Religion in Thailand

by isvolunteers on Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Buddhism is the primary religion in Thailand. This photo was taken in the Grand Palace, Bangkok © Narelle Webber, ISV Int’l Program Director

Thailand’s fascinating culture is one of the most exciting reasons to visit this country. Culture is strongly influenced by religion in Thailand and it’s important to respect the religious customs and beliefs of Thai people as you travel thorough their beautiful country.

As an overview, Buddhism is deeply ingrained in Thai culture, with 95% of the population practicing this religion. Islam accounts for approximately 4% and Christianity for less than 1%.

Buddhism

Many of the areas we will visit on ISV’s Thailand Adventure Tour  have strong Buddhist influences in much of the lifestyle. Apart from the large number of temples (Wats) that you may visit (the city of Chiang Mai has more than 120), Thai people have a few customs that relate to their Buddhist beliefs. Buddhists make altars for Buddha in a variety of locations. While on tour, you may see the Buddha on a shelf in a lonely roadside restaurant shack as well as in the lobby of many accommodations. Thai Buddhists visit a Wat whenever they feel like it, and may make offering of lotus buds, incense and candles at the various alters. You should avoid disturbing the altars or the Buddhists when they are making an offering. As a visitor to Buddhist temples you may take part in this custom or just quietly walk around the temple. It is important that you show respect to the traditions and religious beliefs, i.e.

  • Dress modestly in rural areas, cities and around Buddhist Temples. This includes covering your shoulders and knees.  Most temples do not allow entry without modest dress.
  • Photos may or may not be permitted in temples (read the signs).
  • If you would like to take a photo of a monk, you should ask them first.

    Thailand is full of religious (particularly Buddhist) temples (Wats) and images.  This photo was taken in Ayutthaya © Narelle Webber, ISV Int’l Program Director

Islam

Islam is strongly represented in the southern provinces of Thailand. Muslims are allowed to participate in important Muslim festivals and allowed to work half-days on Friday, the Muslim holy day. Salat (worship) is practiced five times a day and it is not uncommon to hear the “call to prayer” very early in the morning and throughout the day in parts of Thailand where Islam is practiced.

Three simple courtesies that you can adopt to respect the local villager’s religious customs/beliefs are:

  • Dress modestly – especially females. Wear long pants (or long skirts) as much as possible. Do not wear tank tops, crop tops or tops that show your shoulders or stomach.
  • Give space and do not interrupt villagers as they make their daily Salats (worships).
  • Many Muslims do not drink alcohol for religious reasons. In Muslim villages, respect this practice and follow it yourself.

Christianity

Christianity is not strongly represented and most Christians are found in urban areas such as Bangkok.

In general, as an ISV participant we ask you to visit Thailand with a deep sense of respect for their culture and with a mindset of learning about how others live.

To find out more about ISV’s program in Thailand please visit our website.

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