In Thailand, a temple is known as a 'wat'. Temples are not just a single building they are made up of a number of buildings, shrines and monuments often grouped together in a compound and enclosed by a wall, with single or multiple gates.
There are literally thousands of temples in Thailand, with most every town or village having at least one. The world 'wat' translates as 'school' as for many centuries a temple was the center of learning in the country.
Typically, a Buddhist wat comprises the following arrangement:
Viharn: Often the most visited room in the wat, the Viharn is where the main Buddha image is displayed and where visitors to the wat make their offerings. This area of the temple is accessible to all who visit the wat.
Chofah: Representing the Garuda a mythical half-bird, half-man creature, chofah's are decorative symbols which can be seen on the roof of a temple building.
Prang: Visible from a distance, a Prang is a finger like spire of Ayutthayan origin much like a Chedi, which is an alternative term for a Buddhist stupa, and my resemble the shape of a bell, housing relics of the Buddha.
Sala: A pavilion area of the wat which is utilized as a place for relaxation or a meeting point due to its covering, which provides shelter from the rain.
Mondop: A square building comprising four arches and an open square structure featuring four arches. The roof is pyramid-shaped and is used primarily as an area of worship for objects and religious texts.
Bot: The most holiest of rooms used by monks almost exclusively for ordinations and prayer. This area is highly orate, heavily decorated with eight cornerstones installed to ward off evil spirits. The room is also used by monks to take their vows.
Tips When Visiting A Wat
For women considering a visit to a wat, they should be aware of the following rules which apply to them exclusively over that of a male.
Firstly, Buddhist monks vow to avoid the temptations of women and as such they do not touch or accept gifts or offerings directly through a common hand exchange. Any item including donations should be placed on the ground directly in front of a monk, or placed on the special cloth he carries. In some instances an assistant or layman will accept the offering on behalf of the monk in order to avoid direct contact with a woman.
Secondly, in the early morning hours between 05.00 and 06.30 monks can be seen walking around a city or town. It's during this time monks accept alms, offered by locals and visitors alike. Most local Thai's offer rice or other types of Thai staples. When giving alms to a Buddhist monk, stand still allowing the monk to make his way toward you. Place the food item directly into the alms bowl. If you are seeking a blessing, remove your shoes and kneel down on the ground in front of the monk.
During the Buddhist holy day if you wish to give alms, visitors will need to visit a nearby temple as monks are forbidden to leave the temple grounds on this special day.
Finally, avoid offering money directly to a monk, as it is most often considered disrespectful. All temples feature donation boxes where financial donations can be made.