Crackdown on Thai amulets and Buddha themed items in Thailand?

Over the past couple years, I’ve been to Thailand multiple times, I love the culture and the relatively inexpensive yet high quality dentistry (I posted about my dental experience HERE). It is only this most recent trip (to Bangkok) that I’ve noticed the signage regarding the “respecting of Buddhism”. The various signage that I’ve seen, seem to indicate that having the Buddha image as tattoos, t-shirts designs and such are prohibited as is the export of such items. At first, I didn’t know what to expect, as in how this is actually going to be enforced because I’m still seeing t-shirts, carvings, statues, artwork etc depicting Buddha in the shops albeit not as abundantly as before. Note: I’m interpreting, “Buddha image” as anything depicting the likeliness of Buddha (in any form/medium).

Frankly, I didn’t think anything of it, even though I had my heart set on acquiring a Thai Buddhist amulet. I had asked some Thai friends where I could acquire an “authentic” amulet and was told amulets are readily available “everywhere”, there’s even a street specifically selling such items but they advised me to get one from within a temple, those should be authentic. This amulet market, I was told, is near Wat Pho and a ferry terminal, I couldn’t miss it. Well, I walked from the Grand Palace to Wat Pho and visited 2 ferry terminals, I couldn’t find this amulet market. Maybe most of the shops were close since it was raining? Or maybe the crackdown is really happening? The most probably reason why is because I’m just an idiot and couldn’t find it, lol.

Now what is the big deal with Thai Amulets? Well, supposedly they have spiritual powers (if you’re so inclined to subscribe to that notion and belief system). Authentic amulets are the ones that are hand made by monks and have been “enchanted” through prayer. The more famous the wat and monk, the higher the “power” and worth/price the amulet will be. Some amulets cost in the 100’s of thousand US dollars range! There are different amulets covering different aspects of “life issues”. For example, luck and or success in your career or school, love life charms, warding of bad spirits, omens, calamities etc. Much like the plethora of different charms sold at the Japanese temples (Shinto temples, I think they were). Unlike the Japanese charms, you don’t have to return/recycle them after a year (I’ve seen big drop boxes at these temples for you to drop your old charms into. Instead Thai amulets (again this is what I’ve been told so I don’t know exactly how accurate this info is) are given out on loan and the monetary amount you pay is the rental/donation fee. Once your “crisis” has been averted and/or you feel better, you’re supposed to return the amulet. When I acquired my pendant from Wat Pho (first image of this post), I didn’t see any signage regarding the “rental” practices and I tried to ask but the language barrier was to great I think. So I have no idea if this is true and if so where to return the amulet to. What happens if I lose the amulet etc.

This is the one I got from Wat Pho (I picked the least expensive one that I felt “comfortable” with, the charm inside is suppose to be 22k gold foil). I also bought the stainless steel necklace for the charm at $100 Baht the charm itself set me back $400 Baht. Expensive or not, in my mind, the dollar amount that I’m relinquishing goes towards something I subscribe to, at a place that’s absolutely stunning plus authentically religious with historic significance and it gives me peace of mind (it can’t get much more authentic than this, right)?

Anyways, sorry for the lack of photos in this post, I really didn’t intend to post on this topic. So why am I? Well, I’ve always had a Buddhist pendant on me since childhood, so I never thought twice about the “warning” signage and although I’m not a full fledged follower of Buddhism, I’m still a believer in most of the teachings that I’m aware of. So these signs don’t pertain to me, right? Well, apparently not.

I had forgotten I had my new amulet on (I put it on at the temple and haven’t taken it off). So at the at the airport security screening I place my bag on the xray machine and walked through the metal detector, which didn’t beep but the guard beckoned me over, so I assumed the position, legs spread and arms out to the side. The usual waving of the wand, then he waves it up and down just below my chin, I thought he wanted to see the tattoo on my chest (it’s happened before at LAX they made me take off my shirt so they can full body scan me). He shakes his wand from side to side and says, “no” (when I showed him my tattoo) and uses the wand to point at my neck. I think I gave him a funny look cuz then he starts wiggling and pointing the wand at my neck, it’s then I realize he wanted to see my necklaces/pendants. I reach into my t-shirt to pull out my necklaces/pendants for him to check out. Which he does by leaning in for a closer look and then waves me off with the wand. Much ado about nothing?

I have been wearing this one for at least 3 years.

And my new amulet’s casing is showing quite a bit of tarnish. Maybe I was let go because of the state my pendants were in? Maybe they look inexpensive/fake etc? I don’t know but I’m not complaining. Note: some amulets you can purchase without a case so you can find/purchase higher quality ones..

Having told my story to my Thai buddies, who had a big laugh, they related to me some instances in the news where some people were fined/jailed for having tattoo’s of a Buddha image, taking photos at religious places in “disrespectful” poses, standing/sitting on things that people normally wouldn’t etc. I have no idea what would have happened if the guard took offense to my amulet and pendant but it is something to think about, wouldn’t you agree?

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