Are you’re heading off to a mysterious and faraway temple for the first time? I love temples, I love visiting them because they’re so much apart from my every day life and I do, for whatever reason, find them very peaceful as well as educational. I feel like I’ve been to loads of temples, so hopefully I can give some tips on how to be and dress in a temple. They’re not scary, and most visitor-temples are used to people who are not practising that religion popping in for a look. It’s simple really, as with most religious sites, just be respectful.
Take a tour guide. Okay it’s not a must but it is a tip from me! I nearly always grab a tour guide at a large and significant temple, unless I know a local who can tell me all the stories, for smaller temples it’s not such a big concern really. It is worth it for the little snippets of information, the stories, the personal significance and the local view; all those things you just can’t look up on Wikipedia later. It is also the livelihood of these people, they’re usually very good at what they do and you can support them.
Photos are usually fine, but you might want to ask, for example in Asia, a monk before you shove a camera in his face. If a temple has signs with guidelines about photography though – do follow those! You wouldn’t want a tourist sticking a camera in your bedroom.
If you’re female… Yeah, touchy subject I know. But some religions you have to use different entrances to men, some you aren’t allowed in at all, and most places you’ll have to cover up somewhat. In Cambodia you weren’t supposed to touch the monks, so be aware that they’re not allowed to touch you even if you do receive a blessing from them, they aren’t being rude it’s just that women are a part of life they have given up.
Dress respectfully, try to aim for knees and shoulders covered, in SE Asia at least, you might want to go for a headscarf in some other places, like India. For the dress code you can ask a guide or just look around you, and see what the local women are wearing in. At Ankor Wat they have people on the gates who are meant to check what you’re wearing but they often let big groups of foreigners go right through. Quite a few people had snuck through in short-shorts and cropped tops but … it’s just not very respectful, and chances are if you want to be there and look at the place then you understand a bit about its culture and probably respect it too.
Dress cool. On the note of dress, in hot countries temples get damn hot. That’s at least 5 degrees over boiling. There may not be any shade if the temple is ruined and there won’t be any air-conditioning if the temple is fully functioning (well, there might be but probably not). Quite often I try and make these days flip-flop days too to allow for easy on-off-on-off as you move between places where you’re allowed shoes and where you aren’t.
Don’t pose provocatively. It sounds obvious but you wouldn’t believe what you see sometimes; a photo of a couple snogging may well be cute, but this is still a site of great holiness for people, even if it isn’t for you, or even if it looks so ancient and ruined you wouldn’t think of people worshipping here.
P.s. Do you have a favourite temple you’ve visited? Tell me!