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Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations

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For the past month, I’ve been planning a two-month trip to Thailand to deepen my practice.  Shortly after booking my flight last week, I learned that the vice abbot of the monastery I was going to visit smokes cigarettes regularly.  I listened to some of his talks on tobacco use and I got the impression that his priorities are mixed up and I got a bad feeling about the place.  With only about a month until my flight and being past my 24-hour free cancellation period, I’m panicking about how I’m going to make this trip work.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated. 

My priorities:
  1. I want this trip to be primarily focused on strengthening my concentration.  My main mode of meditation has been anapanasati and I’m looking for a place that would be supportive for this practice or other concentration practices.
  2. I know how to meditate, so I don’t need basic instruction, but I do need access to a good teacher to occasionally ask questions when I occasionally run into an issue.  It would be ideal if the monk or teacher is well accomplished themselves and speaks from wisdom.  I’ve heard that sometimes people get stuck in strange states of concentration and it would be very helpful to have an experienced meditator to talk to if such an issue arises.
  3. Looking for a place that has a strong hold of traditional Buddhist virtues.  A serious environment would be important too.  I’m still in the beginning stages of meditation, but I still want to approach this in a serious manner and reduce distractions.
  4. Cost: I’m on a tight budget so by donation or a modest cost of residency would be important.
  5. Primarily looking within Theravada.
  6. I don’t speak any Thai so there needs to be some level of accessibility to be able to communicate. 
  7. Ideally, I could work this out within Thailand to avoid visa issues, but I may consider other nearby countries if the center/monastery looks like a good fit and I can still get a before my trip.  I’m a US citizen by the way
I’ve already looked into a couple monasteries that might be a good fit, but there are some concerns that I have about them.  If anyone has been to these places, I’d love to hear from you:

  1. Pa Auk in Thailand.  Pa Auk seems in Thailand seems like it’s more for the locals and accessibility to foreigners seems to be limited.  Has anyone been to their monastery in Thailand?  Also it seems to be very difficult to get a hold of someone via email.  Anyone know if someone can just drop by and visit for a few weeks or if a reservation is required?
  2. Wat Pah Nanachat.  They say on their site that meditation instruction is not provided and it’s simply a place to experience being a monk.   I know how to meditate, so that’s not a problem, but I need to be able to talk to a well accomplished meditator occasionally about issues that arise.  Another concern I have is ordaining since it sounds like I would need to ordain if I plan on staying longer that a few weeks.  I imagine there is a learning curve with the rights and rituals and I would prefer to focus my time primarily on my practice.

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/29/18 6:33 AM as a reply to Scott.
Some years ago I did a 10-day retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh and got excellent instruction during interviews from the abbott, Ajahn Po, although he was getting on in age even then. It says on their website that they allow dedicated meditators to stay on at the monastery after the 10-day retreat if they get permission from the abbott, do chores, and are able to follow their own schedule without guidance. It sounds like very few people actually choose to do this, but you could probably make it happen as they were very kind there and one monk even encouraged us to come live there if ever we were thinking of killing ourselves (he obviously took a very dim view of non-monastic life). The primary technique taught there is anapanasati, the cost for the retreat is minimal (2000 baht which was something like $50, although of course you are welcome to donate more), the food was excellent, and the place is absolutely gorgeous, way out in the jungles of rural southern Thailand with monkeys and giant lizards. Lots of biting ants and mosquitoes, but no malaria. You are given a straw mat, wooden pillow, and mosquito net for sleeping.

The biggest downside was that most of the retreatants seemed to be young tourists looking for a spiritual experience on their way to or from partying on the beaches and they had difficulty following simple rules like "no talking," but that does make for a good opportunity to observe one's own reactions to such things even if it does make concentration more challenging. Most dropped out within a few days.

I hope you find a suitable place and have a wonderful retreat! Holler at me if you have questions.

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/29/18 1:08 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
Some years ago I did a 10-day retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh and got excellent instruction during interviews from the abbott, Ajahn Po, although he was getting on in age even then. It says on their website that they allow dedicated meditators to stay on at the monastery after the 10-day retreat if they get permission from the abbott, do chores, and are able to follow their own schedule without guidance. It sounds like very few people actually choose to do this, but you could probably make it happen as they were very kind there and one monk even encouraged us to come live there if ever we were thinking of killing ourselves (he obviously took a very dim view of non-monastic life). The primary technique taught there is anapanasati, the cost for the retreat is minimal (2000 baht which was something like $50, although of course you are welcome to donate more), the food was excellent, and the place is absolutely gorgeous, way out in the jungles of rural southern Thailand with monkeys and giant lizards. Lots of biting ants and mosquitoes, but no malaria. You are given a straw mat, wooden pillow, and mosquito net for sleeping.

The biggest downside was that most of the retreatants seemed to be young tourists looking for a spiritual experience on their way to or from partying on the beaches and they had difficulty following simple rules like "no talking," but that does make for a good opportunity to observe one's own reactions to such things even if it does make concentration more challenging. Most dropped out within a few days.

I hope you find a suitable place and have a wonderful retreat! Holler at me if you have questions.

I was considering Wat Suan Mokkh for a while and it sounds like it would be a good fit but I don't know it I can fit it into my schedule.  I'll be arriving in Bangkok on November 1 and I imagine it would take a day for me to get to their retreat center.  I got the impression that they wouldn't accept me into the retreat if I didn't show up on time to register.  I’d be very interested if they would accept me a day or two late, but there seems to be no way of contacting them through their site.  Do you think they would be accommodating of that?

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/29/18 3:45 PM as a reply to Scott.
If no smoking is a requirement you are in for a rude awakening. Most of them smoke. The vast majority of monks in Thai Monasteries don't even meditate. 

Wat Suan Mokh will accept you if you arrive late, but you won't be part of the retreat, instead you will stay in another part of the monastery with the monks,  sleeping in one giant room. 

If you want serious practice, the Mahasi style places are the best for that - There are many in Chiang Mai - Wat Rampoeng, Doi Suthep,  (but you said you wanted to work on your concentration..)

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/29/18 3:46 PM as a reply to Scott.
I don't think they'll let you into the retreat unless you show up at the retreat center on October 31 and are ready to start early morning on the 1st. However, from the website:

Anyone arriving early for a retreat, wanting to stay longer or arriving dur­ing retreats is wel­come to stay, ini­tial­ly for up to seven days, at the main Suan Mokkh mon­as­tery. If, after seven days, you intend to pro­long your stay, you need to get per­mis­sion by the abbot of Suan Mokkh or his rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Per­mis­sion will readily be granted to dedi­cated medi­tators and students of Buddhism. Doing a chore (com­mu­nity work like sweeping leaves) while staying is part of the practice. Reservation is neither possible nor nec­es­sary. Just show up and find the information desk inside the mon­as­tery. Please do not arrive after dark.Accommodation in dorms (for men) or individual rooms (for women) is free; food is avail­able inside the monastery or at the nearby stalls. There is an excellent library with books in many languages as well. Please note that there are neither organised ac­tiv­i­ties nor a certain schedule to be followed, no teachings or instruc­tions been offered while staying at the main Suan Mokkh mon­as­tery. This pos­si­bili­ty is there­fore most suitable for people who have done a retreat at the In­ter­na­tion­al Dharma Her­mit­age already or for ex­pe­rienced meditators who can use the wat's facilities without guidance.


So if you show up on November 1st or later and they won't let you into the retreat (and you never know, they might even though the website says definitely not), they will almost certainly allow you to stay at the monastery and then join the December 1 retreat. You'd have to practice on your own until then, but boy would that allow you to really hit the ground running when the retreat starts and then you could stay on afterward and practice by yourself some more at the monastery since you have 2 months. As long as you are a sincere student who is really there to practice, they will take care of you. 


RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/30/18 1:10 PM as a reply to Scott.
I can connect you with my teacher Dhammarato.  He lives on Ko Pho Nan was a student of Ajahn Buddhadasa for 7 years.  He’s asked to teach by Ajahn Po.  

Basically he can get you set up @ any of Buddhadasas Wats to stay as long as you like.


RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/30/18 4:34 PM as a reply to Noah D.
Noah D:
I can connect you with my teacher Dhammarato.  He lives on Ko Pho Nan was a student of Ajahn Buddhadasa for 7 years.  He’s asked to teach by Ajahn Po.  

Basically he can get you set up @ any of Buddhadasas Wats to stay as long as you like.

I'd like that, thanks Noah.  I'll PM you.

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/30/18 4:57 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
I don't think they'll let you into the retreat unless you show up at the retreat center on October 31 and are ready to start early morning on the 1st. However, from the website:

Anyone arriving early for a retreat, wanting to stay longer or arriving dur­ing retreats is wel­come to stay, ini­tial­ly for up to seven days, at the main Suan Mokkh mon­as­tery. If, after seven days, you intend to pro­long your stay, you need to get per­mis­sion by the abbot of Suan Mokkh or his rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Per­mis­sion will readily be granted to dedi­cated medi­tators and students of Buddhism. Doing a chore (com­mu­nity work like sweeping leaves) while staying is part of the practice. Reservation is neither possible nor nec­es­sary. Just show up and find the information desk inside the mon­as­tery. Please do not arrive after dark.Accommodation in dorms (for men) or individual rooms (for women) is free; food is avail­able inside the monastery or at the nearby stalls. There is an excellent library with books in many languages as well. Please note that there are neither organised ac­tiv­i­ties nor a certain schedule to be followed, no teachings or instruc­tions been offered while staying at the main Suan Mokkh mon­as­tery. This pos­si­bili­ty is there­fore most suitable for people who have done a retreat at the In­ter­na­tion­al Dharma Her­mit­age already or for ex­pe­rienced meditators who can use the wat's facilities without guidance.


So if you show up on November 1st or later and they won't let you into the retreat (and you never know, they might even though the website says definitely not), they will almost certainly allow you to stay at the monastery and then join the December 1 retreat. You'd have to practice on your own until then, but boy would that allow you to really hit the ground running when the retreat starts and then you could stay on afterward and practice by yourself some more at the monastery since you have 2 months. As long as you are a sincere student who is really there to practice, they will take care of you. 


Wow thank you Andromeda, this is really helpful for easing my conserns.  My biggest fear was that I would be stuck in Thailand and unable to practice because of not having everything planned to the T beforehand.  I actually had a similar experience in South America before I found meditation where I was esentially wandering aimlessly with essentially zero plan and no clear vision of life goals.  A story for another time.  I'm highly motivated and have a clear vision of what I want to work on this trip so I doubt I'll run into a similar situation. 

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
9/30/18 5:04 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed P:
If no smoking is a requirement you are in for a rude awakening. Most of them smoke. The vast majority of monks in Thai Monasteries don't even meditate. 

Wat Suan Mokh will accept you if you arrive late, but you won't be part of the retreat, instead you will stay in another part of the monastery with the monks,  sleeping in one giant room. 

If you want serious practice, the Mahasi style places are the best for that - There are many in Chiang Mai - Wat Rampoeng, Doi Suthep,  (but you said you wanted to work on your concentration..)

Yeah, I did a bit more research into smoking in Thailand and found the same.  I don't agree with it because I think it's counter to the goal of liberation since it's such an addictive substance, but it's not a deal breaker for me any more.  At some point, I'd absolutely love to focus on insight, but for me where I'm currently at in my practice, I think it's important for me to focus on concentration.

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/1/18 2:42 AM as a reply to Scott.
You might want to check out Wat Ram Poeng

http://www.watrampoeng.net/watrampoeng/?page_id=480

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/1/18 5:59 AM as a reply to Scott.
Yeah, you'll do just fine in Thailand without a concrete plan, perhaps even better than if you tried to plan everything out. You can buy a SIM card for your phone at the airport and that will help you get around, plus you can download Google translator for it, and a currency converter. Hostels are cheap and safe. Street food is hygienically prepared and safe to eat. The Thai people are exceptionally friendly, just lovely kind people, and many speak English so if you get into trouble they will help you. It's one of the easiest places to travel I've ever been too. I'm excited for you and wish I could go, too! 

If you do decide on Wat Suan Mokkh, Nok Air has cheap flights to Chaiya from the domestic airport in Bangkok (not BKK, the international airport that you will fly into, but you can take a taxi or the subway between them). If it were me, I'd make a point of attending the morning chanting at the monastery (it's glorious) and would probably see if anyone might kindly give me sheets to learn the chants so I could join in. Also, make sure you take advantage of their library--Buddhadhasa Bhikku wrote tons of great stuff. Mindfulness With Breathing is a very nice little handbook on their style of anapanasati and No Religion, the transcript of a sermon he gave in the 60s to lay people, is one of my favorite things ever.

And BTW there was no smoking allowed at the retreat center and I didn't see any at the monastery, though I could have missed it.

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/2/18 12:39 PM as a reply to Scott.
Hi, I decided to de-lurk to add that I spent 5 months at Suan Mokkh in 2015 (helping at the retreats, staying in the nun's hermitage). It is a wonderful place. I also spent time at and can recommend sister centre Dipabhavan on Samui, which I think is still taught by the English monk who used to teach at Suan Mokkh some years ago (he is a monk there). There's a third centre that's currently being built by former monk Anthony Markwell, on Koh Phangan. The latter may be best for you as he teaches in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition and offered excellent guidance for developing concentration. He is a thorough, knowledgeable teacher and a good guy. https://www.facebook.com/indriyaretreat/ It is still being built so options may be limited, but plenty of opportunity for working meditation emoticon You could contact him to see what's possible, I know he's looking for help. Let me know if you have any questions about any of these places.

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/2/18 4:29 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
Yeah, you'll do just fine in Thailand without a concrete plan, perhaps even better than if you tried to plan everything out. You can buy a SIM card for your phone at the airport and that will help you get around, plus you can download Google translator for it, and a currency converter. Hostels are cheap and safe. Street food is hygienically prepared and safe to eat. The Thai people are exceptionally friendly, just lovely kind people, and many speak English so if you get into trouble they will help you. It's one of the easiest places to travel I've ever been too. I'm excited for you and wish I could go, too! 

If you do decide on Wat Suan Mokkh, Nok Air has cheap flights to Chaiya from the domestic airport in Bangkok (not BKK, the international airport that you will fly into, but you can take a taxi or the subway between them). If it were me, I'd make a point of attending the morning chanting at the monastery (it's glorious) and would probably see if anyone might kindly give me sheets to learn the chants so I could join in. Also, make sure you take advantage of their library--Buddhadhasa Bhikku wrote tons of great stuff. Mindfulness With Breathing is a very nice little handbook on their style of anapanasati and No Religion, the transcript of a sermon he gave in the 60s to lay people, is one of my favorite things ever.

And BTW there was no smoking allowed at the retreat center and I didn't see any at the monastery, though I could have missed it.

Wonderful recommendation with Nok Air btw.  You're right, it's super cheap.  I wasn't able to see any flights from Chaiya but it looks like they do fly to Surat Thani with is pretty close.  Maybe the Chaiya flight has been discontinued?  Thank you again Andromeda for the wonderful advice, I'll definitly take a look at those readings.  For anyone else reading through this forum, I found Mindfulness with Breathing here http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/buddhadasa_mindfulness-with-breathing.pdf


RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/2/18 4:52 PM as a reply to Sasha.
Sasha:
Hi, I decided to de-lurk to add that I spent 5 months at Suan Mokkh in 2015 (helping at the retreats, staying in the nun's hermitage). It is a wonderful place. I also spent time at and can recommend sister centre Dipabhavan on Samui, which I think is still taught by the English monk who used to teach at Suan Mokkh some years ago (he is a monk there). There's a third centre that's currently being built by former monk Anthony Markwell, on Koh Phangan. The latter may be best for you as he teaches in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition and offered excellent guidance for developing concentration. He is a thorough, knowledgeable teacher and a good guy. https://www.facebook.com/indriyaretreat/ It is still being built so options may be limited, but plenty of opportunity for working meditation emoticon You could contact him to see what's possible, I know he's looking for help. Let me know if you have any questions about any of these places.

Hi Sasha, how condusive would you say the enviroment at Suan Mokkh is for strengthening concentration?  I listened to a recording that I believe to be recorded at Suan Mokkh and it sounded like it was pretty noisy and that there's a lot of roosters.  Was this an obstical for you in the practice? 

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/3/18 5:46 AM as a reply to Scott.
My bad, it's Surat Thani but close enough anyway. I just took a taxi from the airport to the monastery, but there's public transport if you really want to do it on the cheap.

Do give us a report on your trip when you return, and safe travels!

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/3/18 2:37 PM as a reply to Scott.
Scott:
Hi Sasha, how condusive would you say the enviroment at Suan Mokkh is for strengthening concentration?  I listened to a recording that I believe to be recorded at Suan Mokkh and it sounded like it was pretty noisy and that there's a lot of roosters.  Was this an obstical for you in the practice? 
Good you ask! That recording was made at the monastery itself, not at the international retreat centre, which is about a kilometer away. It's not noisy, apart from insects and fellow retreatants ;)

The dhamma teachings are the tapes (translations from Buddhadasa's talks by an American monk) and practice instruction from a Chinese or Malaysian man (not a monk) who also teaches the men Tai chi in the morning. The women get yoga. Tan Medhi, a thai monk, leads chanting and metta. Personal guidance is limited, with so many retreatants, and practically non-existent if you stay between retreats. Then you do self practice. You can stay in a 'kuti' (hut) or in the dorm. The women's kutis were basic buy lovely.

I only spent one night at the main monastery. The atmosphere is peaceful but busy, as monks go about their daily life. I did not witness any smoking. I suggest you try to stay at the retreat centre, it is much quieter there so more conducive to serious practice. You can offer to do karma yoga a few hours a day.

RE: Thailand: Monastery/Retreat Recommendations
Answer
10/5/18 11:15 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
My bad, it's Surat Thani but close enough anyway. I just took a taxi from the airport to the monastery, but there's public transport if you really want to do it on the cheap.

Do give us a report on your trip when you return, and safe travels!

You bet!  I'll get back in mid/late January and post around then.  I'm going to visit Metta monastery in southern California on my way back.