by Harriet Bond
(San Francisco, CA, USA)
Courses in meditation can give a valuable insight into Thai culture and also provide invaluable skills to help cope with stress. Participants are required to dress in white and adhere to the fundamental vows of Buddhism – refraining from killing, stealing, lying, and eating after midday.
Practitioners are expected to be up before dawn and to plan their day around sessions of walking and sitting meditation, as well as abstaining from entertainment (no TV or music) and idle chat (no mobile phones). Since the Dharma, which means Way of the Higher Truths, or code of conduct, is given for free, most places suggest that students make a donation to cover their lodging and food.
For meditation sessions in English and longer, disciplined retreats, contact the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Visitors are welcome to join the 10-day course run by the International Dharma Heritage near Chaiya, at the beginning of each month at Wat Suan Mokkh. Other options include the famous Wat Mahathat in Bangkok, Wat Khao Tham on Ko Phangan, as well as the Dhammakaya Foundation’s retreats and Sunday sessions. Some locations have facilities for women, while others are only for men.
Visitors can also study Thai massage, a vigorous combination of yoga, reflexology, and acupressure. Courses typically last between one and two weeks, and consist of theory, demonstration, and practice, leading to a certification of competence. Popular training in English is conducted at Wat Pho.
The technique of preparing Thai food – including fruit and vegetable carving – can be learned at cooking schools in hotels such as Dusit Thani and Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, the Blue Elephant restaurant andcooking school and Baipai Thai Cooking School also in Bangkok, HappyHome Thai Cooking in Pattaya, Pat’s Home Thai Cooking School, in Phuket and the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts in Ko Samui.