I highly encourage every person every where to go on a meditation retreat (preferably a silent one and preferably at least 10 days). I have always found so much value in my experiences no matter the temple (the location is not as important as the experience itself).
The two most prominent things I notice:
- There is so much input being thrown at us from everywhere in our world today. Listening to anything, watching anything, going anywhere out of your house, reading anything but a paperback book – we are bombarded with advertisements trying to influence the way we think. It’s incredibly frustrating when you really stop to think about it. So going away somewhere and putting away your phone, your work, your computer, your television – it opens space to allow your mind to breath and process.
- It is amazing how much we can hide from ourselves. There are many thoughts, memories, quilts, and other feelings that we would just as soon ignore and forget. But those emotions and past events are still sitting in our head causing stress, trouble, and anxiety (even if we aren’t entirely aware of it). But once we put away all of the distractions that enable ourselves to hide from that which we wish not to face, those monsters rise to the surface like dead bodies buried at the bottom of the ocean.
The time you give yourself and your mind at a retreat like this really provides access to pieces of yourself you were unaware of. You might be thinking right now, “I haven’t locked anything in the basement of my thoughts.” However, after a couple days of mediating for 4-8 hours a day certain notions or memories with creep in. Then you’ll think, “No way! I haven’t thought about that in ages!” Not necessarily bad things, or difficult things, or good things, or happy things, just things starting to rise because you are giving yourself space and peace.
These things do take time though. Typically the first few days are the roughest adjusting to the lack of input. Most of us are super addicted to the never ending stream of noise entering all of our senses (most of us, too, are completely unaware of this need/addiction). So when we turn the faucet off we feel a strong craving to turn it back on. We enable ourselves to think and pretty often its thoughts we really didn’t want to acknowledge in the first place and we were keeping the faucet on to drown them out. Thoughts like: “I’m so bored!”, “I hate myself!”, “How can I be with my thoughts.”, or “I need a distraction!”.
After 3-5 days though, you start adjusting and you’re becoming more understanding and a bit more friendly with yourself and your mind. Seven days in and now it’s a routine and you finally start feeling comfortable. By day 10 you’re happy to make it a few more.
Something of convenience to note is that you will be required to wear white clothes while staying at any of these monastery. Anywhere will, of course, allow you to bring your own clothes, but some have clothes to buy or will provide clothing for you – either free or for a rental cost (it is always cheaper to buy outside of the temple, but it’s also nice to support the temple). Some places will require you to bring your own clothes (noted as BYOC, “Bring Your Own Clothes”). To the best of my knowledge I marked it in the information section under each title. Be sure to double check when making your appointment – all things can change 🙂
Northern Thailand / Chiang Mai
I put these in descending order of how close they are to Old City Chiang Mai. Even if you don’t do a meditation retreat, all of these temples are worth visiting just as a tourist!
Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok has a monk chat office in the Old City of Chiang Mai where you can meet with a monk and ask whatever you’d like about meditation, Buddhism, monk life, monk rules, and any curiosities burning in your brain. They also have a meditation center that is outside of Chiang Mai, but they provide transportation to and from the meditation center. The transport is part of their Vipassana course fee.
I have zero experience with Wat Suan Dok, however their facebook has some happy comments and no temple is a bad temple as far as my experiences go in Thailand. If you find yourself interested in Wat Suan Dok, ask around and see if you can find any first hand experiences 🙂
Wat Ram Peong
Wat Ram Peong schedules groups to come in for a 10 day retreat. So you can’t come in whenever, but have to come at the time they schedule these intakes. To schedule time at Wat Ram Peong you will have to call them. They do not make reservations via email.
This is one of the stricter temples I’ve stayed in, but also one of my favorites. They will take your phone and hold it in a safe until you leave. They will kick you out if you do not uphold silence to their standards (I was personally asked to leave for talking too much during my time here :O but I apologized and reaffirmed my intentions, so I was allowed to stay). And they also asked the most of the practitioners compared to any other temple. By the end of 10 days they were asking for 10 hours of meditation in a single day.
It’s one of the older temples in Chiang Mai (though it has been refurbished and newer buildings have been built). It is a very comfortable place to meditate as it has several beautiful temples, outdoor areas, an air conditioned basement, and an old library. I definitely recommend it here.
I took their full course, which is 28 days. By the end, you are meditating 14-16 hours everyday barely leaving your room to eat breakfast or lunch! It was phenomenal though and I learned more during this time than any other 28 day period 🙂
This temple probably has the most character out of the other ones on this list. It still has an ancient temple charm. A lot of the temples in Thailand have remodeled and rebuilt their pagodas and temples to make them look nicer and maybe because they weren’t structurally sound anymore – I guess that’s possible. But it’s sad that the historical presence is lost. At Wat Umong you can see the age, you can feel the age. It is special for this reason.
I have not stayed here personally, but a friend of mine has. She thoroughly recommended it for its Buddhist charm. It has older facilities and is certainly not as nice/comfortable as other temples, but it has a more traditional feel and there are not as many people coming to Wat Umong for meditation retreats. I believe you can start whenever by emailing or calling to make a reservation. They do not have scheduled intakes like Wat Ram Poeng and Wat Suan Mokkh.
Wat Doi Suthep
The most famous of temples in Chiang Mai! You will see this at the top of the mountain just outside of Chiang Mai and it’s a must-do tourist attraction on it’s own. However, the meditation center is behind the glowy touristy center. Meditation students head down the side of the mountain into the jungle where you can no longer hear the noise and commotion up above.
Something very nice about this place, is that it is dedicated to teaching foreigners. There is one head monk who will provide Dhamma talks (Buddhist philosophy talks) every morning and evening. He is bursting from the seams with energy, excitement, and love. Sadly, his accent is quite strong and my non-native English friend (French) could not understand half of what he said.
It has been one of my least favorite places to meditate, but I still fully recommend it. The people I spoke with leaving on the same day as me had the most positive things to say. Always listen to others’ reviews with the understanding that it is only one experience 😉
Wat Chom Tong
The first place I have ever tried a meditation retreat! So lucky was I to have found this gem – an hour south of Chiang Mai. The other places I have mentioned were full and woah was me. But I found Wat Chom Thong, called them up, they almost always find room for meditators, and off I went. One of the most famous monks in all of Thailand makes Wat Chom Thong his home. Ajahn Tong is the head of Vipassana Meditation in Northern Thailand. During the time of his birthday (September 18), there is a massive celebration. Monks from all over Thailand, Myanmar, and even some from India come to pay respects. For 5 days people put up food stalls and serve food for free at the temple until noon (Monks do not eat after 12:00pm).
You can choose to stay at an international meditation school or stay in the temple. At the international school, you will speak with a lay person (non-monk practitioner) with good English as a meditation teacher/guide. Staying at the temple, you will see an Ajahn (a Monk teacher) as your meditation teacher/guide. Both are very good and I cannot recommend one over the other. That decision will be for you 🙂
Wat Chom Tong International Center
Phone: 08.97.007.129 / 05.38.261.80 |Email:email@example.com
Payment: Donation |Clothes: Provided
Check Out My 15 Day Experience at Wat Chom Tong Temple!
This meditation center is directly next to Wat Chom Tong and as a practitioner here, you will even share the same food hall and meditation halls – plus some extras on available here. I have never actually stayed here, but luckily for you guys Antonia has!
The main difference is that you will sleep at the International Center and your teacher will be an English speaking lay person; so you may have an easier time asking questions, getting answers, and learning about Buddhism. That will always depend upon who the teacher is, whether it be a monk or lay person. I’ve had some amazing monk Ajahns, but I have also had several that I felt unable to learn anything from (either through their teaching style or lack of English ability).
The grounds are really nice. There are several houses, each with several rooms and a little kitchen on the first floor. Antonia’s kitchen had a water boiler, little utensils, and even a fridge – these things you will not find when staying at the temple.
Whether you stay at this International Meditation Center or within the temple of Wat Chom Tong directly, you will have nice food, a caring teacher, and comfortable rooms 🙂
Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery
Going a bit further from Chiang Mai, this temple is located about 1.5 hours past Pai heading towards Mae Hong Son. One of the more beautiful and serene of the temples listed. As they state in their name, it is a proper Forest Monastery. With “shooting out of the ground” mountains, a river, two ponds, and spiritual caves, it is an amazing place to find yourself waking up everyday.
This temple is geared more for foreigners as well. They provide a Dhamma Talk every day in English and Thai. When it is busy, meditators are only permitted to stay a maximum of 10 days and there are no minimums. This is also one of the few places that allows walk-ins with no prior reservation. However, I still recommend calling and/or emailing to confirm a place for yourself.
Even if you do not stay here for meditation, it is worth visiting if you do the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Wat Doi Maechee (Nun Mountain Temple)
Phone: get via email |Email:firstname.lastname@example.org |Facebook
Payment: Donation |Clothes: BYOC
I’m friends with an Israeli monk who mainly lives at Wat Chom Tong. But one time he invited me to a monastery near Chiang Rai. I was picked up at a bus station in a small town outside of Chiang Rai. It is a quiet and peaceful temple run by nuns (there are 2 versions of Nuns in Thailand: 1. A Nun which takes 8 precepts and wears white clothes, 2. A Nun that takes 300 precepts and wears more of an orange brown color). Meaning that there are no permanent monks living at this temple. This too is in the jungle hills.
The nuns have absolutely beautiful spirits and they cooked the most amazing breakfasts and lunches for my friend and me. This is a location I would recommend if you have done at least one meditation retreat prior. I don’t believe you will visit an Ajahn or be taught about meditation here. But if you already know Buddhism and meditation then this is a wonderful place to practice 😀
If you write an email here, please address it to Maechee Ying (“Maechee” means “Nun” in Thai).
Rest of Thailand
Wat Suan Mokkh (near the small village of Chaiya)
Phone: no phone |Email: no email |Website
Payment: 2000THB for 12 Day Course |Clothes:BYOC
Most of the places on this list practice the Northern Thai style of Vipassana, which is different to the Mahayana Vipassana practiced more dominantly in India. Wat Suan Mokkh teaches Anapanasati (something they refer to as Vipassana, but the temples in the north would disagree with that. Not so important to me, but something to take note of).
The Meditation Program, starting on the first of every month, is specifically designed for foreigners. They practice 100% strict silence. It takes place on the last day of every month and there is no reservation. You must show up early in the morning on the last day of the month and sign up. Registration ends at 3pm, but I’d recommend getting there before 10am, at the latest. During the high season it can become full so don’t let that happen to you!
This is a 10 Day silent retreat. You show up on the last day of the month and leave on the 11th of the next month. So in total you have 12 days to schedule and 10 are in total silence 🙂
Like Wat Pa Tam Wua, this is a forest monastery. You will be following group meditations and a predetermined schedule throughout the whole day. This is a great place for a first time retreat because it is only about 4-6 hours of formal meditation. You will also perform some exercise like Tai Chi or Qigong (the teachers here change from time to time so it depends on who is available when you stay).
The food is definitely the best here. Typically temples serve decent food, but uncreative breakfasts and lunches. However, Wat Suan Mokkh supplies an arrangement of vegetables and different styles of food during the 12 days there.
If you are in Southern Thailand I would 100% try to schedule time here. It is just North of Surat Thani (the boat launch city for Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Samui) beside the small village of Chaiya.
Wat Pah Nanachat
Phone:no phone |Email:no email |Website
Payment: Donation |Clothes:BYOC
I have not yet been to Wat Pah Nanachat, but I will share what I know and what I have heard. It is an international forest monastery built by Ajahn Chah for the primary purpose of teaching foreigners in English about the traditional way of the forest monk.
I only recommend practicing at Wat Pah Nanachat if you have done multiple meditation retreats before. Quoting from the website: “We do not offer private meditation teachings or retreats and courses in meditation, but a chance to experience the challenging lifestyle of a traditional forest monk and learn from that.”
They also do not make it easy to make a reservation. You must send them a letter through the mail to request to stay at the monastery. You can find the address on their website. Here is another excerpt from their site: ” First you need to write a letter well in advance to the guest monk, informing us of your arrival date and proposed length of stay and provide a postal address for reply so we can to get back to you in case accommodation is not possible.”
There are many upon many upon many meditation centers in and around Bangkok. They range from 1day to 10day courses. Many of them are geared towards English speakers with the intention of teaching the basics of Buddhism and meditation. You can easily find them with a quick google search or asking around your hostel.
Where Should You Meditate?
No matter where you end up going, you cannot make a wrong decision here. You’ll gain wisdom and understanding about yourself through meditation, silence, and space.
Power through the rough beginnings. I promise you will settle into it 🙂
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