The Angkor Archaeological Park is visited by over three million people a year. Most of them know the temple rules and understand that they are not only visiting an ancient monument but that many of these sites are still used as a place of worship. 

More than 96% of Cambodia’s population is Buddhist and many ancient sites are still used for worshiping. At some temples you’ll find monks practicing Buddhist rituals. You are more than welcome to observe or sometimes even join them, as long as you keep in mind that visiting a temple or pagoda, requires you to make some adjustments in the way you behave or dress.

What’s the difference between a temple and a pagoda?

When we look at the English language, the word temple generally means ‘a place of worship‘. However, when we put it in a Cambodian context, temples are mostly a cluster of buildings and each building has a different purpose. One of the buildings that can be found in (almost) any temple complex, is the pagoda.

The pagoda is the biggest building, located in the center of the complex and facing east or south (west or north brings bad luck). Locals use the words Wat or Prasat to refer to a temple or a pagoda..

Shoes off when entering a pagoda

When entering a temple complex, for example Angkor Wat or many of the other ancient monumental sites, it’s not required to take  your shoes off. Entering a pagoda, the building used for worshiping, always requires you to take off your shoes or slippers, hats and sunglasses.

Inside the Pagoda

Take your shoes, sunglasses and hats off

What are the MOST important temple rules and guidelines?

Ask the locals and they may be able to tell you more than 100 things that THEY do or don’t do when visiting a temple or pagoda, but don’t worry: they wont expect you to know or follow all of them. There are however a number of things they DO expect from you:

  • Bare feet –  Never enter a pagoda with your shoes or slippers on.
  • Dress appropriate – Shoulders and knees should be covered. Short sleeves are acceptable, long sleeves preferred.
  • Don’t eat, smoke or drink – Don’t forget to remove the chewing gum or peppermint;
  • Mind your sound – That includes the sound of your mobile phone and your children (instruct them properly);
  • Don’t lean against, sit on or climb any Buddha statue; It’s a respected religious object;
  • Don’t touch the monuments: One hand will not do any damage, but 3 million hands a year will have a negative impact on the preservation of the monuments.
  • Display proper behavior: No kissing, hugging or any nudity;

These are basically the most important temple rules to remember when visiting a temple, pagoda or archaeological site. That’s not too much, right?!

Doing it the right way…

Even though, these are not really temple rules, it is important to understand that some things are allowed, as long as you do them the right way:

  • Taking photo’s inside a pagoda or temple
    In general it’s allowed to take photos or make videos, unless there are signs that tell you otherwise.
  • Taking photo’s of monks
    If you want to take photos of monks, you should first ask their permission. If you’re a lady you should not stand too close to the monks.
  • Offering a donation or gift to a monk
    That’s not a problem, as long as you are not a lady. Monks (or the clothes they’re wearing) are not allowed to touch a lady. Ladies should wrap a gift in a cloth or (better) ask a man to hand the gift to the monk on their behalf.
  • Having a chat with a monk
    No problem! The best way is to sit down. Make sure you don’t sit higher than the monk and your feet are not pointed towards him (or a Buddha statue)

Other things you may consider

Some things are not especially related to Cambodia but general conceptions about good practice when visiting a temple or pagoda.

  • Sickness – Entering a temple when you are sick is not a good thing. Visit the temple when you feel better.
  • Leave a donation – Donations are used to maintain the temples and very much appreciated;
  • Lower your head – Or at least make sure your head doesn’t reach higher than any Buddha statue;
  • Greet the Buddha – A light nod with the head is enough, but a traditional som pas is even better.

Angkor Wat Code of Conduct & Temple Rules

The APSARA National Authority is responsible for managing the monuments in Angkor Wat. In order to help people understand what IS or IS NOT acceptable, they’ve created a clear Code of Conduct. This code of conduct not only applies to Angkor Wat, but all religious monuments

Temple rules - code of conduct

Code of Conduct

3 million people a year

Angkor Wat and surrounding monuments and temples are visited by more than 3 million people a year. Most of them show respect and follow these simple temple rules and guidelines. Only a few number of people get themselves in trouble with the authorities due to disrespectful or aggressive behavior. Keep in mind that any act of looting, breaking or damaging, or exposing sexual organs and nudity is punishable by law.

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