BANGKOK — A popular temple in Bangkok shut its doors to foreigners, including expats who have been residing in Thailand for years, citing anti-coronavirus precaution.
“ONLY THAI PEOPLE, NOW NOT OPEN FOR FOREIGNERS,” announced a sign in front of Wat Pho, known internationally as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The temple reopened on June 5 yet reserved entry to Thai nationals only, a gesture criticized as racial discrimination.
“We aren’t ready for foreign visitors yet,” said a temple caretaker answering the phone Thursday. “We don’t know how long this will last.”
When asked why Thais were allowed and not foreigners, he said that these were “the temple regulations.” Officials reached for comment said they considered the policy as legal.
“COVID-19 is not stable yet. The temple can do it if they’re scared,” Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s deputy clerk Sompong Wiengkaew said. “It’s up to each temple what measures they want to implement.”
Tourism ministry spokesman Narit Kanjanopas said that tourist destinations should wait for further clarification on allowing foreigners in.
“Some temples smay allow but some may not; each temple can manage their own rules,” Narit said.
An Excuse for Racism?
But the rule left the expat community in Thailand seething with outrage since not every foreigner in Thailand is a tourist. Many also protested the measure treating non-Thais as potential virus carriers, since a significant number of foreigners have been inside the country and never left since the outbreak began.
“Are you serious? Banning foreigners is extremely discriminatory and everyone is saying you are racist,” Facebook user Jason R. Hofer wrote in a comment to the temple’s announcement. “You cannot just assume someone has a disease because of their nationality.”
British blogger and longtime expat Richard Barrow posted on Thursday that he had gone to Wat Pho to pay his respects, but was not allowed in despite having residence in Thailand.
The temple also said that Thai visitors must wear masks before entering and have a temperature lower than 37.5. Only 30 visitors are allowed in at a time.
But photos posted by the temple show dozens of monks seated together inside Wat Pho on June 3, when they held a ceremony celebrating Queen Suthida’s birthday.
The historic temple wasn’t alone in maintaining a no-foreigner policy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Buses operated by The Transport Co., which resumed their inter-provincial services, also announced that they would not allow foreigners to board.
The company said passengers must show their Thai ID cards for tracking virus purposes, and passports are not acceptable.
Back in February, a restaurant in Chiang Mai also came under fire for posting a sign refusing entry to Chinese customers and foreigners. The restaurant was later forced to remove the sign by Tourist Police.
Business As Usual
Many other businesses and landmarks that reopened under “Phase 3” of coronavirus lockdown easing do not have problems with admitting foreigners, however.
The Grand Palace, for instance, has been open to both Thais and foreigners since June 7, though the site still practices the “double pricing,” which charges non-Thai 500 baht for entry.
Wat Arun or Temple of the Dawn, another landmark temple across the river, is also open to everyone regardless of their nationality.
A temple caretaker who picked up the phone today said the temple has hygiene and social distancing measures in place, but group tours are not permitted at the moment due to overcrowding concerns.