I don’t exactly remember when I decided I wanted to attend a 10-day vipassana in Thailand. I think I read about one online and found the idea challenging and exciting all at once. The idea stuck, and soon it made it onto my bucket list. I decided on Wat Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand, which is extremely well known to Buddhist all over Thailand. On the website is a schedule, but without any past experience it was hard to know what it actually meant. I thought I’d share exactly what happens in the day-to-day activity of a vipassana in Thailand.
Vipassana in Thailand: Daily Schedule
4:00 am – Wake Up
bong…bong…Bong…Bong…BONG! BONG! BONG! That’s the sound of monastery bells. It’s time to get up kids. Oh and the bells get louder and faster which really helps to instill a sense of urgency and a touch of anxiety to start off your morning. Just kidding (kind of). It’s super dark, so you light up your old fashioned lantern, get dressed, check the toilet for spiders, pee, and then walk to the meditation hall.
4:30 am – Morning Reading
Now you get to sit uncomfortably on the floor, with a straight back of course, while a woman with the most calming voice ever reads soothing information to you. Oh yeah, and it’s 4:30am. It’s basically a lullaby. Eventually, I got the hang of the whole early morning thing, and her speeches became some of my favorites.
4:45 am – Sitting Meditation
After the reading is complete, you sit for a half hour and try to clear your mind all while not falling asleep. You’re entire body hurts, but you’re taught not to give into every pain and feeling. Sometimes you have a good session and sometimes you have a nap.
5:15 am – Yoga
This is clearly the best part of the day because it’s the only time you’re allowed to actually do something active. Not to mention that this makes the time before breakfast go so much faster. The instructions are meant for beginners, but if you know how to do yoga, you can go at your own pace in the back. Yoga was the time of day that I didn’t have to try to be mindful or in the moment because it came naturally. Also, stretching all your limbs after sitting for days is AMAZING.
7:00 am – Dhamma Talk
This talk can be kind of hit or miss. There were two monks when I attended. One was rather hard to understand while the other was relatable and hilarious. He taught us about impermanence by talking about going to the toilet. Every day he spoke, I listened to the entire speech and loved every word he said. He was full of great knowledge and admitted that even after being a monk for 30 years, it was still difficult. Once he is finished talking, you meditate until breakfast.
8:00 am – Breakfast & Chores
Breakfast! You’ve been waiting for this all morning and probably most of last night. Luckily, the mornings fly by the fastest. I know you’re worried because you’ve seen that there are only two meals a day and tea for dinner, but the breakfast and lunch are very filling. You can even take seconds. Breakfast consists of rice porridge and usually some kind of vegetable. There’s almost always bananas and water with herbs in it. Before eating, you’ll be told a story that is meant to curb your appetite. Buddhists believe in eating to stay alive and not overindulging. Some stories are easy to tune out while others will ensure you don’t go up for seconds.
You’ll pick a chore on the first day. I chose to sweep and mop the yoga studio. Two other girls had the same job, so it never took more than a half hour. In fact it was kind of calming. After that you get free time to do what you want. For me, that meant writing in my contraband diary or doing laundry with a bucket of rainwater and some good old-fashioned scrubbing.
10:00 am – Dhamma Talk
Cue the part of the day I dreaded. At this point you are listening to a CD that has been prerecorded and translates the wise words of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu who was one of the most respected monks in Thailand. Although the words being said are wise, the translator’s voice was jarring and honestly condescending. On top of that, there’s a rooster screaming in the background, car horns honking, and sometimes dogs barking. It’s really hard to focus and more than half of what he says sounds like a personal insult. The amount of times he says the word ignorant is enough to make you want to leave. Try to keep an open mind and listen to the message and not the way it is being told. Once the CD is over, you meditate…again.
11:00 am – Walking or Standing Meditation
Walking meditation is strange at first, but having something to concentrate on is actually great. You’ll learn how to walk extremely slowly so that you are in the present moment. Once you learn to appreciate every single step you take, it’s easier to appreciate everything else. As one teacher said “There’s no need to rush. There is nowhere to be.” The only downfall is looking up and seeing everyone else moving in slow motion mindlessly. At times, you’ll feel like everyone got a lobotomy in the night and somehow they forgot you.
11:45 am – Sitting Meditation
This is the first time in the day where you do a sitting meditation without a lecture. This was always my best meditation of the day because it followed walking meditation and my back didn’t hurt so badly. Having a chance to stretch your legs for a bit makes it easier to sit back down. These sessions can fly by in a minute or feel like a month. There’s no clock, so you never really know how long you have until lunchtime.
12:30 pm – Lunch & Chores
Lunch starts off with another disturbing story to curb your appetite. You also read a form of grace before each meal. Did I mention, you have to wait for everyone to get their food and be seated before starting? Yes, you will want to hurt the last person to sit almost every single day. That being said, the lunch food is really great. You have rice, a curry, and a vegetable or noodle dish. There’s also a dessert. A few were odd but others were amazingly delicious. Remember not to eat too much or you’ll get a stomachache. Trust me, you won’t be THAT hungry by dinnertime.
Some chores take place after lunch, but if you already did yours, this is your chance for free time. I used it to take a nice long nap every day. Doing nothing is surprisingly exhausting and this nap kept me from falling asleep during the night meditations.
2:30 pm – Dhamma Talk
Welcome to round two of the super annoying CDs. Yup, once a day wasn’t enough. These CDs were the reason I almost left. Hold your head up and remember that the teachers are kind and understanding and that the man on this tape can’t see you or be relatable. Also, this CD is impermanent and won’t last forever.
3:30 pm – Walking or Standing Meditation
I never really gave standing meditation a fair try because I liked pacing back and forth so much. This is another good chance to stretch the legs and have a change of scenery.
4:15 pm – Sitting Meditation
Surprise! It’s time to sit again. By this time in the day, your back is probably going to be killing you. You’ll feel like you’ve suddenly turned 80 overnight. Remember to breathe slow, erase your thoughts, and don’t cling to the pain. The more you think about it, the worse it feels. Trust me.
5:00 pm – Chanting & Loving Kindness
You’ve been meditating for hours at this point so anything is a welcome relief. Chanting can be fun but can also be annoying because you want to get to “dinner” time for tea. You’ll receive a book with chants and follow along with the leader. After that, you practice loving kindness, which is amazing and something I want to do every day. Basically, you meditate while thinking positive thoughts for everyone in the world. It only takes a few minutes, and you feel so happy and glowing afterward. Like world peace is really possible.
6:00 pm – Tea & Hot Springs
Teatime is much better than it sounds. Sometimes it’s tea, but every once in a while it’s hot cocoa! It’s so delicious, and you’ll probably want to drink a ton. I wouldn’t recommend more than three cups or you’ll feel pretty sick. For me 2 ½ cups kept me satisfied until the morning.
After that, most people went to the hot springs. I didn’t want to feel rushed, so I headed to the “showers” before they got crowded. The shower is basically an open room with a giant basin in the center that holds rainwater. The water is super clean, but you have to pour it on yourself with a bucket. Oh yeah, and you have to wear a sarong for modesty. Learning to bath with cold water, a bucket, and a sarong is pretty much the funniest part of this experience.
7:30 pm – Sitting Meditation
The evening is just for meditating so there are no lectures. Your brain will probably be relieved that it doesn’t have to take in any more information. Just sit and focus on your breath.
8:00 pm – Group Walking Meditation
If the weather’s nice, you’ll go for a walk around the pond. We got to do this on the night of the full moon, which was really beautiful. The only downfall is you’re not supposed to wear shoes or carry a light, so you can’t see what you’re stepping on. The first time was a nightmare, but after that I got used to it.
8:30 pm – Sitting Meditation
Surprise, surprise! You get to sit again! This session was usually me just trying not to fall asleep.
9:00 pm – Bedtime
Bedtime at 9:00pm? No way! Don’t worry that’s what I said too. You’ll be so exhausted; you’ll probably pass right out. The cement bed and wood pillow won’t even bother you, although a few girls brought yoga mats from home, which was very smart. Also, you’ll be provided with a blanket and mosquito net, so you don’t have to worry about bugs getting you at night…or lizards…or spiders. Did I mention the rooms aren’t completely sealed and wildlife can get in? Yup. But you’ll learn to show them loving kindness and eventually that creepy spider will be your friend. You’ll name him Alfred and say goodnight while tucking yourself in for a good night sleep.
That just about sums it up. The day-to-day activity of a vipassana in Thailand is extremely challenging. You’re put in uncomfortable living conditions on purpose, and it takes some getting used to. By day ten, I felt at peace with nature and actually learned to like my weird wooden pillow. The hardest part was how slow each day went by. Ten days felt like a year and a second all at once.
Thinking of doing a vipassana in Thailand? Ask any questions in the comments!
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.