Of the hundreds of meditation temples in Thailand, a few cater specifically for foreigners by holding meditation sessions and retreats in English. Novices as well as practised meditators are generally welcome at these wats, but absolute beginners might like to consider the regular retreats at Wat Suan Mokkh and Wat Khao Tham, which are conducted by supportive and experienced Thai and Western teachers and include talks and interviews on Buddhist teachings and practice. The meditation taught is mostly Vipassana, or “insight”, which emphasizes the minute observation of internal sensations; the other main technique you’ll come across is Samatha, which aims to calm the mind and develop concentration (these two techniques are not entirely separate, since you cannot have insight without some degree of concentration).
Longer retreats are for the serious-minded only. All the temples listed below welcome both male and female English-speakers, but strict segregation of the sexes is enforced and many places observe a vow of silence. Reading and writing are also discouraged, and you’ll generally not be allowed to leave the retreat complex unless absolutely necessary, so try to bring whatever you’ll need in with you. All retreats expect you to wear modest clothing, and some require you to wear white – check ahead whether there is a shop at the retreat complex or whether you are expected to bring this with you.
An average day at any one of these monasteries starts with a wake-up call at around 4am and includes several hours of group meditation and chanting, as well as time put aside for chores and personal reflection. However long their stay, visitors are usually expected to keep the eight main Buddhist precepts, the most restrictive of these being the abstention from food after midday and from alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex at all times. Most wats ask for a minimal daily donation (around B200) to cover the costs of the simple accommodation and food.
Further details about many of the temples listed below – including how to get there – are given in the relevant sections in the Guide chapters. A useful resource is wdhammathai.org, which provides lots of general background, practical advice and details of meditation temples and centres around Thailand. In addition, wwanderingdhamma.org is a very interesting blog written by an American Ph.D. student, with some fascinating articles, information on English-speaking retreats in Thailand and lots of good links. Meanwhile, Little Bangkok Sangha (wlittlebang.org) is a handy blog maintained by a British-born monk, Phra Pandit, which gives details of talks in Bangkok and retreats. Also in Bangkok, keep an eye out for developments at the Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives in Chatuchak Park in the north of the city, a recently built centre in honour of the founder of Wat Suan Mokkh, which may well host more events for English-speakers in the future.
Meditation centres and retreat temples
House of Dhamma Insight Meditation Centre 26/9 Soi Lardprao 15, Chatuchak, Bangkok t02 511 0439, whouseofdhamma.com. Regular two-day courses in Vipassana, as well as day workshops in Metta (Loving Kindness) meditation. Courses in reiki and other subjects available.
Thailand Vipassana Centres wdhamma.org. Frequent courses in a Burmese Vipassana tradition for beginners (10 days) and practised meditators (1–45 days), in Khon Kaen, Lamphun, Phitsanulok, Prachinburi (near Bangkok) and Sangkhlaburi. Foreign students must pre-register by email (application form available on the website).
Wat Pah Nanachat Ban Bung Wai, Amphoe Warinchamrab, Ubon Ratchathani 34310 wwatpahnanachat.org. The famous monk, Ajahn Chah, established this forest monastery, 17km west of Ubon Ratchathani, in 1975 specifically to provide monastic training for non-Thais, with English the primary language. Visitors who want to practise with the resident community are welcome, but the atmosphere is serious and intense and not for beginners or curious sightseers, and accommodation for students is limited, so you should write to the monastery before visiting, allowing several weeks to receive a written response.
Wat Phra Si Chom Thong Insight Meditation Centre t053 826869, e[email protected]. Located in Chom Thong, 58km south of Chiang Mai, this is the centre of the Northern Insight Meditation School developed by the well-known Phra Ajarn Tong Sirimangalo (the meditation teachers at Chiang Mai’s Wat Ram Poeng and Wat Doi Suthep are all students of Phra Tong). Offers 4- to 21-day Vipassana meditation courses taught in English and Thai and some European languages as well. By donation.
World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) 616 Benjasiri Park, Soi Medhinivet off Soi 24, Thanon Sukhumvit, Bangkok t02 661 1284–7, wwfbhq.org. Headquarters of an influential worldwide organization of (mostly Theravada) Buddhists, founded in Sri Lanka in 1950, this is the main information centre for advice on English-speaking retreats in Thailand.