To be honest, meditation is still very new to me. I began practicing mindfulness in the last year so, when I was researching activities to do while on my three-month solo backpacking journey through Southeast Asia’s pancake trail. I knew I had to visit a Buddhist monastery at some point, and since Siddhārtha Gautama (also known as the Buddha) decreed meditation as a pathway to enlightenment, I came up on my chance at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand.
The stars aligned for me, and I was cosmically guided towards Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery, located in Mae Hong Son. Despite discovering different centres, I was intuitively pulled to this Vipassana-based monastery – plus, the location fit into my travel route perfectly.
Situated in the north of Thailand, Mae Hong Son is just an hour or two from Pai – a popular tourist destination I highly recommend. As I was coming from Pai, I reached the monastery via local transport from the bus station and it cost me a mere THB100 (approximately USD3.10).
Here’s a bit of advice: If you’re a backpacker on a tight budget who’s looking to save, then it might be best that you opt out of visiting. Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery exists – and thrives – because of donations, so every extra mouth to feed is fed via the donations received. While accommodation, food, and teachings are provided free-of-charge, it’s incredibly disrespectful to the monks, and the local culture, to disregard one activity for another. I witnessed several people chatting instead of helping with chores, reading instead of meditating together, and dawdling instead of practicing walking meditation in its entirety.
Upon entering the monastery’s compound, I immediately felt a sense of serenity. It felt like coming home. Unfortunately, I arrived smack bang in the middle of the afternoon meditation, so I had to wait with others to register. Fortunately, as I’m from an ASEAN country, I was entitled to my own hut immediately. Foreigners form outside Asia have to stay in gender-segregated dormitories until a hut becomes available.
Although it isn’t mandatory, I opted to wear a badge declaring my silence, meaning that I could only be verbal while addressing a monk or chanting. Luckily, phones are still allowed, but I also chose to not use any social media during my stay. I feel that as a society, we’re addicted to talking incessantly (and sometimes unnecessarily) and that we’re also addicted to social media.
Trust me, there’s nobody who loves chatting away more than I do, but through my my meditation and moments of silence, I’ve come to realise that sometimes people talk just to fill a void. Other times, they do it to be provocative, not contemplating their words or actions. Sometimes this results in a viral post which in turn brings about backlash. We need to talk less so we can think less and feel more, getting in touch with our inner self and not the self created by our societal surroundings and structured by social media.
My journey into the self lasted only four days, but do note that the recommended length of stay is at least 10 days. Despite a shorter stay, I still felt an advancement in my meditation practice, and for two days in a row even felt prolonged full-body sensations. Of course, everyone experiences different things during meditation, with several women seeing intense colours as overheard during a sharing session. Whatever it is, if you’ve been wanting to get in touch with yourself, then Wat Pa Tam Wua might be just what you need!
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