So you want to go on a spiritual retreat in Thailand, do you? Maybe you want to escape the grind of daily life, maybe you’re overwhelmed with personal obligations or maybe you’re even dealing with substance abuse issues and are looking for a mental reset. Regardless of the reason, Thailand is a great place to go for spiritual reinvigoration.
I spend about 6 months of the year in Thailand working in tourism, and I’ve put this piece together as a step by step guide to planning a spiritual retreat in Thailand with the hopes of shedding light on why the beautiful faces and beautiful places of Thailand make it the ideal spot for someone looking for a spiritual reset.
What Kind Of Spiritual Retreat Are You Looking For?
In your search for a spiritual retreat in Thailand, you’ll find several options, and it all comes down to what your spirit needs at this moment in time. Do you need something active? Do you need to sit still and be in a quiet place for several days? Do you need something in the middle? You’ll find all of these options in Thailand, so before you even begin looking into retreats, ask yourself, “what do I need right now?”
While you will find Muay Thai kickboxing (Thailand’s national sport) retreats, cross fit and other fitness-related retreats in Thailand, we’re going to focus on yoga and meditation retreats in Thailand.
Yoga Retreats In Thailand: What To Expect & How To Prepare
Yoga retreats in Thailand are some of the most rejuvenating experiences you can ask for; you’ll find like-minded individuals often seeking similar experiences and dealing with similar issues, and this alone will help to heighten your experience.
What To Expect
A yoga retreat in Thailand consists of; you guessed it! A lot of yoga. But it’s not just the physical aspects of yoga that you’ll focus on. Yoga is as much a philosophy as it is a practice in physical movement, and thus you’ll spend as much time throughout the day learning yogic philosophy as you will practicing the actual yoga itself.
Yoga retreats range from 5-21 days, which means you should also have a fair amount of free time to pursue personal interests away from yoga. This is in fact one of the most spiritually powerful aspects of a yoga retreat; redirecting your focus onto your needs. It is often the case that the modern world takes so much of our attention and care that we divert all of these resources outwards, leaving little to no attention or care for ourselves. This can drain our spirits and lead to burnout, and it is far better to catch yourself and rejuvenate before hitting the “burnout” stage.
How To Prepare: Do Your Research
- Research The Teacher
It’s critical that you take the time to research the teacher you’ll be learning from over the subsequent weeks. Having the optimal yoga retreat in Thailand means surrounding yourself with likeminded individuals, and individuals are attracted to teachings that resonate with them. So if a certain teacher doesn’t resonate with you, chances are you won’t make strong connections with many of the individuals at the retreat, and strong interpersonal connections are another powerful source of spiritual rejuvenation.
The teacher is perhaps the most important factor in any yoga retreat, and it is worth basing your decision on which yoga retreat you attend based on the teacher.
- Determine The Amount Of Free Time You Want
Yoga retreats in Thailand differ vastly in terms of yoga levels and free time; make sure you do your research and find out how much free time you’ll have during this spiritual retreat. There are retreats where there are one to two yoga classes a day, and the rest of the time is yours to pursue your own interests. Imagine signing up for this, hoping for all-day everyday yoga?
Consequently, many yoga retreats in Thailand are geared toward yoga teacher certifications, and if this is the case you can expect to spend most your free time learning the Sanskrit names for poses and other, higher aspects of yoga. Not an ideal situation for someone who wants to get in lots of pleasure reading on their retreat, right?
- Research The Location
We’ll get into locations more below, but make sure you look at where you’ll be spending your time. Thailand has an incredibly rich and diverse mix of cultures and landscapes, and you can find retreats where you’re based near cities or in the middle of nowhere, rural Thailand. Where you spend your free time will be a large part of your trip, so make sure you do your research so you can spend your time away from yoga exactly how you want to spend it.
- What Type Of Yoga Is It?
It sounds silly, but make sure you understand what type of yoga you’ll be doing at this spiritual retreat. If you’re a young man looking for a Vinyasa yoga retreat and sign up for a retreat that focuses on prenatal yoga…you’ll probably have a less-than-optimal experience, right?
We all know that the most experienced yogis say, “you can be neither good nor bad at yoga, you are just doing yoga”. But there are certainly skill levels when it comes to yoga, so make sure you find a retreat that welcomes your skill level. Does this retreat cater to beginners? Or is this for yogis who have been practicing for over 10 years? Finding a retreat that aligns with your desired style and skill level will be key to creating the optimal experience.
Meditation Retreats In Thailand: What To Expect & How To Prepare
Meditation retreats are another popular spiritual retreat in Thailand, as they force us to turn inwards. Most spiritual meditation retreats in Thailand are either entirely silent or significantly restrict the amount participants can talk, so the focus is generally not on meeting others. These can be especially powerful retreats if you’re dealing with the death of a loved one or are dealing with substance abuse issues.
What To Expect
- No Electronics
Meditation retreats range from 1-30 days and as you can probably imagine, this retreat will force you to unplug and get off the grid. This means no social media, no browsing the web, and you will even likely be discouraged from taking photographs during the retreat. All of these acts focus our attention outwards into the world, which is the opposite of what a spiritual meditation retreat aims to achieve.
- Very Little If Any Conversation
Like I mentioned before, meditation retreats often involve zero conversation between participants, and many even discourage eye contact with others. This means silent meals and very little if any conversation for the rest of the experience.
- You May Think You’re Going Crazy
Many people especially those who have not mentally prepared themselves for the experience, regularly believe they’re going crazy after the first couple days of a silent retreat. This is the first time they’ve given their mind any attention, and as strange as it sounds, it can feel as if your mind is a stranger in your own head. This is exactly what spiritual meditation retreats aim for; they want you to have these experiences, because it forces you to recognize aspects of ourselves that many times, we neglect for too long.
- You Will Probably Be Stiff And Uncomfortable
Meditation retreats often involve sitting to meditate for 30-45 minutes and then performing equal-time walking meditation. This cycle is repeated multiple times throughout the day, and by the 4th or 5th time standing up that day, you’ll likely feel very stiff and sore. Prepare accordingly! Make sure you load up on fish oil prior to the retreat and that you’re well hydrated to mitigate joint and tendon pain.
- The First Three Days Are Hard
Most meditation retreat participants struggle through the first three days of the retreat. It varies between participants; some struggle with the physical discomfort, some with the lack of socialization and still others with the feelings that they may be going crazy. Regardless, it’s important to remember this is normal and that you should try to push through this discomfort. Many find that they begin to see “results” around the fourth day of the spiritual retreat.
How To Pick A Location
There are two main areas we’ll focus on for spiritual retreats; northern and southern Thailand. These areas have a ton to offer in terms of fantastic scenery and cultural interests, and it is generally where you will find most spiritual retreats in Thailand. While the location and where you’ll spend free time generally applies to yoga retreats, its important that you choose a location that suits you best for your spiritual retreat regardless of the type of retreat.
Do you prefer the mountains? Do you like the jungle? Are you more of an ocean person? All of these are options for your spiritual retreat, so it’s important to research which area will best suit you.
The North: Chiang Mai
One of the most defining aspects of Thailand is that, unlike every other one of its southeastern neighbors, it was never colonized. It achieved this by unifying several kingdoms to oppose colonization, and Chiang Mai was the center of the Lanna Kingdom, which was the old northern kingdom. Thus, while Chiang Mai is Thailand, you will find the cultural legacies of the Lanna Kingdom in current-day Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city and certainly sprawls “out” instead of “up”. You won’t find many skyscrapers there, but you will find many neighborhoods nestled down hidden, windy roads along with all the aspects of a modern city. Just outside of Chiang Mai lie vast mountains and rich, dense jungle. This makes it ideal for someone seeking a spiritual retreat that is “off the grid” who wants to be surrounded with rich, lush scenery.
The culture of Chiang Mai is much more reserved than that of southern Thailand, and this is in large part due to the incredibly rich mix of cultures you find there. The Chiang Mai Province is home to many hill tribes who historically immigrated from China and maintain a very distinct culture, separate from the rest of Thailand.
This makes northern Thailand extraordinarily rich in foods you simply won’t find in the rest of Thailand. Along with ethnic Thai and hill tribe influences on food up north, you’ll find food heavily influenced by Isan culture, which is a culture in northern Thailand that emanates from the northern borders states where there has been a significant infusion of Burmese and Laos influences on culture. Again, did I mention Thailand’s incredible cultural diversity?
Looking for an especially tasty dish in Northern Thailand? Try the Kao Soi; it’s my favorite dish in Thailand.
What To Do In Chiang Mai
There are far more elephant tourism opportunities near Chiang Mai than in southern Thailand.
You can spend the day trekking through Thailand’s vast jungles and even combine the trek with a visit to various local hill tribes, whose histories and cultures are so tied to that very jungle.
You can go bamboo rafting down the mighty Mae Tang river or trade that bamboo raft in for a rubber one and go for an exhilarating whitewater rafting trip.
Far more numerous than in Thailand’s southern islands, Chiang Mai and its northern provinces are full of fascinating and culturally rich temples both on and off the tourist trail.
- Street Markets & Noodles
While the popular southern islands tend to cater more to tourists, Chiang Mai is where you can get a glimpse at real, authentic Thai life by visiting one of the many night markets and stop with the rest of the local Thais to enjoy some late-night noodles.
The South: Thailand’s Islands
Thailand’s islands are extremely popular for their unbelievable beaches and incredible weather. There is not nearly as much known about the history of these islands, but there are plenty of activities to keep you busy throughout your down-time here. The most popular islands in southern Thailand for spiritual retreats are;
- Ko Samui
- Ko Pha Ngan
- Ko Tai
Thailand’s islands are full of white and yellow sand beaches with crystal-clear blue waters and palm tree-lined shores. It is certainly the ideal choice for someone looking to spend their downtime basking in the sun and lying on the beach.
As we mentioned above, many of Thailand’s most popular islands cater to the tourist crowds, and it can be more difficult to delve into authentic Thai culture in these places. Still, you may be able to find a local night market or a local temple if you look in the right places.
What To Do There
- Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Islands like Ko Tao and Ko Samui have some of the most renowned diving and snorkeling in the northern hemisphere, and for good reason. Here you’ll find well-preserved reefs and exotic sea creatures that are enough to leave you breathless (but you’ll be underwater, so hopefully not!).
- Kite Surfing
Adventure activities like kite surfing are very popular in Thailand’s islands.
Many of Thailand’s islands have forests, and you can go on hikes that take you to see monkeys, exotic flowers and so much more.
While elephant sanctuaries aren’t as popular in the islands as they are in the north, there are still some sanctuaries on islands such as Phuket where you can go see elephants in your downtime.
The Bottom Line: Planning A Spiritual Retreat In Thailand
To have the best experience it’s important to determine why you’re going, what kind of retreat you’re looking for and where you want to spend your retreat. Ensuring you’ve hit these major points will help you best plan your spiritual retreat in Thailand and find significant spiritual rejuvenation in this incredibly rejuvenating country.
Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.