I heard about the Forest Monastery from my Slovenian friends I met in Chiang Mai. Having done Vipassana Meditation before, I definitely wanted to do a retreat here in Southeast Asia. And so, whilst in Pai, I caught a bus going to Mae Hong Son and told the driver to drop me off at Wat Pha Tam Wua. About two hours later, the driver came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. The only indicator that I had arrived: a sign by a narrow road leading off into the wooded cliffs. I grabbed my backpacks, marched on a quiet path for 20 minutes, and arrived.
I’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful location to meditate in Asia. The place is nestled in the lush, mountainous forest and hidden away by high cliffs. I got the feeling of sheltered from the world. All over the grounds were ponds, streams, enormous colorful flowers and butterflies.
I jumped right into the mix of things the morning I arrived. They had us do a mix of walking, sitting, lying, and chanting meditation. Silence is optional, and I met some great people chatting during our free time.
Unfortunately, the head monk was away during my stay. Others said that his English was quite good, and that he would have been able to give detailed explanations of the practice and instructions for meditation. That was too bad, I would’ve liked to hear the head monk’s talks. I did like the monk that I met very much though. He was always smiling and jovial. My favorite part was when one night, the fires from the government-sanctioned controlled burning were getting closer to the monastery, he said “fire coming to monastery…you huts bamboo…maybe you be barbecue…hehehe”.
As much as I liked my experience, there were a couple things that I didn’t jive with:
Meals – We only got two vegetarian meals per day, the last one being at 11:00 am. I pretty much went to bed with a rumbly stomach every night.
Chanting – The evening chanting felt quite long. Some of the phrases referred to the Buddha as “the exalted one” and “my only refuge”. I couldn’t connect with this part of the retreat. I did like that the Goenka Vipassana retreats I had done it the US were more secular.
After 3 days, I felt ready to leave. The monk gave me a Buddha necklace pendant that he said would protect me wherever I go. I walked 20 minutes back to the main road and hitch-hiked a ride to Mae Hong Son.