Keeping the respect at religious sites

Tourists looking to enjoy an authentic Asian experience have flocked to religious sites across the continent for years. From Thailand’s Vesak Day – also known as Buddha’s Birthday – to the Galungan and Kuningan holiday season in Bali; these festivities are must visits for many travellers and the same can be said for countless temples and sites of religious significance.

While it’s clearly not a problem to explore holy places or soak up the atmosphere at a religious festival, it’s vital to remember the importance of that word – religion – to the daily lives of many people across Asia. You might want to capture a few photographs as a reminder of your trip, but it’s essential to bear in mind the religious significance of the locations and celebrations you’re keen on committing to film.

Basically, if you’re in doubt about how to act while visiting a religious site, just try to consider the way your actions will be viewed by the locals. Try and have the smallest possible impact and allow worshippers to get on with their daily routine. Anyone can enjoy holy places without being a nuisance – it just requires a bit of common sense and good, old-fashioned manners.

Can I take photos?

At some temples, you won’t be looked on kindly for channelling your inner David Bailey. A general rule is that if the holy building charges for entry, the caretakers are probably fine with you taking photos, while the opposite is true if admission is free.

However, you should never assume that you’re allowed to take pictures – the clicking, flashing and (possibly worst of all) posing can detract from the unique sense of reverence to be found at Asian holy sites. If there’s no sign up outlining a temple’s policy on photography, it’s best just to ask – even if you find out you can’t take pictures, they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness. 

What should I wear?

Again, this will vary from place to place, but you should always dress appropriately – visiting a temple or other holy site isn’t the same as just nipping to the shops or looking around a museum.

Women should wear modest clothing, while traditional dresses that cover the entire body – like a saree – are desirable at many Hindu temples. Tight-fitting clothes and dresses that could be considered provocative should always be avoided. The dress code is even more important in religious buildings where monks live, as its thought that women who disturb or distract the holy men may be sinners.

For men, it’s best not to wear anything too colourful – leave your bright Bermuda shorts and flowery Hawaiian shirts in the hotel. Perhaps surprisingly, in some locations where the climate is hot and humid, it’s considered acceptable for men to visit temples bare-chested, as it’s thought this shows humility before God.

If it’s a Hindu temple that you’re visiting, you should remove your footwear outside. Prominent temples will normally have a stand available where you can leave your sandals, flip-flops or shoes free of charge, or for a nominal fee. 

Again, the key here is to ask, and if you’re in any doubt it’s always wise to be as conservative as possible.

How should I behave?

The temple is meant to be a spiritual place that helps to elevate the mind and concentrate the faith of the worshippers. You should avoid doing anything that distracts from this aim – it’s a holy building, not a pub, so leave your thoughts on politics, the weather or last weekend’s football at the entrance. 

Likewise, if you’re visiting as a family group, it’s important to instil the same message in your children. Simply shrugging as your kids clamber over century-old statues or run around screaming won’t go down well.

Mobile phone usage should also be kept to a minimum, or better yet, avoided completely. Certainly keep the volume down – your Lady Gaga ringtone might be a hit around the hotel pool, but it won’t seem so appropriate inside a serene temple.

About the Author:
Ryan is the resident blogger at When Ryan is not working he spends his time travelling the globe, drawing on his travel experience and passion for travel to spread the good word. Ryan is also a social monkey and can be found lounging around on Twitter & Google+ and loves to interact with other travel bloggers.

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