Monk at Hua Lamphong Station

Photo Essay: The Monks of Thailand

Photo Essay, Photography, Thailand

When I first moved to Thailand, I felt nervous when taking photos of monks or talking to them because I didn’t know the etiquette, but over the years I have met many fascinating monks and found that they are often approachable, well-traveled, and dedicated men.

In my neighborhood, I met the inspiring Phra Sangkom, an eco-monk committed to protecting the environment and fighting climate change. In Surin, I met a monk who’d recently traveled to America. He showed me photos of him in his orange robe juxtaposed against iconic American sites like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, and the Las Vegas strip. At the Phanom Rung Temple, I felt as though I fell through a wormhole and landed in a travel brochure as dozens of novice monks explored the ancient ruins all around me. I followed along taking photos, amazed at my good fortune.

Next time you are in Thailand, chat with the monks at the temple. You may be surprised to hear their stories.

15 Photos of Thai Monks

1.) Novice Monks at the Phanom Rung Ruins

Thailand Monks at Phanom Rung

2.) Monks collect alms on boats at the Kwam Riam Floating Market in Min Buri.

Monk at floating market

3.) Seen at Wat Awut Wikasitaram in Bangkok.

Monk at temple in Thailand

4.) Phanom Rung Ruins

Thailand Monk at Phanom Rung

5.) Monk collecting alms with his pig. Yes, it was strange.

Thailand monk with pig

6.) Phimai Ruins in Isaan.

Thailand Monk at Phimai

7.) Seen at Wat Awut Wikasitaram in Bangkok.

Monk in Thailand using chalk board

8.) Thai New Year ceremony in Baan Du Lat.

Thailand Monk Songkran Festival

9.) Monks fighting with water during Songkran.

Thailand Monk Songkran Festival

10.) Novice monks exploring the Phanom Rung Temples

Thailand Monks at Phanom Rung

11.) Monk Portrait at Phanom Rung.

Thailand Monk Portrait

12.) Novice monk at the Maab Euang Eco-Farm.

Monk at farm

13.) A prayer before breakfast.

Thailand Monks alms

14.) Preparing breakfast after collecting alms.

Thailand monks ceremony

15.) Seen at the Hua Lamphong Train Station.

Monk at Hua Lamphong Station

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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

42 thoughts on “Photo Essay: The Monks of Thailand”

    • They usually have a pretty quiet existence, but I have seen some welding, working in the fields, and playing with cats, which is always a funny surprise.

  1. Superb photos Jeff. It makes me want to go back to Thailand (and SE Asia) for a do-over.
    When we were on Koh Samui way back in 2013 we went to a gathering of 2600 monks to celebrate the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment. It was really amazing to see so many of them together. At least that time I got a couple of good shots.

  2. nasrulnanas says:

    Cool photo collection. Morning alm collection routine, and Monks with their orange robe is always fascinating to be photographed. But, some monks dont like to be photographed. Sometimes, I worry if it is because of the privacy or religion concern.

    • Monks are like everyone, and some don’t mind being photographed, and some do. In places like Luang Prabang where there are hundreds of tourists taking photos of the morning alms, I tend to stay away, but in my neighborhood they don’t seem to care or have told me it is okay.

  3. Monks are fun to photograph. I suppose because they pop out against the landscape. I always get a kick out of monks on their phones or smoking cigarettes. For a housewarming party, I had to ask if it was okay to photograph them, and yes was the answer. It’s surprising that they don’t mind. Although, I feel more comfortable photographing them from behind, walking away or at a distance. But I do have some faces from times I was brave enough to ask.\

    Funnily, even though I grew up in Hawaii, I grew up around monks (and Thai culture). We’d see them at the mall and of course, at parties.

    • I agree that seeing them smoking, on cell phones, or at the mall, is always a little funny. I like seeing them as tourists also. In the end, they are just regular men a lot of times, but I think as a westerner I expect to see something different.

      Is there a large Thai community in Hawaii?

      • Ah, as tourists. Yes, I took so many pictures when I spotted novice monks at the front of the Catholic cathedral in Chantaburi. They were in front of the Lady Madonna statue and boy, was that a sight!

        There’s a large SE Asian community. My mom would argue there are more Laos than Thais. I’d say ‘large enough’ to celebrate major Thai holidays like a festival gathering.

  4. Fantastic, Jeff. Their robes alone make for such great photos – the colors, the folds, and the contrast with their skin, nature, city scenes, etc.

    • I think the colors are what always catch my eye first, and sometimes the juxtaposition of the monks in the city, at the shopping mall, etc. Thank you for commenting!

  5. That glorious colour of orange stands out in any scene. I particularly like #9 with the young guy and his water gun. The expression on his face is priceless. It seems that children will be children regardless of whether they are novice monks or not 🙂

    • The orange always catches my eye, no matter how long I’ve been here. It is true, kids are kids no matter the situation. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I love seeing monks in their striking saffron robes but always get nervous about taking photos—the ones I do take are usually crappy. All your photos are great. The one of the young monk with his water gun is so fun.

    • I used to get nervous around them too, but after making a few monk friends and being invited to eat with them, I have learned that the customs aren’t too formal. I think of them like preachers or priests now.

  7. Fabulous photos Jeff. Not only is the pig surprising but the sunglasses quite the fashion statement. Here’s a question I’ve wondered about. Why do the monks always wear orange or shades there of?

    • From what I understand, monks traditionally wore red, but in some parts of the world red dyes were unavailable so they wore saffron robes and the tradition stuck. In Myanmar, the robes are red and the women wear pink. In Japan, many of the monks were dark brown. I am happy the Thai monks wear orange though because the color really pops. Thanks for the question!

      • Thanks for the answer Jeff. Could make an interesting blog post one day for you.

  8. This is a wonderful collection of photos of Thai monks. I particularly like the first one and as well that of the novice monk writing on a chalkboard. Some of my favorite memories are of interesting conversations had with monks in Luang Prabang, Laos. And because we were there for about six weeks, I was able to have ongoing discussions and even develop a sweet friendship. I found most monks and novice monks were pleased to engage in conversation.


    • Spending 6 weeks in Luang Prabang sounds amazing. I’ve found that many monks are open and eager to talk. One of my friends who was a monk for 3 years said that when you are monk you see so many problems and suffering that you forget about your own problems. Maybe talking to us foreigners is a nice break for them?

  9. oh my gosh….beautiful photos!! I love Monks as well and feel the same way about photographing them. I always try to sneak a snap and then feel sort of guilty about it. As Green Global Trek mentions, Laos is an incredible place. you must make your way there some day!

    • I am hoping to spend some time in Laos soon. I’ve been to Luang Prabang but nowhere else. Where have you been in Laos? Thanks for the comments and kind words!

      • I went on an REI trip! We drove from the boarder of Thailand to Luang Prabang. So we stopped in a lot places along the way, but couldn’t tell u the names of the towns. I went and checked out the itinerary and it’s changed! In fact, you may want to look at REI or some other travel site for ideas on where to go there!

  10. Very nice photos! It is nice that you took the time to understand the Monks and their culture before taking the pictures. I think this step added to the autheticity of the images you took.

    • It always helps to get to know your subject, and especially in a situation like this where you want to be sensitive to cultures it really pays off. Thank you for your comments!

  11. Great photos! I think that will give me confidence to approach the monks when we visit Thailand next year, thank you! I love taking people photos on our travels but it’s often quite difficult

    • It is very difficult approaching strangers for a photo. I always feels stress and anxiety when I do it, but it is worth it when they say yes! Where are you going in Thailand?

      • Hi Jeff, we are starting at Bangkok then Kanchanaburi, Phil has a relative who died there in the war, so we shall visit the grave. Then we plan on a couple of weeks on the coast, really don’t know where to head though, we want beautiful beaches but not party scene. In Europe we love Greek Island hopping and finding accommodation when we arrive on the ferry (infact we go there next week) We would perhaps like to do similar in Thailand, do you have any suggestions? After that we are heading north to Chaing Mai, Chain Rai and whatever else we fancy. Will be in Thailand for a month before heading for Laos. It will be our first visit to the region so we are in research mode. Any suggestions will be really useful

      • Kanchanaburi is very interesting, and it will have special significance for you since a family member died there. I’d recommend doing a day-trip to Erawan Falls, especially on a weekday if you can.

        For a quieter island hopping scene, look at Ko Lipe, Ko Moot, Ko Ngai, Ko Libong, Ko Lao Liang and Ko Rok in the far south. I haven’t been yet, but in April I’m planning a trip there.

        Having said that, I have been to Ko Lanta and Railay Beach, and can recommend it. The Railay Beach club has some awesome deals during non-peak times and the houses are in a quiet spot near the beach.

        In Laos​, of our Luang Prabang is the highlight, but look into Nong Kiaow, especially if you like the outdoors.

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