I have been interested in what is meditation for the past year. I wondered if it is this really deep thing for only special people who don’t consume chocolate and wine. What happens when you meditate? Is it true it is actually healthy for body and mind? Will I see my past life (I’ve heard some people do)? In fact, the newly born interest in Buddhism, in its most important rule of not hurting any living creature (plus a beautifully made documentary about the Mekong river and the people who live around it) was what made me dream of travelling in South East Asia. So it was a very natural thing that I wanted to take a grasp at Buddhism meditation while we are in Thailand. We found Buddhism in a deep-grass-green peaceful place – Wat Tam Wua.
We were staying in Pai, a small, very touristic town in a beautiful part of northern Thailand. After a 10 second research, we found exactly the monastery that would be a nice place to visit – a forest monastery in a short distance. Away from crowds of tourists, away from traffic, shops, away from all the things which might get us distracted from the main goal – meditation (turned out that you can find distractions even in the most remote areas).
Wat Tam Wua is a place that is still very vivid in my memory and imagination not only because of the photos I keep. What I did not expect was amazing lake with purple lotuses and enormous fish, the most smiley and joke-making monks, delicious food, hilarious kitchen staff, hot chocolate with candies in some afternoons, fear from darkness, fear from being alone in my head, pain in legs, pain in back, pain in head – all from just sitting and trying to follow my breath.
The monastery is situated close to the border with Myanmar, near the town of Mae Hong Son. It is surrounded by beautiful nature: mountains covered with a green-gray rug of trees and stones, even greener and brighter rice fields, a small Chinese village nearby, banana palm trees heavy loaded with yet-to-be ripe fruits. And oh, so many small wildlife creatures – lizards, my favourite geckoes with their midnight songs, birds, snakes.
The meditation practised in Wat Tam Wua is called Vipassana meditation – mindfulness of breathing and of thoughts, feelings, and actions. The practices were two times a day + one evening shorter practice. One practice included walking meditation, sitting meditation (here comes the leg, neck, back pain) and laying meditation during which I fell asleep every time. For me, the walking meditation was a favourite. It is a very impressive image to remember – a big queue of people starting with the monks, followed by the nuns, all the lay man and at the end the women. Everybody walks very slow and quiet and we are all dressed in white.
The schedule was not too strict for a monastery, we guess it was very much adapted for foreigners (also all the practices were in English and Thai, the monks speak relatively good English). It did require an early waking and early going to bed.
For me the nicest moments, the special ones were not really the meditation sessions. Offering food to the monks very early in the morning, before dawn had sent its golden rays through the air – hearing just the tiny jingling of the spoon in the plate of people giving rice and the very quiet steps of the monks. Then its was the lunch offering ceremony, the chanting of the whole group before and after meditation, and last but not least at all – waking up at 4am to spend the first minutes of my day in the kitchen, helping the cooks chop veggies for the next meal, and laughing as they are making jokes with my chopping, my sleepiness.
We were told two legends about this place – about the cobra in one of the caves, which shows up only after 4pm and about the monkey hanging around a waterfall nearby. We were curious, so we decided to verify both tales. The cobra was not found, maybe the day was not the right one or it decided to show up later than its regular schedule. The monkey though we found – after a 10 km trek in the jungle we reached the waterfall. The monkey was there, hanging on a tree in a very cliche monkey pose. I am not a big fan of monkeys, so I did not make many pictures, neither did I want any close contact with it. A friend J. tried to give him a banana, which he threw on the ground quite aggressively. On the other hand, a local person gave him some potato chips which he ate with pleasure. Apparently monkeys also are starting to become fans and victims of junk food. I blame her only because this banana was really good.
The week spent in Wat Tam Wua was very special experience and we believe we saw a different face of Thailand. A face which is different from the colourful markets, shouting vendors, tuk-tuks, delicious street food, coffee shops and streets full of backpackers. This face of Thailand is very beautiful. I’m not sure how much we did learn about Buddhism and Vipassana, and we definitely won’t stop having beers and chocolates, but we still try to understand, learn more and practice sometimes.
Useful info for fellow travellers:Wat Tam Wua.
To get there you have to take the bus from Pai to Mae Hong Son and ask to be dropped at Wat Tam Wua. Alternatively, if you hitchhike as we did, just hitchhike in direction Mae Hong Son and once you’re in a car inform the drivers that you would like to stop at Wat Tam Wua. Most locals know the temple.
To stay at the temple there is no need for contacting them before. You can just go and you will be welcomed 🙂