A Two-Day Silent Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand is home to amazing food, beautiful beaches and over 400,000 Buddhist temples. One of my favorite things about Thai culture (after the food, of course) is the Buddhist influence, and some cities have dozens of wats (temples) where visitors can pay their respects to the Buddha and his students, and seek blessings from the resident monks.

In Chiang Mai alone there are over 300 temples–from the relatively tiny, tucked away Wat Pansao, decorated with golden sitting monk statues, to the massive, crumbling Wat Chedi Luang. You could spend months trying to visit them all!

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In the gardens at Wat Pansao

 

Halfway into my stay in Chiang Mai I decided to do a multi-day silent meditation retreat where I could learn more about meditating and Buddhism. I’d been practicing meditation here and there with the Insight Timer app and could sit through 10-minute sessions but I squirmed through anything longer and my legs always turned into bricks from going numb. I was a baby meditator at best.

I chose a two-day retreat run by Monk Chat University (MCU), which is based in Wat Suan Dok in city center, but you can find retreats lasting anywhere from one day to several weeks in or near the city. I highly recommend this experience for anyone looking to get outside their comfort zone or learn more about Buddhism and what it’s like to be a monk.

The Experience

Our group of 20 met at the Monk Chat University office at the temple, where we started with an introduction to Buddhist philosophy by one of the resident monks. He explained that Buddhism is a way of living, not a religion, and shared the 4 Truths of Buddhism and what to expect from the retreat–lots of time sitting, lots of practice. We went around the room with introductions. There were lots of singles, early-20’s backpackers, and two couples. A handful of people had been to other retreats but most were also ‘baby meditators’. Continue reading “A Two-Day Silent Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand”

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai: A Nimman Neighborhood Guide

Like a lot of people, I chose to make a long stop in Chiang Mai, Thailand because it’s cheap, easy to get around, and the food is amazing. I spent a month there in two different neighborhoods–first on Loi Kroh Road, and then in an area called Nimman.

During the first week in Chiang Mai, I had a place on Loi Kroh road, on the Southeastern corner of the city square. I chose it because it’s a busy area within walking distance of the night market, where you can gorge on street food and all the coconuts you could ever want, and there are lots of street food vendors, little shops, and restaurants.

Green papaya salad in the works at the Loi Kroh Night Market

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Tips for Traveling to Thailand: What to Know Before You Go

I’ve been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the last two+ weeks before I head to Indonesia. It’s my second time in Thailand and my first in Chiang Mai, which is in the North of Thailand just over an hour away from Bangkok by air. Chiang Mai is pretty isolated and feels secluded within the surrounding forest. It’s perfect if you’re looking for nature-related activities and a break from big cities. Save for some traffic jams, it’s very peaceful and the slower pace is growing on me (New Yorker, here!). The vibe keeps me wondering when I’m going to run into a beach. Maybe it’s all the flip flops.

I’m here for a month, and like many others, I chose it for a long-term stay due to its developed tourism infrastructure (easy transportation ftw!), consistently warm weather, and budget-friendliness; You can eat and sleep well and still include activities on a budget of $50/day here, and in Thailand in general (though it’s a bit harder–but still doable–in the capital city of Bangkok).

I’m sharing my tips from my time here to help you prepare for your own trip to Thailand. Note that most costs I’ve cited are based on Chiang Mai prices — expect to pay more in a larger city, like Bangkok.

Hanging out after an unforgettable (and food-coma-inducing) cooking class at A Lot of Thai in Chiang Mai!

Visas

Fortunately, a 30-day tourist visa (for the US and citizens of many other countries) is free and easy to get upon arrival at the airport. Compared to experiences in some other countries, clearing immigration was a breeze for me. Depending on the immigration agent and your country of origin, you may need to show proof of onward travel (a ticket out of Thailand). This time, I was not asked–the agent and I spent our quick exchange talking about his favorite local food (thanks, dude!). Continue reading “Tips for Traveling to Thailand: What to Know Before You Go”

How to Ride a Red Truck Taxi (Songthaew) in Chiang Mai

The city of Chiang Mai was built in the year 1296 after King Mengrai and his advisors identified it as the ideal location for the stronghold of the Lanna Kingdom in Northern Thailand. The center was built in the shape of a square that was protected by a moat and tall stone walls. You can still see some of the ruins today as your travel around the city. Taking a Songthaew–the red truck rideshares–is one of the most budget-friendly ways to get around Chiang Mai.

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