Sometimes when you go into a building in Thailand, you may be asked to take off your shoes before going inside. This is mostly the case for homes and hostels and temples, and sometimes also stores.
The reason for this is that Buddhists believe that a person’s spirit (or soul) lives in their head, and the feet are the farthest part of your body from your head, and therefore, the least holy. The dirtiest. And shoes – because they touch your feet AND the ground – are super, super dirty. So you take them off when you enter a special place, as a sign of respect.
You should never touch someone with your feet in Thailand, or point your feet at anything they believe is important, like a statue of Buddha or a plate of food. When people pray in Buddhist temples, they kneel down in front of the Buddha statue so their head is pointed toward the statue and their feet are pointed away from it.
And they would never eat a plate of food sitting on a chair with their knees up and their toes pointing toward the table.
Think about how you usually sit in your house. I know I NEVER think about what my feet are doing, as long as I’m comfortable! Buddhist people are generally very conscious of being respectful and honoring their religious traditions. Even if you don’t believe the same things they believe, I think it’s a really great way to be.
Plus it keeps your floors a lot cleaner!
How do you know you should take off your shoes?
The easiest way to know is to look on the ground before you go into the door. If you see other peoples’ shoes there, you should take yours off. Sometimes there will be a shelf, and maybe a sign. If that’s the case, definitely take them off (the picture at the top of this post is from a hostel I stayed in – everyone was expected to take their shoes off if they went inside). If you’re going into a temple, it’s not even a question – they come off.
Some temples are outside, but they’re up on a platform (like in the picture above). If that’s the case, you take your shoes off before you step on the platform. See all the shoes on the ground?
If you decide you don’t want to take your shoes off, and you just walk into someone’s house or into a temple with them on, it’s considered very, very rude and disrespectful.
Won’t people steal my shoes, though?
Nope. They won’t. It’s a funny thing, but stuff almost never gets stolen in Thailand. Especially shoes.