Buddhism for Beginners: Inside The Best Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai
Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai: Living A Monk’s Life
Buddhism is everywhere in Thailand. From the shining golden stupas of the ornate temples to the flowing robes of monks receiving alms every morning, religion is a part of daily life. But how can you gain an insight into this world if you’re not a Buddhist, but want to know more? Introducing the best meditation retreat in Chiang Mai that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
A great option is to head to a meditation retreat where you can receive an induction into Buddhist philosophy and try the ascetic lifestyle for yourself. Be careful which one you choose though, because some can be seriously hardcore! A month of silent reflection anyone?! Nope, us neither! Instead here’s a rundown of a more ‘entry level’ retreat, at Wat Pa Tam Wua near Chiang Mai.
Wat Pat Tham Wua Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai
While there are many meditation retreats to choose from, this is by far our favorite. The Wat Pa Tam Wua meditation retreat is open to all who want to learn about Buddhism and explore the practice of meditation. Located deep in the rural north of Thailand, the monastery has thrown its doors open to visitors who can stay for as short or as long a time as they like, praying and working with the monks and reading Buddhist texts.
The day at the retreat starts early with a 5am private meditation session followed by a 6:30am rice offering ceremony to the monks. The day is then structured with alternating sessions of guided meditation, cleaning, chanting and solo meditation practice, ending at 9pm with an early bedtime. Meditation is practiced while walking, sitting and lying down and the monks are on hand to help with techniques like mind control and breathing.
Food and Accommodation
This isn’t a health resort so don’t expect luxury conditions, but both the food and the accommodation is good despite being quite basic. A vegetarian breakfast and lunch is served but the whole temple complex is vegetarian so expect rice, noodles and vegetables in multiple different combinations. Also expect no dinner! Monks fast in the afternoon and evenings so you won’t be offered a meal, but that doesn’t mean you have to go hungry. If you’re hankering for a snack then there’s an on-site shop selling noodle cups and nuts and potato chips.
You’ll stay in either a private bungalow or a dorm room depending on availability when you arrive, but bear in mind that your sleeping space is more likely to be a thin mattress on the floor rather than a bed. Like we said, this isn’t luxury… Visitors in mixed groups should also be aware that the genders are strictly segregated so you won’t be able to shack up together in a private bungalow. There’s no time to ‘enjoy each other’s company’ anyway; there’s meditation to be done!
The Rules of the Meditation Retreat
There a few rules at the meditation retreat to bear in mind on your visit. Women cannot talk to the normal monks, only to the Abbott, and they cannot give alms directly to monks or physically touch. This is the same for most temples across the country.
There’s no smoking or drinking on site and lights out is at about 9pm every night- don’t come here expecting long bohemian parties that stretch into the night, it ain’t gonna happen! Having said that, the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful surrounding more than make up for the lack of ‘normal’ tourist activities.
How to Get to Wat Pa Tam Wua
The retreat is on Highway 1095, about 5 hours drive from Chiang Mai or 2 hours from Pai. The minibus company Prempacha runs regular transport past the end of the access road to the retreat and it’s easy enough to jump off and walk the 15 minutes to the temple entrance; find them at the Terminal 2 Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai or at the walking street bus station in Pai.
When you want to leave the retreat then you will need to retrace your steps. Flagging down a yellow songthaew truck is a fun way to get back to civilization, and at 100 baht a person to Pai it’s a great budget option too.
The Best Free Meditation Retreat in Thailand
Many people are put off by the idea of a strict, no-fun temple experience but Wat Pa Tam Wua is none of that. The natural surroundings are stunning, the monks are welcoming and it’s an amazing way to get acquainted with the rich culture of Buddhism.
Oh, and did we mention it’s FREE? Yep! Donations are welcome, but there’s no fee to visit and stay a few days. There’s really no excuse not to visit, so grab your prayer mat and get going!