Since my first meditation retreat in early 2021, I have been to multiple monasteries/meditation centers to practice silent meditation retreats and I find great value in each of them. So, they have come to become a bit of a recurring theme in my blogs too.
Thailand being a Buddhist country, I was keen on going for a retreat and it worked out perfectly well when I heard of a monastery only a few kilometers north of Pai, a place I intended to spend some time at during my month-long stay in Thailand this year.
Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery is a few kilometers before Mae Hong Son when coming from Pai (which itself is north of Chiang Mai). The Monastery is in an idyllic location, surrounded by hills there runs a stream in the middle that divides the monks living quarters from that of guests.
If you’re familiar with Zen meditation, there are no surprises here, only the longer walking meditation was bit of a change for me that I did quite enjoy.
How to get to Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery?
Taking a Private Van – Any van headed for Mae Hong Son would stop there (there are 4/5 vans during the day). The only issue with this is, it stops at the main road and the monastery is about 1.5 km from there. It’s a flat terrain along a quiet road with rice fields on one side and a stream on the other. It makes for a good walk, I’d say.
Taking a Public Van – These are the yellow-coloured, open-in-the-back vans. Parked right around the bus stand, you can’t miss it. It goes right up to the monastery.
Timings: 7 am and 11:30 am
Cost: 130 Baht (for the yellow van)
What to Wear at the Monastery?
Like any place of religious importance, one is expected to wear modest clothes (no knees or shoulders showing). However, a great part about the Wat Pa Tam Wua Monastery is they lend you those clothes.
There’s a room called the ‘White room’ where you have a variety of clothes in white hanging, you choose and wear these during your time at the monastery. One can drop them off for laundry as needed and pick a different pair.
Fees for Mediation Retreat at Wat Pa Tam Wua?
There is no fixed fee for the retreat, however, one is expected to make a donation as per their financial abilities. There is a drop box where you can just drop your donation in a white envelope.
Note: There are no cash machines here, so do bring cash for donation. There’s also little scope for getting bigger currencies changed for smaller ones.
Some of the other monasteries in the area recommend a donation of 500 Baht for each day, I’d say that’s a fair expectation but also it’s entirely up to your financial abilities.
Is there a minimum or maximum stay requirement?
They do recommend you stay for 3 to 10 days as a first-time meditator.
I did meet a guy who had been staying longer with monks’ permission. I’m not sure how that would work out for women considering there’s very little interaction with monks.
I find the stay regulation to be great way to allow more people to experience meditation at the center.
How should Women Interact with the Monks?
The gender differences observed at the monastery are in plenty and that itself would ensure one is being culturally respectful of the monks. Some of the things to be followed are as follows:
- Men and women have different postures (Men’s feet are vertical to the ground whereas women’s are horizontal) for offering rice to monks (and paying respect to the Buddha/Sangha)
- The first three rows in the Dhamma Hall (Meditation Hall) are reserved for men
- While lining up for walking meditation the order is – Monks, Men, Nuns, Women
I did question the differences and the answer I got was, these are cultural differences almost all of them are in place to ensure the distance between monks and women.
To get the questions answered though, there is an opportunity to pose them after the afternoon meditation.
Something I learned at the Monastery: It is necessary to blend in with society because openly rejecting the local customs would cause misunderstanding. However, one does not have to inwardly accept them. It can be used as a training to express non-self. It's a small price to pay for the guidance of well-practiced Ajarn.
Is it a silent retreat?
No. However, if you want to observe silence (like I often do), you can get a badge from the reception area that says ‘Silent’. There’s also a separate dining section for silent observing people.
Note: The rule of silence is not a Buddhist practice. Observing silence does not aid Vipassana as it's not a natural state to be in.
Daily Schedule at Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery
5:00 am – Practice meditation in your own Kuti (no wake-up gong)
6:30 am – Rice offering to monks in the Dining hall
7:00 am – Breakfast
8:00 am – Practice meditation in the Dhamma hall (Includes an hour of Walking meditation, followed by sitting meditation)
10:30 am – Rice offering to monks in the dining hall
11:00 am – lunch
1:00 pm – Practice meditation in the Dhamma hall (Includes an hour of Forest walking meditation, sitting meditation (30/35 min), and sleeping meditation)
4:00 pm – Cleaning monastery area (Samu/Service/Seva)
5:00 pm – Free time/Tea time
6:00 pm – Evening chanting and meditation in the chanting hall
8:00 pm – Practice meditation in your own Kuti
10:00 pm – Sleep
My Experience at the Forest Monastery
In my opinion, the experience is better suited for beginners as the sitting meditation are quite short.
I was a bit surprised by the fact that some people continued talking to me even though I had the ‘Silent’ badge that indicated I was observing silence.
But aside from this, I’m glad I came across this monastery at the right time and was able to go there soon afterward. The monastery is located at a stunning location and the walking meditations really let us soak in the place. It was also interesting to see the monks’ way of living from slightly close quarters.
The cabins are in excellent shape and offer great views as well. Although let me warn you, the beds are pretty darn hard. It’s almost sleeping on a yoga mat.
Overall, I had a very peaceful experience and would 100% go for it again if the opportunity arises.