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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Ho Chi Minh City: A Guide

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If you visit Ho Chi Minh City, prepare for an adventure in this beautiful, chaotic city full of amazing food and buzzing with millions of motorbikes. My city guide below is a collection of cultural attractions and experiences, nightlife, and–most importantly–local-recommended foods and restaurants I’ve checked out over my three trips to HCMC. I recommend spending at least four days here to really get to know HCMC.

Budgeting & Where to Stay

In my guide I focus mainly on District 1, the tourist area,  and District 3, where I usually stay. D3 is just north of D1, so it’s only a quick Uber ride to downtown but you get a much better feel for the local lifestyle. Since it’s a way from the tourist sites, D3 is also much less expensive than D1, so it’s a good spot for those of you who are on a tighter budget, like me.

D3: You can get a comfortable Airbnb from $20-30/night here and easily spend no more than $15 a day on food if you stick mostly to street vendors–more if you plan to drink. My go-to Airbnb is here.

D1: In D1, an Airbnb costs ~$35-50/night, and a decent budget hotel costs around $50/night. Expect to pay $65-90 for a nicer, mid-range hotel. I’ve stayed at and recommend the Bay Hotel (booking.com).

For meals in this district, budget $5-15 USD per person, per meal if you’re keeping it on the casual side (without alcohol).

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What to do if You Need Medical Care While Traveling (That Time I Went to a Hospital in Vietnam)

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If you’re a long-term traveler like me, it can be pretty scary to find yourself feeling sick and needing medical care in a foreign country. Back home in New York, I could haul myself down the street a few blocks to the emergency walk-in clinic, see a doctor or nurse who spoke my language, and be out pretty quickly with a small co-pay and prescription order in the works. Last week, I found myself really sick and in need of a doctor’s consultation (I’m OK now!), and I want to share my experience at a Vietnamese hospital in case you, dear traveler, find yourself in a similar situation and need help. Continue reading “What to do if You Need Medical Care While Traveling (That Time I Went to a Hospital in Vietnam)”