Something that we have always really wanted to do during our travels is a temple stay. Thailand is a Buddhist country and we felt staying at a Thailand meditation retreat was a perfect way to learn more about Thai culture and Buddhism.

After completing some research, we established that a typical 10 day meditation retreat Thailand offers all over the place wasn't quite how we wanted to experience our first meditation retreat. Northern Thailand seemed to be the best place to go to get away from the crowds and have the experience of staying in an actual Buddhist monastery. Thailand as a ton of Buddhist monasteries, but not many just anyone can stay in.

Because of this we eventually settled on Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery, a Thailand forest monastery a few hours west of Chiang Mai.

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Forest monastery main entrance sign
This is the sign out by the main road

Why We Picked Wat Tam Wau Meditation Retreat

We picked Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery for several reasons. First off, this Thailand Buddhist retreat it not a meditation retreat you go to if you are looking for a set course. Wat Pa Tam Wua Monastery is an ongoing learning center where you can learn from and stay with monks in Thailand in an actual temple forest monastery. This means that there are no set start and end dates, so planning when to complete your Thai meditation retreat is much easier.

While it is probably best that you stay at least a week to best understand the concepts of Vipassana Mediation the monks at the Wat Pa Tam Wua retreat are teaching, in reality, you can come and go whenever you want. If you try it for a few days and decide that Thailand Vipassana retreat is not for you, you're welcome to leave whenever.

Wat Tam Wua- Our Favorite Meditation Retreat Thailand Has to Offer

Pond with a fountain

The monks teach classes daily and what’s even better they teach in English. Broken English, but English nonetheless. This was a huge point for Jess and me, as our English is better than our Thai.

At the time that we visited there were three monks and two nuns at the wat with somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 or so laypeople such as ourselves. Everyone (including the monks) was very friendly and to my surprise, the monks were actually really funny. They were always the first to crack a joke, or reassure anyone that you don’t need to be a “pro level Buddhist” or even a Buddhist at all, to be at Wat Tam Wua. This soon made it our favorite Buddhist temple retreat Thailand has to offer. It’s a learning center and an absolutely no experience is necessary to participate.

How To Book This Meditation Thailand Retreat

If you're interested in checking out the Thailand Monastery stay- there is no need to book ahead- you can just show up! Everything you need will be provided for you. If you would like to check on availability or want to ask any questions before you arrive, feel free to check out the Wat Pa Tam Wua Facebook page. Although, don't expect to receive a response quickly or maybe even at all as there probably isn't much social media being checked at this meditation retreat in Thailand.

Temple Retreat Thailand Accommodation

Accommodations consit of some private one person “Kutis” (which are similar to a little bungalow) but I would not count on one being available at the time you arrive. The Kutis are typically full of people who are staying at the Wat Tham Wua Vipassana center long term.

If the Kutis are full, there are very nice dormitories available. The dorms and Kutis are strictly separated between men and women (yes even if you are married). The dorm buildings do have showers but be warned, it’s cold water only. You will also be sleeping on the floor with a mat and a small pillow that you will be given when you arrive. Men and women are not allowed to go into each other’s dorms, or even approach the front porch for that matter.

Outside of a dorm building in the forest
The dorm buildings were beautiful. Jess stayed in this one.

What to Wear to a Meditation Retreat

All laypeople (people who are not monks or nuns) at the monastery wear loose non-form fitting white clothes with long sleeves and long pants. Jess and I bought some beforehand but found out upon arrival that there are some available for you to borrow if you do not have any.

We would recommend bringing at least one pair of your own loose fitting white pants and shirt as the extras they have at the Wat Tam Wua Monastery might all be spoken for.

Kutis with cliff in the background
A few of the Kutis

Thailand Monastery Retreat Daily Schedule

Because this is not just a learning center, but an actual function Buddhist Wat, you are expected to follow these 8 precepts for the duration of your stay:

The 8 Precepts

1) Do not kill any living creature
-All food provided is vegetarian
2) Do not take that which is not given
3) Do not undertake sexual activity
4) Refrain from incorrect speech
-Don’t lie, idol gossip, yell and so on
5) Do not take intoxicating drinks or drugs
-Sorry no beers or smoking of any kind at the wat
6) Do not eat after noon (12:00pm)
-Water and tea in the afternoon is okay
7) Do not dance, sing, wear flashy clothes or cosmetics
-This is where the white clothes come in
8) Do not sleep in luxurious places
-This is why you have a mat on the floor

I could go into greater detail about why Buddhists believe in following the 8 precepts while staying at a temple, but that’s a whole other article altogether. For now, just be prepared to be respectful and follow these for however long you chose to stay.

Building with a walking path and trees
Everything is perfectly landscaped

The daily routine of the Thai forest meditation retreat is not too bad, and honestly really soothing once you get into the rhythm of it.

The Daily Routine

5:00am – Wake up and private meditation
-Nobody is really going to know if you don’t wake up this early
7:00am – Breakfast. Offering food to the monks followed by everyone else eating together
8:30am – Morning mediation including walking, sitting and laying down mediation for a total of just under two hours
10:30am – Lunch. Again, offering food to the monks followed by everyone else eating. All food is vegetarian, locally grown and VERY good!
1:00pm – Afternoon lesson followed by a second round of walking, sitting and laying down mediation
4:00pm – Chores. Very simple little things around the wat. Technically optional, but please lend a helping hand if you are physically able
5:00pm – Relaxation and afternoon tea. Clean drinking water and tea are always available
6:00pm – Chanting followed by sitting meditation
8:30pm – Lights out, everyone goes to their Kuti or dorm.
10:00pm – Sleep

Because everything at Wat Tam Wua is provided for you for free the one thing that they ask in return is that you take your visit seriously. Participation in the daily schedule is not optional. But as I said it is not overbearing in any way. I found the schedule very relaxing once I got used to it. You will also know when it is time to do something by the ringing of the giant bonsha (a really big gong.)

The Wat Runs Entirely Based on Donations.

When you first arrive you will be shown the box where you can donate. The box is not right in front of everyone, and there is absolutely no pressure associated with it. Jess and I gave the money that we would have budgeted to spend on food and accommodations for the same amount of time had we been anywhere else. But the amount you choose to give is entirely up to you.

Covered building in the woods near a creek
This is where the donation drop box was, nice and pressure free!

Getting to the Free Meditation Retreat Thailand

Does practiving meditation in Thailand and a Thailand silent retreat sound like a place you would like to go? If so here is how to get there:

Pai to Wat Pa Tam Wua is actually the easiest way as Pai is only about a 2 hour drive away. Many people like to spend a coupld of days in Pai as there is some fun things to see and do there. If you are looking to spend some time in Pai you will be coming from Chiang Mai, which is about a 3-hour drive away. The only way to get around in this area of Thailand is by bus, mini van, or by renting a scooter. The roads are extremely windy so we don't recommend renting a scooter unless you are very confident in driving.

How to Get to Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery Thailand From Pai

Rice field between two cliffs
All of the food is grown right here. You can't get any fresher than that!

Pai to Wat Pa Tam Wua is a pretty easy ride comparing to Chiang Mai to Pai. The roads are still very windy- but they are not extreme switchbacks like they are closer to Chiang Mai. This buddhist monastery retreat Thailand is actually located in the remote mountainous providence called Mae Hong Son. Don't get confused because Mae Hong Son is actually also a name of a town inside of the Mae Hong Son providence.

When you get on your bus or minivan be sure to tell the driver you are going to Wat Pa Tam Wua and they will know where to let you off. The monastery is about 35 km outside of Mae Hong Son- you don’t want to go all the way to the town.

Here is the actual address of the Wat Pa Tam Wua Mae Hong Son meditation retreat:

Wat Pah Tam Wua,
Baan Mae Suya,
Huay pha, Mae Hong Son

The driver will drop you off alongside the road in front of the Wat Tam Wua sign and get you pointed in the right direction, but you will still have about a 1 ½ km walk to actually get to the monastery, so pack light if you can.

The day before you would like to leave talk to the coordinator and she will give you a list of transportation times so that you can walk back out to the main road and catch a ride to either Mae Hong Son or Pai.

The Best Vipassana Center in Thailand

Building in the forest with wood benches and tables
This little sitting area was the first thing we saw

We feel that Wat Pa Tam Wua -Mae Hong Son is arguably the best meditation retreat Thailand has to offer. Since this wat is an on going learning center we think that it is a great place to experience a spiritual retreat. Thailand has many different wats where monks live, but not many accept outside visitors like Wat Pa Tam Wua does.

Meditation temples in Thailand are a great way to learn about Thai culture as 93.6% of the population in Thailand is Buddist and Thai people center most things they do around Buddhism. A Buddhist retreat in Thailand is a great way to disconnect and spend some time looking inward while also experiencing a different culture.

Vipassana Retreat Thailand Overview

If you're looking to practise Vipassana Meditation Thailand is such a great place to do it. We could have not had a better experience at the Wat Pa Tam Wua, Mae Hong Son forest monastery. We hope this artcile helped you learn about one of the best meditation retreats in Thailand and what it's like to stay at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand!

Have you ever stayed at a Buddhist retreat? Thailand is a wonderful place to learn more about Buddhism. We would love to hear your thoughts & if you think Wat Pa Tam Wua is one of the best meditation retreats Thailand has to offer!


Ron Sefcik is a co-founder of Unearth The Voyage. He enjoys outdoor adventures like camping and hiking as well as city travel. Over the last 10 years, he’s traveled to 14 Countries, 30 States, and 23 National Parks. He’s worked as an English Teacher in South Korea. Lived out of a camper for a year and backpacked Southeast Asia. His passion is sharing the things he has learned from his travels with others to help them make their travel dreams a reality as well.

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