One of the most popular temples in Bangkok for foreign tourists is Wat Pho, otherwise known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This is because of the giant reclining Buddha that is 46 meters long and has feet inlaid with mother-of-pearl. While most temples around Thailand are free for everyone to visit, some of the bigger ones charge foreign tourists an entrance fee. It doesn’t matter if you are a Buddhist or not, if you are a foreigner you have to pay. It used to be 50 Baht at Wat Pho like all the other big temples in Bangkok. They then decided to increase the price by 100% to 100 Baht. Now comes the news that from 1st January 2015, the price will go up again by another 100% to 200 Baht. The price remains free for Thais. The argument is that Thais will make merit by donating money. But what about the Thai Muslims, Christians and Sikhs etc who also get in for free? Why is that fair when foreign Buddhists have to pay so much?
A couple of years ago, President Obama and Hilliary Clinton visited Wat Pho. One of the most popular pictures taken during their visit to Bangkok was this one where they are seen sharing a joke with assistant abbot Phra Suthee Thammanuwat. What were they talking about? Apparently they were talking about the admission price for foreigners. “Several people asked me what we were talking about when we were seen laughing,” Phra Suthee told The Nation. “At that moment, Clinton asked how many people visited the temple a day. I said that about 7,000 to 8,000 people visited and foreigners were charged Bt100 each. Clinton responded that the temple was making a lot of money and should be able to support Obama’s work in helping poor children. I replied that the US president and his entourage should instead support the temple because the visit prompted half of the temple to be closed and caused the temple to lose money.”
This now brings us to the question of how much money these temples are making from foreigners. According to Phra Udornkanarak, each day Wat Pho has about 10,000 visitors and half of them are foreigners. So, at an admission fee of 100 Baht per head for 5,000 people, it means they make 500,000 Baht a day. In just one month they will make 15.5 million Baht. And this is just from foreigners at one temple. It doesn’t include the large donations that Thais make themselves to temples. Next year they will make a minimum of one million Baht PER DAY which is presumably tax free. This is ONE MILLION DOLLARS per month. Where exactly does all of this money go?