One of the most popular pictures taken during President Obama’s visit to Bangkok was this one where the President, Hillary Clinton and assistant abbot Phra Suthee Thammanuwat are seen sharing a joke. A lot of people have been asking what they were talking about to make them laugh like that. The answer is in this morning’s edition of The Nation.
“Several people asked me what we were talking about when we were seen laughing,” said Phra Suthee. “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 interestingly also gives an insight into the practice of charging to visit a place of worship. Most temples in Thailand are free and don’t charge people an admission fee. Which I think is the right thing as I am sure the Buddha wouldn’t be happy about it. However, a few temples that are popular with tourists charge them an admission fee. Most seem to be about 50 Baht. Looks like Wat Pho is the most expensive at 100 Baht.
I have blogged before that I was once visiting a temple in Chiang Mai that was seemingly deserted. I like visiting temples as I am very interested in Buddhism. I even do a blog at www.ThaiBuddhist.com. While I was walking around I heard someone shouting at me. Then a novice monk came running to me with his hand stretched out. All he said was “50 Baht”. The man that was shouting at me was a monk and he had sent the novice monk to get the admission fee from the foreigner.
Thai people are not charged any admission fee for these temples. After all, they contribute in other ways by donating money for things like lotus flowers and incense sticks. I have actually tried a couple of times, out of interest, to see what they would say if I told them in Thai that I was a Buddhist. They just said that it doesn’t matter. I am a foreigner and have to pay. So, what about Thais who are not Buddhists and go to Wat Pho as a tourist? Obviously they get in for free as admission is based on your nationality and not your religion.
This now brings us to the question of how much money these temples are making from foreigners. According to Phra Udornkanarak who was quoted in The Nation last week, 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! This is $16,302. In just one month they will make 15.5 million Baht ($505,379). And this is just from foreigners at one temple. Doesn’t include the large donations that Thais make themselves to temples.
So, where does the money go? And more importantly, do they pay tax on this income? Does anyone have any answers?