A Little More Conversation: Monk Chat in Chiang Mai

Monk chat in Chiang Mai is a unique chance to catch a glimpse of the rich complexity of Buddhism and its adherents.

A trip to Chiang Mai will leave you breathless with a whirlwind of temples, prayer wheels and glittering gold stupas. But how do you find out more about this fascinating town and its religion? Where can you go to discuss the big issues of life, the universe and everything?

In the temples of Chiang Mai, there’s a movement under way to help visitors understand more about the lives and beliefs of Thailand’s monks. The phenomenon of ‘monk chat’ is an opportunity to sit down with these gentle souls and talk about anything and everything under the sun. It’s a valuable and educational experience for both sides. Here’s the low-down on how it works.

What are monk chats?

To get involved in a monk chat it’s not hard, you just need to pick a temple and find a willing partner. Conversations are normally about issues of religion and theology but you could technically broach any topic under the sun! Be prepared for the monks to shy away from controversial or political conversations however, as well as anything overly personal about their private lives.

What’s in it for them?

Tourists are often seen at monk chats getting an insight into Buddhism and Thai culture. It’s easy to see why a visitor would find these conversations interesting and it’s a popular way to spend a half day during a holiday to Chiang Mai. It’s not just about the tourists, however. Monks, especially the younger ones, also value these conversations as highly valuable because of the opportunity to practice their English.

You’ll often find that the younger monks come to monk chat with a pre-prepared list of questions that they’d like to ask you. Although these questions may not be what you were originally planning on talking about, go with it. They’re often on topics of interest to the monks and can be carefully chosen to rehearse particular English vocabulary. It’s nice to give something back through these conversations and it’s a great way to get involved in a cultural exchange.

The monk chat phenomenon is mutually beneficial.
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Monk Chat Etiquette

It goes without saying that the normal temple etiquette rules apply while at monk chat. Wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees, and don’t bring any alcohol onto temple premises. Never point your feet at a monk and don’t sit anywhere that makes you taller than any Buddha images in the room.

Women are very welcome at monk chat sessions but need to be aware of the sensitivity over their interactions. Women should never be alone in a room with a monk and should never initiate touching. If giving alms, women should put them on the floor to be picked up rather than offering them directly.

The Best Places for a Monk Chat in Chiang Mai

Many temples in Chiang Mai offer impromptu chats if you just drop in, but the famous Wat Chedi Luang has a dedicated area where you can go and meet the monks. Look out for the large banner asking you to get involved, in front of a large table. Visit between 9 in the morning and 6 at night and you’re pretty much guaranteed a session.

The temple on Doi Suthep is also a popular destination but the timings are a lot more restricted- turn up at 1pm to make sure you can have a good chat, as the monks are required to pick up other duties at 3pm.

A Truly Genuine Experience for the Soul

Although many westerners find the idea of sitting down for a deliberate conversation quite strange, this is an amazing experience that should not be missed. The monks greatly appreciate the chance to practice their English and for visitors, it’s a great opportunity to learn so much more about the intriguing religion that is Buddhism. Give it a go and you’ll be glad you did.