequently give to spirits. Offerings can include fruits, rice, meat, beer, water and other drinks like common red Fanta soft drink. As usual with the religious items, please do not touch the spirit houses.
Monks and temples
The Thai word “wat” means monastery and temple. Wats are residences of monks and novices. There are over 21,000 wats in Thailand. Buddhist temples in Thailand are characterized by tall golden stupas. In Bangkok alone there are nearly two hundred wats.
The temples are must-see places in Bangkok. When visiting temples, there are very strict dress codes. Shorts are not acceptable attire in Buddhist temples. Men should wear long pants and at minimum of clean short-sleeved shirt. Women are best covered in either pants or a long skirt, and shoulders should not be exposed. Light shoes are good to have because they need to be removed several times but this does not mean flip-flops. The best time to visit most temples is in the early morning, it’s cooler and generally less crowded.
Larger wats in Bangkok have about 600 residents consisting of monks (bhikkhus) and novices. The services of monks are requested for many different occasions. New houses or cars are usually blessed to bring good luck. Also when couples get married, nine monks are required for ceremonies. Young men ordain themselves before turning 20, remaining so from 3 months to 3 years. Some, of course, chose to remain a monk for life. One reason for ordaining is for your mother, so that when she dies, she would hold on to your monk’s robe and go to heaven.
Monks get offerings from laypeople, which might be seen incorrectly as begging. The giving and receiving of offerings creates a spiritual connection between the monastic and lay communities. The community has a responsibility to support the monks physically, and the monks have a responsibility to support the community spiritually.
Most important temples in Bangkok to see
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). Temple located on the bank of Chao Phraya River is one of Bangkok’s world-famous landmarks.