In the 1940s, a visitor to Bangkok couldn't fail to take in the soaring roofs and honeycombed towers of the city's towering Buddhist temples, or wat. At that time, Wat Arun, a majestic structure on the opposite bank of the river from the old palace, was said to be the tallest in Bangkok and could easily be spotted for miles around. That was before the spurt of skyscrapers and concrete towers began to redefine the urban skyline. Today's modern subdivisions have fewer temples embedded in their layout, unlike traditional Thai communities. Bangkok is still a city of temples, shrines and spirit houses, but you have to look a bit harder to find them. Apparently, not enough Thais are finding them. Temples in Bangkok are reporting a steady drop in attendance as stressed-out city people stay away, except for big holidays, weddings and funerals. The trend is even more alarming among the younger generation, in the eyes of the Buddhist clergy. A recent survey found that 45 per cent of Bangkok teenagers had never prayed at a temple or listened to a sermon. Clearly the teachings of the Buddha are having trouble competing with the materialist rewards of a modern society. Armed with this information, the Ministry of Culture has caused waves with its proposal for religious zones in shopping centres, where monks could lead prayers and provide guidance to Thai youth. Books and films with appropriate messages would also be sold in the zones. Dubbed 'monks in malls', the idea has had a cool reception in some quarters. But adapting to modern life may be the best way for monks to reach out to a new generation of Thais. One Buddhist temple in Bangkok has begun adjusting its hours of worship to match the needs of its congregation. Wat Suthat Thepwararam, founded in 1807 by King Rama I, has managed to draw crowds by opening late and adding midday prayer sessions for workers who cannot spare much time. A senior monk at Wat Suthat told The Nation newspaper that it was up to temples to adopt their hours and refresh their teachings. 'As for teens, we should not blame them for not going to temples. I believe if more temples adapted to changing times, more teens would come,' he said. It marks a reversal for this historical temple that was once known for its conservative clergy. Until 1994, visitors were not allowed to pray with the monks, who maintained their own private rituals. Today, monks lead daily prayers and sermons, then leave worshippers to their own private meditation. Flexi-hours seem to be the way forward.