I went on a 3 day meditation retreat in Thailand. And you know what happened?
and a lot at the same time!
When you think of Thailand the things that normally come to mind are beautiful beaches, delicious food, crazy Bangkok nightlife.
For some reason, for me it was also a meditation retreat.
Thinking of coming to Thailand? Check my blog post with all the useful things you should know!
I was imagining living in a monastery like a real monk, being surrounded by nature and a spiritual atmosphere, and naturally – meditating for hours. At that time, that sounded exactly like something that my soul needed. But after some quick Google research and finding out how such retreats usually look: 10 days of 10 hours of hardcore meditation in absolute silence aka Vipassana retreat, my excitement was extinguished. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it. It would ruin me and most likely my budget.
Then I found something that sounded perfect: a 3 day retreat.
Because of the good reviews, but most importantly of close proximity to Chiang Mai (where I stayed), I decided to go to Pa Pae Meditation Retreat.
Pa Pae Meditation Retreat.
Located in the lush forests of northern Thailand, Pa Pae Meditation Retreat is a space both for monks who come there to train themselves, and also for “lay people”, who want to learn how to meditate or improve their meditation skills. Beautiful natural scenery and sacred guidance delivered by monks creates a great opportunity to reconnect with oneself, to find the inner peace and to simply just chill and relax.
You can attend a 3 day structured retreat where you have to arrive on a certain date and most of your activities are scheduled. Or a flexible retreat which allows you to come any time and do what you want.
If it’s your first time, I’d highly recommend going on the structured retreat. You’ll be able to learn everything about meditation and take advantage of the teaching sessions run by monks. I can guarantee, that their wisdom will make you perceive life in a different way.
Sounds great, right?
It does, but to be completely honest, I was a little scared before going. Don’t get me wrong, I was super excited to do it, but the closer it was to the date of my departure, the more nervous I got. I had a lot of uncertainties regarding the accommodation and bathroom situation and time of meals…and basically about everything. As much as I wanted to do it, I was simply scared that I wouldn’t be able to if the conditions were very basic. I know, it sounds a bit superficial, but I’m really not a camping type of girl.
Spoiler alert! The conditions were fine. More than fine!
But let me start from the beginning.
Getting to Pa Pae Meditation Retreat.
You’re asked to arrive the afternoon before your retreat starts, between 2 PM and 5 PM.
You can come via:
- a personal vehicle: a car or motorbike. Although the parking space is very limited.
- a taxi, private car or a Grab. The price from Chiang Mai should be around 1100-1500 THB.
- public transport (a van). Since the retreat is located half way between Chaing Mai and Pai, getting there by public transport is quite easy. You can find detailed instructions, including the name of the bus stop in Thai that you have to show to your driver, on the Pa Pae website under: “how to get there”. You just have to remember to book your tickets in advance.
I got there “via” my partner who was lovely enough to drive me there and pick me up after 3 days. Score!
When you arrive at Pa Pae, you’ll be asked to fill out a form, make a donation, choose your white “robes” and you’ll have to wait to be escorted to your room.
That was the only part I didn’t like – the organization during “check-in”. It all seemed very hectic and I had to wait a long time for the pick-up truck to come and drive me to my room. And yes DRIVE, because the place is quite big and you’ll 100% get lost without someone showing you to your hut. Not to mention, the whole property is quite hilly – not ideal for carrying heavy luggage. Although at least I was doing my steps every day.
What’s the accommodation like?
I told you, that I was a little stressed about that, but as it turned out – for no reason. The huts are very simple, but nice and clean. In contrast to other retreats, you’ll sleep on an actual mattress (instead of a wooden bench). You’ll also receive a pillow, a sleeping bag and multiple blankets. You can always ask for even more blankets if you’re chilly at night – the temperatures, depending on the season, can drop to 10°C (50°F).
The people running Pa Pae want to provide some “home comforts” for the participants, especially for “westerners”, so these things don’t distract from meditation. For this reason there are multiple bathrooms (with hot showers!) and western style toilets close to every hut,
If you’re going on a structured retreat you’ll most likely end up sharing your room with another person of the same sex. Mixed dormitories don’t usually occur on such retreats.
But hey, a new friend! My roommate – Monika from Romania – was also a traveller, so we had a lot of things to talk about.
What will you be wearing?
To help being more mindful and focused, everyone is required to wear a white t-shirt and white trousers for the duration of the retreat. As I mentioned before, those will be provided. Although you might not find your size.
And don’t worry, if it’s cold you’re obviously allowed to wear something warm underneath or on top of your uniform. No-one wants you to freeze.
What will you eat?
Very tasty Thai food – that’s the upside.
What’s the downside? Your last meal will be at 12 PM. Yes, you read correctly – at noon!
You are provided with 2 meals: breakfast at 7 AM and lunch at the aforementioned 12 PM. This is how monks do it.
That was my other worry actually. Since I love to eat and I could never imagine not having dinner, I thought I’d be starving. But I really wasn’t.
Firstly, the meals were delicious and since it was an open buffet, you could eat as much as you wanted. And some people really did stuff themselves… Secondly, there’s a local restaurant in the village, so if you were really hungry, you could naturally go and eat something. I brought protein bars with me and had half each day when the signs of hunger struck.
That was a great thing about this retreat – no-one was making you do or not do anything.
There was a schedule, but if you felt like skipping a class – you could. If you wanted to meditate all day – you could. If you didn’t want to meditate at all – you also could. You were free to do anything you want…well, as long as you followed certain guidelines, which I will tell you more about later.
How will your day look?
The schedule for the structured retreat is slightly different every day, in a way that there are different activities. But the the timing remains more or less the same. There are 4 meditating sessions per day, a breakfast, lunch, gardening (if you want to) and of course, some free time.
I’ll share the schedule of the first day of the retreat, which was also a silent day. If you wanted to, you could obtain “a silence badge” and remain silent throughout the whole retreat.
- 6.00 AM – chanting & meditation
- 7.30 AM – breakfast
- 8.30 AM – silent time
- 9.30-11.00 AM – teaching session & meditation
- 12.00 PM – lunch
- 1.30 PM – silent time
- 2.30 PM – meditation in nature
- 4.00 PM – gardening
- 5.00 PM – free time
- 6.30 – 8.00 PM – teaching session & meditation
- 9.00 PM – bed time
Naturally I managed to squeeze in coffee time. There was a cute café on the premises and they had a very tasty soy milk latte.
What are the rules on the retreat?
There are a set of rules that all the participants are supposed to follow. They aim to help create a peaceful and mindful atmosphere during the retreat and show respect to Buddhist and Thai culture. I won’t list all the guidelines – you’ll have to familiarize yourself with them during check-in, but here are some examples.
You should not be:
- wearing clothes that are overly tight or that reveal: chest, shoulders, or knees;
- wearing shoes inside the meditation hall, bathroom, or any room;
- stretching the bottoms of your feet directly towards Buddha statues or monks;
- singing, playing music, or dancing;
- using colognes or perfumes;
- swearing, talking loudly, or talking about subjects that are offensive or argumentative;
- smoking, vaping, or taking intoxicants of any kind.
- displaying affection.
There are also some rules regarding proper interactions between women and monks.
Ladies should refrain from:
- standing or sitting within 1 meter of a monk when interacting;
- shaking hands, hugging, or making some other form of physical contact with the monk;
- giving or taking something directly to or from a monk’s hand.
As you see, most of the rules are just common sense. And no worries ladies, no-one will be running with a tape measure to check if you’re standing one meter or maybe 89 cm away from a monk. Woman can talk to the monks, can ask questions…I didn’t experience any different mistreatment because of my sex. Again, it’s just common sense.
How long can you stay?
The structured retreat lasts, as we all now by now – 3 days. But you’re welcome to stay longer. Actually you can stay as long as you want and even become a part of the “retreat community”. If you decide to stay for a longer period of time, you’ll be asked to help out in day to day chores, like gardening, cooking, cleaning, maintaining works, preparing future retreats and so on. But that’s not a big price to pay. Speaking about price…
How much does the retreat cost?
Well, it’s based on donations, but if you’re coming on a structured retreat, the suggested donation is 500 THB per day. This amount will cover the costs of your accommodation, utilities and food. The same amount applies to everyone who decides to stay longer. If you decide to stay as a volunteer, this amount will be reduced.
Last but not least from: everything you need to know about a 3 day meditation retreat in Thailand:
What should you pack for the retreat?
Since the main problem of the day – what to wear – is taken care of, you won’t be needing much during the retreat. But naturally, you can bring whatever you want, whatever you think will bring you comfort. If you’re travelling for a longer period of time and you don’t have any storage space to leave your big suitcase or a backpack, you can easily bring it with you on the retreat.
That’s the list of the recommended items:
- a towel;
- basic toiletries: soap, shower gel (although we had these in our bathroom), toothpaste, toothbrush, face cream, sun block;
- bug repellant;
- sandals, flip flops or other “quickly removable” footwear. Since you’ll be asked to take your shoes off a lot, it only makes sense. But, make sure it’s something comfortable. There will be plenty of walking;
- warm clothes: a hoodie/jumper/jacket, warm socks. It was pretty cold in the mornings;
- pajamas or something to sleep in;
- underwear – obviously;
- an alarm clock – if you want to be free from your phone;
- a torch – to be able to walk in the dark.
What extra things I brought with me;
- a journal;
- my travel pillow;
- a scarf – very useful in the morning, especially during meditations;
- a little hand bag for all my little belongings, like a brush, a lip balm and so on. I had it with me for the whole time. But you might even consider bringing a little backpack or a tote bag, so you can easily put your journal and your books in. And of course a…
- water bottle with filter. There was plenty of drinkable water around, but having my own water bottle with filter was so convenient. I had it with me all the time as well;
- a little duvet. I know it sounds weird, “a little duvet”, but I found it in my Airbnb and since I read about cold nights I decided to take it with me. I wouldn’t say it was absolutely necessary, but it did bring me some comfort during the nights.
Ok, so that was it from the official “everything you need to know about a 3 day meditation retreat in Thailand” part. You can easily finish reading here.
But if you want to know more about my personal experience there: what I liked, what I didn’t like, if I’d go back and most importantly: did it change my life – get yourself a cup of tea and continue reading.
Let’s get it over with and start with:
what I didn’t like
I actually don’t even know how to put it in words, but I think the best description would be, that it felt a little bit like a school trip. The fact that everything was planned and most of the things you do as a group. Don’t get me wrong, I like having things planned and organized, but the “group part” was a little downside for me. It probably sounds super weird, but I just don’t do well in groups. According to my mother I cried every day in kindergarten – I simply must have been born this way. And then the school years…well, it was ok, but I wouldn’t want to go back. And even though on the retreat I was free to do whatever I wanted (kind of, you read the rules), this “group pressure” was somehow with me most of the time.
Ufff, I said it!
Ok, now to more pleasant things.
what i did like
My favourite parts of the retreat were teaching sessions with the monks. I know, I should probably say: meditation – that’s why I went there, but “monks talks” I enjoyed the most. Their view of life, their knowledge, their wisdom… Everything they were saying was just so simple, yet so powerful at the same time. I wrote down a lot of “pieces of wisdom” that I’d like to introduce into my life. Most of them I’d like to keep for myself, plus you have to go the the retreat and discover them for yourself. But one very generic, but very truthful piece of advice I got, that I already started implementing in my life is that, everything passes, nothing is permanent. I know, it’s not the biggest discovery, but now whenever I’m doing something I don’t like or I’m in a situation I don’t want to be in, I just keep telling to myself that it shall pass.
Meditation part…ohh, that was hard. I was even wondering if I have the physical ability do to it. Maybe I don’t? But no, apparently everyone does, it just takes a loooooooot of practice. Even though I meditated before and I thought I was actually doing alright, it was a long time ago. Now, during the retreat, I don’t know if there was even 10 seconds of me “doing it properly”.
But I did enjoy it. I was able to totally relax my body and find a very pleasant “flow”.
The type of meditation they practice and teach at Pa Pae is called: The Middle Way. Basically, it’s about finding what’s best for you and not pushing too hard. The focal point in this type of meditation should be the center of your body. This is where your attention should go.
I personally found it very hard and I still use my breath or mantra as a my focus point. Even concentrating on an object – in case of the Middle Way it’s a crystal ball – is too difficult for me.
But hey, practice makes perfect and I definitely won’t quit. Because as it turned out, I really need meditation…
Brain – shut up!
Another thing that I found extremely hard, was being in the moment and calming my brain. And not only during the meditation but during my whole stay there.
In order not to go on social media (although this was FOR REAL the last thing I wanted to do there) and scroll mindlessly, I had my phone on flight mode almost the whole time. But I did carry it with me. What for? Now, I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I wanted to write down my “golden thoughts” like this one:
So I did. And so I am.
This is just proof how much my brain needs meditation. It needs to calm down and be able to focus on the present. Because its resistance was huge. I was in the most peaceful environment: reading a book while watching sunset – but my brain still tried to occupy me with all the nonsense, that wasn’t important at that time at all. And only I have the power to change its behaviour. So…
Will I come back to Pa Pae?
I’d like to. There was a different kind of life out there. Definitely more peaceful. The funniest thing was that I was nervous to go on the retreat, but after those 3 days I was nervous to come back to the “real world”. I was in such a good head space and I didn’t want to disturb it with all the “modern gibberish”. So…
Was it a life changing experience?
For now I’ll say no. But we’ll see… It might be too soon to tell.
The only thing I know for now, is that being equipped with all the knowledge and meditational techniques I want to continue to meditate on a daily basis. And who knows what will come from that…
That’s a wrap!
You made it through the whole “3 day meditation retreat in Thailand” blog post.
I hope you found it useful and perhaps you’ll even consider going on a 3 day meditation retreat in Thailand yourself. And by yourself! Yes, because I forgot to mention…
a little tip
…if you’re considering a meditation retreat, I’d really recommend going on your own. I was very happy I went there alone, without my partner. When I saw the couples or groups of friends being constantly together…obviously, there is nothing wrong with that, but I think that going there on your own will deliver a different kind of experience that can only benefit you.
If you have any questions regarding a 3 day meditation retreat in Thailand, feel free to ask them in the comment section. Or drop me a message on Instagram.
Hi, it’s Aga, the author of this blog. If you found this blog post interesting, entertaining or useful, please think of buying me a virtual coffee to support the site’s running costs. But if you know me, I might actually spend it on coffee 🙂 Thanks!
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