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What You Need to Know About Visiting Tam Wua Forest Monastery for Meditation 

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Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery opens its gates to all who wish to come.

As long as you can be in Thailand legally and get yourself to the monastery, you are welcome. And as long as you follow the rules, you’re welcome to stay for as long as you wish.

But before I dive into the hows and whats, a word of admonition: please do not go to Tam Wua Forest Monastery “to be a monk for a day” or something similarly superficial such as to get amazing Instagram shots. Go with honest intentions. Whether they are for religious learnings, meditation practice, opening yourself to new experiences, or otherwise, go with the dignity and respect that Tam Wua deserves.

Tam Wua Forest Monastery sign

How to Get to Tam Wua Forest Monastery

Tam Wua Forest Monastery is located roughly 8 miles from northern Thailand’s border with Burma (though unless you cut through the forest, the actual Burmese border is a bit further).

It is on the road between Pai and Mae Hong Son, and most people arrive at the monastery via the Prempracha van running the Chiang Mai – Pai – Soppong – Mae Hong Son route. You simply tell the driver you need to go to Tam Wua and he’ll drop you off at the side of road 1095 at the front gate, after which you’ll follow the trail into the monastery.

If, however, you happen to be around during busy season and find yourself ticketless as I did, there is also a yellow songthaew between Pai and Mae Hong Son that typically ferries locals.

From Pai it leaves at the intersection next to the bus station at 7 and 11 a.m. and costs 100 baht. While the songthaew will soon get crowded with locals and all their cargo, the open-air ride is perhaps a more refreshing way to go up all those curvy roads.

This is also the songthaew you’ll take when leaving the monastery (whether to Pai or Mae Hong Son), unless you choose to pre-book a Prepumcha pickup, which is generally unnecessary unless you want to be on a specific van back to Chiang Mai.

Taxis are of course an option, though a very costly one. (I was quoted 1800 baht for Pai to Tam Wua.) You can also go by motorbike if you have one.

While they will not reject you, the monastery volunteers ask that everyone show up before 4 p.m. each day.

Tam Wua Forest Monastery river
One of Tam Wua’s gorgeous views is of this river that flows through it.

What to Bring to Tam Wua Forest Monastery

You may go to Tam Wua Forest Monastery with just your honest intentions and personal necessities.

It would also help to have 2-3 sets of vipassana meditation clothes, though the monastery does have ones you can borrow.

You can buy these white clothes at any local Thai market for approximately $10 per outfit. Try to look for less transparent ones if possible; white underclothes are also helpful. Plain white clothes you already have will also work, provided that they’re loose fitting and modest.

Tam Wua Forest Monastery cave walking meditation
Everyone in their white clothes for walking meditation. When it’s cold you can put on non-white jackets and blankets, but you must wear these white clothes underneath.

How Much Does It Cost to Practice Meditation at Tam Wua Forest Monastery?

Nothing. Tam Wua Forest Monastery does not charge anything of visitors.

There is a donation box that you can drop donations into before you leave. It is by no means compulsory, but here’s how I thought about it: you’re getting free lodging, two meals a day, and meditation guidance that costs thousands in retreats elsewhere.

Plus, if you have the means to make it all the way to Tam Wua, you probably have the means to leave a donation.

How much is up to you.

Tam Wua Forest Monastery kuti
I was lucky enough to get a private kuti, which came with a private bathroom with a hot shower. Regardless of whether you get a private kuti or are in the dorms, however, your bed is hard. Because it’s straight up wood. (They discourage too much comfort as that could encourage sloth.)

Do I Have to Be Silent Like You Were?

Certainly not.

I chose to be silent the entire duration of my 8-day stay, but you can choose to be silent for any period of time or forgo it altogether.

I found it to be an amazing chance to reflect, and it wasn’t that hard. There’s a “Silent and Happy” name tag you can attach to your clothes that makes it easier as well since people will respect that and not initiate conversations with you.

The abbot told me that he was silent for 7 years, 7 months, and 7 days.

That’s probably beyond my capacity for silence.

Monk rice offering Tam Wua
The abbot leading the monks through the breakfast rice offering.

Do I Have to Go Off the Grid at Tam Wua?

No.

There is actually cell service at Tam Wua and the monastery does not prohibit you from going online as long as it is not in the dhamma hall during rice offerings and meditation sessions. The mini-mart near the front gate also appeared to have Wi-Fi for a 30 baht fee.

However, I think it is difficult to truly enjoy the nature and peace you’re surrounded by and take in the meditation and overall experience if you’re constantly texting friends, on Facebook, reading the news, etc.

I texted my parents and boyfriend just so they knew I was okay (and for the occasional panic-driven medical googling), but otherwise avoided any info from the outside world. And I found it incredibly refreshing to go off the grid. (When I left and read some news for the first time, I realized I’d forgotten that we had Trump as president. Ah, what bliss it had been.)

What If I’ve Never Meditated Before?

That’s fine too. The monks provide teachings each day to help you, and the second section of the chanting book has information about the goals and hows of meditation.

There’s also an incredibly easy-to-read and helpful book in the monastery library’s English section. It’s Don’t Look Down on the Defilements, They Will Laugh at You by Ashin Tejaniya, and I would highly recommend picking it up on your second or third day. (It is a gift of Dhamma and not for sale nor permissible to reproduce on the Internet, or I’d link to where you can get it.)

That said, it’s probably helpful if you do have some exposure to meditation ahead of time. This is especially true if you don’t have much time to spend at the monastery; you don’t want to be completely lost during your stay. Apps such as Headspace and Whil are helpful in getting you started.

What’s the Daily Schedule at Tam Wua Forest Monastery?

Here’s a photo of the daily schedule.

Tam Wua Forest Monastery schedule

There’s really no one checking whether you’re doing the personal meditation and chanting sessions in the a.m. and p.m., and the abbot will even joke about “sleeping meditation” in the mornings, but you must attend all other sessions.

The morning and afternoon meditation practice are two hours each, while the evening chanting and meditation session is 90 minutes. The monastery cleaning can occur at any hour between 3-6 p.m.

It’s a good idea to arrive at all sessions 10-15 minutes before the scheduled start time so you can settle in (and as they’ll often start a little early). Plus, you’ll get to witness Pui the monastery dog do his ritual howling when the bells ring.

Wait, I Only See Two Meals on the Schedule. Where’s Dinner?

Following the eight precepts of Buddhism, the monks only eat before noon and visitors follow suit.

I honestly thought this was going to be the most difficult part for me, but it wasn’t difficult at all. You’re eating a lot more at breakfast and lunch than you likely would usually, and there’s not much physical activity.

That said, there is a mini mart near the front gate and no one will yell at you should you decide to indulge on ramen or cookies in the evening. The only time I broke the precept was on New Year’s Eve when the monks kept us up past midnight and the volunteers left out Oreos for us. Otherwise, I had no issue with not eating past noon, and this is from someone who constantly eats!

A note about the food: rice is the main staple and all protein is made from soy. The prepared food is typically vegan, though at times desserts offered by the locals do contain milk and eggs.

So, It’s in a Forest in Thailand. What’s the Mosquito Situation Like?

When I was there in late December and early January, the mosquitoes weren’t too bad except after the rain. Your best bet is to cover up and wear adequate repellent. For me, citronella spray was not enough and DEET was required to keep the mosquitoes off me.

At night, there’s not really a need for mosquito nets nor a way to put them up in the kutis.

As Tam Wua Forest Monastery is rather close to the Burmese border, there is a risk of malaria according to the CDC. I chose to take a Malarone generic but I know many people did not. Please ask your doctor for medical advice.

There are also a lot of fire ants and spiders, among many other insects that I’d prefer not to be friends with nor share living quarters with.

Papaya tree
One of the many papaya trees on the monastery grounds. Way cooler than those pesky mosquitoes and ants that also populate the grounds.

You Have All These Photos of the Monastery. Isn’t That Rude?

When I was first looking into Tam Wua Forest Monastery, I also wasn’t sure what to make of all the photos I saw online. But the monastery will actually explicitly tell you that taking photos is okay, including during rice offerings and meditation, as long as you put your phone/camera away immediately after.

 

If you have other questions about Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.

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Tam Wua Forest Monastery - What to Know Before Visiting for Meditation

72 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Visiting Tam Wua Forest Monastery for Meditation 

    1. When I arrived I definitely came prepared with lots of muscle ache creams and patches,and to my surprise, it wasn’t that awful! I think the wood slab may have actually corrected some of my back and spinal issues. That’s not to say that waking up the first few mornings wasn’t rough though…

  1. please let me know that how can i go to Pai from here. you said that the yellow bus will go to Pai or Mae hong Son. do i have to ask to driver? “where is the destination?” like this? or the car has some sign on the front window?

    1. Hi Seon, when you get to the monastery, the volunteers will tell you about the yellow songthaews you can take when you leave. There’s also a small placard showing the times each day. There are two songthaews to Pai and two to Mae Hong Son each day. If you’re going to Pai and leave on the morning songthaew, it’s super simple. You just wait in the front pavilion of the monastery and the yellow songthaew will come all the way inside to pick you up. If you’re headed to Pai in the afternoon or going to Mae Hong Son, you’ll have to walk out to the main road and wait there for the songthaew. Stay on the side of the road you reach first if you’re going to Pai; cross to the other side if you’re going to Mae Hong Son. Of course, it also helps to confirm with the driver. They may not speak much English but they’ll understand basics like if you say “Pai?” Let me know if you have any other questions!

  2. Please let me know the Yellow truck from this Wat Pa Tam wua, they have the sign on the truck to know about where is the destination?

  3. Very thorough and fun to read – this is exactly the info I was looking for! I’m heading there next week – only able to stay for 4 nights but looking forward to it nonetheless. Thanks for the great post.

  4. Hi, thanks for the information! I am thinking of going next week. Can I take all my travel belongings with me i.e. one large rucksack and one small one? Many thanks in advance

      1. I’m going to ask the same, but mine was a trolley luggage, will this be ok?

        Also, do you need to bring white flowers as offering, I’m reading other centers and they required to bring it, but on tam wua it was not indicated.

        1. Hi Jenna,

          yes, roller bags are okay too. And no, no offerings of any sort are required at Tam Wua. Donations are accepted if you wish to give them when you leave. The process is completely anonymous and self- initiated and the amount is up to you.

          Let me know if you have any other questions!
          Rowena

  5. Hello thanks for the helpful read. I’m in Thailand now researching to do a vipassana. Heard alot about this monastery. Do you required to pre book online weeks or months in advance? Can i just show up? Who can i contact if need notice.

    1. Yep! They don’t mind if you use your phone to communicate with your family as long as it’s not in the middle of meditation!

  6. Hi Rowena,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience here. I have question about meditation technique, which meditation technique the follow? Is it Vipassana taught by SN Goenka?

    Have you done any Vipassana retreat? I need to compare as I have done 2 Vipassana retreat so don’t want to mix up with other meditation technique.

    Thanks

    Shikha

    1. Hi Shikha,
      I’m a bit of a beginner (maybe intermediate beginner?) to meditation and have not taken any Goenka courses, so I cannot tell you for sure. It is vipassana as far as I know, though from what I have heard from those who have been to Goenka retreats, it’s not as strict as Goenka retreats (for example, speaking is OK if you want to).
      Sorry can’t be more help here!
      Rowena

  7. Hello! I think that’s what I’m looking for! you say that you could stay as long as you want or allow (sangha) and in other blogs I read that you could only 10 days? Is it like that or could one stay longer? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Rodrigo! Unless they’ve changed it since I was there in Dec/Jan, it’s as long as you want. I originally planned on staying 15 days and had told the volunteered who handle guests that upon arrival, and they were totally fine with it. In the end, I only stayed 8 days due to an emergency, and they were also okay with that when I left earlier than planned.
      I wasn’t speaking during my time at Tam Wua, but I overheard plenty of conversations, and there were several people who had been there more than a month.
      Hope that helps!

  8. Perfect! Thank you very much Rowena!, I am heading to Ubon to spend a few days visiting, then I have thought if there is availability to go to Wat Pah Nanachat for 10 to 15 days, from there I go to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) for a week, also to manage the visa from Thailand again, and thanks to you and your blog it is already clear where I would go, with what I would have about a month to move forward … Thank you very much again !!

  9. Hi Rowena,
    Thanks for your beautiful stories !
    I would like to know if I can sit on a chair in the Dhamma hall ?
    Do you think I can bring a mattress ?
    (My age is 50 + and I am an experienced meditator, but do need some basic comfort 😉

    1. Hi Heidi,
      Yes! They’re flexible on this. They’ll just ask you to sit in at the end of a row to avoid blocking others behind you. I’ve seen people pull up chairs from the cafeteria, bring their own cushions, and such.
      Cheers,
      Rowena

  10. Hi! your blog has inspired me to participate in this retreat. i plan to go with a friend next week. my only concern are geckos/lizards because i’m very scared of them. did you see any lizards/geckoes in bathroom, the bungalow/kuti and dorm when you were there?

    1. Hi Kate, glad to hear this inspired you! Great question. I don’t remember seeing any lizards and geckos. There were definitely maybe bugs as you might expect in a forest, though.
      I think you should be fine!

  11. Hi there- I see that you were hoping to stay for 15 days, and ended up only staying 8. Do you think it’s worth it if we could only stay 3 days? We’d love the experience, but also want to make sure that we’re not being disrespectful!

    1. Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for checking. 3 days should be fine.

      I think whether it’s worth it depends on what you’re looking to get out of it and how much you’re willing to put into it. If you only have 3 days, then make sure you make the most of those 3 days.

      Cheers,
      Rowena

  12. Hi Rowena! Is it possible to give all your belongings (such as telephone etc) to the monks/organisation to avoid any temptation in going online? And were there also many spiders or other bugs in your own room? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Bo, you’ll probably need to hide your phone and such deep inside your luggage/pack on your own 🙂 Tam Wua is a working monastery and the visitor program is run by volunteers. So unlike a retreat, they’re not that hands on with things like taking your phone away from you.

      As for spiders and bugs, sigh, yes there definitely is. I definitely had to chase some nasty ones out the window (or in some cases, kill them… in a monastery. Oops.)

  13. Hi Rowena! What did you do with your valuables like Passport, money/credit card, phone etc… I’m concerned these things could be stolen if the staff doesn’t lock them away in a safe place. Was that an issue when you were there?

    1. Hi Antonia! I was lucky to have my own private kuti, so I just left everything there. If you’re in a shared sleeping space, I would suggest just having a small, flat crossbody that fits yours essentials and keep that on you. Something like a small knit or cloth bag.
      I kept my phone on me all the time! Just stuck it in a pocket.
      Cheers,
      Rowena

  14. Hi! This was amazing. I am leaving on the 8th from US for Thailand. This will actually be my second time visiting the North, did Pai and CM for three months last time. But the purpose of this trip is to attend the Wat for 10 day vipassana. Question, are you familiar with transportation the opposite way? I’m actually going to fly Nok Air from Bangkok right in to MHS this time. Opting out of the 4 hour van ride from CM (ugh), but will do it on the way back down. My flight gets in at 3pm, and I know they prefer you to arrive by 4pm. So I’ll be pushing it. Do you think I will need to hire a taxi at that point? And if so, what if it takes me longer to get there? I could always stay the night in town, then head to first this in the morning too. Finally, as you did too, I’ll be up there during busy season. (1/13-1/23) Was it crowded when you went, did you email/call ahead or just show up, and what is the best process for getting a kuti instead of the dorm? Sorry so many questions. Great post!

    1. Hi Scott,

      Glad this was helpful for you.

      I would suggest staying the night in Mae Hong Son first. It does put a lot of pressure on the volunteers if you arrive after 4 p.m., especially if it’s busy and they need to figure out where to house you. There also aren’t all that many taxis to hire in Mae Hong Son, and you may find yourself in a bit of a bind.

      Instead, your best bet is to stay the night and then go to the produce market in the morning to catch the yellow songthaew that goes from Mae Hong Son to Pai. Hop on and let them know you want off at Wat Pa Tam Wua. Unfortunately, I can’t quite remember the schedule going from MHS to Pai, so you’ll have to ask your lodging that (or just chill by the songthaews and wait!).

      There’s no reservation system, so it really is a game of chance. Depends on how many other people are there and how long they are staying. I did show up pretty early in the a.m., so that can also help your chances. If you’re planning on staying for 10 days, you’ll be higher up in the priorities for a kuti than people who are only staying one or two nights. Lastly, fyi that when I was there it was private kutis for women, but for men, there were both private kutis and shared kutis (2-3 people vs dozens in the dorms).

      Enjoy your time there!
      Rowena

  15. Hey thanks for the great information

    Is there a need to let them know that you intend to come?
    Or can I just arrive there and it will be okay?

  16. Dear People.

    After spending eight intense and equally as peaceful days in your forest monastery, my Mother (who has practiced in Nepal and Tibet in her younger years) would love to come and visit also. She is flying over to visit you and me, and I would like to see if there might be a spot for her upon arrival (9 February 2019). Since she has an issue with her lungs could I even ask if it would is okay for her to only help in the kitchen area while doing chores? With the walking meditation, since it is not uphill, it will be no problem to join, but if it is in any way possible for her accommodation to be close to the common area and not too far uphill, it would cause her great relief. I might be asking a lot, but she is very much looking forward to train her mind in your forest, so I’d like to just see if it could be possible.

    Wishing you a great evening,

    Anna

    1. Hi Anna,

      Unfortunately, this is a question I can’t answer for you. For this, you’ll have to contact the monastery volunteers directly. Their website was down as of yesterday, but hopefully it’ll be up soon so you can find contact info.

      Good luck,
      Rowena

  17. Hello,

    I intend to go to the monastery from January 24, and having seen their site closed for a while and the date, I’m afraid that the place be closed or that there are more places when I arrived. Do you think that at this period there are many people to the point of not being able to return?

    1. Hi Marian,

      Yes, I’ve heard from others and saw that the monastery’s website has been down. It’s probably just a volunteer who’s busy and hasn’t updated the site’s hosting. They should be open all year round unless there is some sort of personnel or natural emergency.

      You can also try to call the number attached to the Google listing (Thai number, so may be international fees). Or ask the locals when you’re in a nearby town like Pai, Soppong, or Mae Hong Son.

      I’m not sure what your question means. What do you mean by “point of not being able to return”?

    1. Hi Marian, The volunteers told me they’ve always been able to accommodate people, no matter how busy. And it looks like someone just confirmed in a comment below that they are there right now and there’s definitely space.

      Enjoy !

    1. Thank you for helping confirm!
      If anything has changed in the year since I was there, please let me know and I can update this info. Thanks!

  18. This sounds great, I was looking into doing a Ten Day Silent Vipassanna Course at Kanchanaburi as part of my travels in South East Asisa but am now really intersted in this.

    1. Hi Rowena,
      Thank you for your info on the monastery.
      I am terribly scare of cold esp.cold wind.Heard it’s 10°C at nite.Can I wear other colors Thermal sweater & windbreakers & white inside?
      Thank you
      Audrey

      1. Hi Audrey,

        They ask that you wear white on the outside, so if you think you’re going to be cold, bringing thermals you can put under your white clothes would be best. The meditation clothes are very loose-fitting. I’d consider getting thermals from a brand like 32 Degrees or Uniqlo. I’m a huge fan of these https://amzn.to/2MT8ObS

        As for the cost of the white clothes, they were about $10 USD per set. I think you can get them for cheaper, but I wasn’t in the mood to haggle hard that day.

        Cheers,
        Rowena

  19. Thanks very much for the information but the driver said to me that he can’t drop me off. Now I’m sitting in the bus and it’s on the way and literally can’t believe that he said no ?

  20. Hi Rowena,
    thank you so much for sharing your experience!
    Would you recomend me to stay only 1 or 2 days? Or it would not worth it?
    Thank you so much!
    Gabriela

    1. Hi Gabriela! I think it is up to each person, but if you are short on time, I would suggest arriving early in the a.m. and staying at least two nights. Otherwise you’ll spend more time getting there than actually at the monastery.

  21. If I want to go I need to book many day before?
    And sometimes I need to connect at least one time to week or more to an online appointment of my Job. It’s possible to do this during time there?

    1. Hi Mariana, No booking is necessary. As for Internet connection, you should be able to get email, Google, etc if you have cell signal elsewhere in Thailand. I wouldn’t be as sure about video calls or anything like that though. The small convenience store outside of the monastery supposedly has wifi but I can’t attest to its speed.

  22. Hi Rowena, you mention $10 for the white clothes,is it pants and shirts 1 set =US$10 ? or Thai Bhat $10?
    Appreciate your reply
    Thank you
    Audrey

  23. Hello, thanks for sharing your interesting experience!
    I hope you´ll see and reply to my question.
    I would like to improve my meditation and inner calmness but thats not the main reason I would like to travel there for a while.
    I have a few `Mind`problems in my life for example: slight social anxiety, depression and so on.
    I`m sure that living with a buddism mindset would be the solution for most of my struggles.
    My question is: if you travel there, do the monks have real `deep`conversations with you and try to teach you buddism or are you just a member of the daily routine?

    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for reading. There is a daily session (in Thai with the abbot and in English with one of the senior monks) where they teach principles of Buddhism. It’s up to you whether you attend those sessions. There is also a library with Buddhism and meditation books in various languages.

      Hope that helps!
      Rowena

  24. Wow! What a great blog. I will be in Chiang Mai later this month on a tour and then planned on having 10 days on my own. This will be absolutely perfect! I am so glad I found your blog, Rowena. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Jackie,
      So glad you found this helpful! Have an amazing time in Chiang Mai (one of my favorite cities!) and hope you enjoy your time at Tam Wua as well.
      Happy new year,
      Rowena

  25. Hello! Thank you for all this info it’s truly helpful! Can you please tell about the weather in the wintertime, cos I planning to join also in January-February, and I’m not cold weather lover)))
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Maria,
      It’s not too cold. I’d say highs of mid-70s and lows of low-60s (Fahrenheit) when I was there in Dec/Jan. Your best bet is to look up the weather in either Mae Hong Son or Pai, Thailand and gauge by those forecasts.
      Cheers,
      Rowena

    1. Hi Dave,

      Sorry to hear that. I suppose it’s not too surprising. Tam Wua is so remote, it would not be good for the monks, volunteers, or any visitors to get sick and have to travel very long and windy roads to get care.

      Their official notice says: “Update regard the situation with the monastery. From today (06 of March) until at least 20 of March our monastery will be closed. We will not be able to accommodate anyone and can’t provide you with accommodation. We will make a further notice closer to the 20 of March. Sorry for the inconvenience and hopefully we will be able to accept visitors again very soon!”

      I would encourage checking https://www.wattamwua.com/ come March 20th to see if they’re reopened.

      Stay healthy,
      Rowena

    1. That is too bad, indeed. Are you on your way to Thailand or already en route to Tam Wua? Let me know if you need any suggestions for elsewhere to spend your time!

  26. I’m on my way to Chiang Mai, I’m in Bangkok and I have my train today and place booked in Pai, to rest before the road to the Monastery. If you can give me any advice I would be happy ?? Maybe other places for those who want to practice meditation around?

  27. I don’t know of any spots like Tam Wua in the area, unfortunately.

    Depending on how much time you have, I would suggest spending a solid amount of time in Chiang Mai (4-5 days) and going to Chiang Rai for 2-3 days.
    https://anomadontheloose.com/guide-chiang-mai-what-to-do-see-eat/
    https://anomadontheloose.com/best-things-to-do-chiang-rai/

    You could also go beyond Pai and onward to Mae Hong Son. It’s very quaint and what I think Pai used to be like before it became very touristy. There isn’t too much to do in Mae Hong Son but definitely good hiking, nice temples to check out, a lovely wine bar/cafe (77 House), and the best damn pad kra pao I’ve ever had anywhere (at this small stand of near the corner of Siri Mongkol and Udom Chao Ni Thet — unfortunately I don’t have the name).

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