My Experience at Wat Rampoeng;Vipasanna Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai

Seven years ago I attended a Vipasanna meditation retreat at Wat Rampoeng in Chiang Mai. I briefly mentioned my experiences of this temple in my book Dead Drunk, but I just thought I’d go into a bit more detail here. A lot can change in seven years and maybe the routine at the temple differs now – here is what I experienced at that time.

This retreat at Wat Rampoeng lasted 26 days. My experience of meditation up until this time was sporadic. I’d meditated a lot during my teens but hadn’t meditated regularly since that time. I had a secret reason for wanting to do this retreat – I was sort of expecting a miracle. For years my life had become unbearable because of an alcohol addiction. It was my goal to beat my alcoholism at this Thai temple.

Vipasanna Meditation

I had read that Rampoeng temple practiced Vipasanna meditation, but I had no real idea as to what this actually entailed. Twenty years previously I’d studied the subject quite intensively, but now had forgotten almost everything. I had spent most of the years since my teens drunk and worried that my mind was too destroyed to be able to do much other than think about the booze.

Wat Rampoeng was challenging from the first day. I had managed to wean myself off the booze a few days previously so the worst of my withdrawal symptoms had disappeared; my head was still a bit fuzzy though. The first morning was devoted to learning the basics of Vipasanna meditation. We were taught a sitting technique and a form of walking meditation. The instructions were simple enough for even my muddled brain to handle. We spent the rest of the afternoon just practicing what we had learnt.

Life at Wat Rampoeng

Over the next few days at Wat Rampoeng I was able to build up the hours spent meditating; by the end of the first week I was practicing twelve hours a day. The temple day started early at five o’clock, and almost the whole time was devoted to just doing the practice. Even though we weren’t ordained as monks we were still expected to follow many of the rules that the monks follow. We weren’t allowed to eat after midday, there was no entertainment, no books were allowed – not even meditation books, and talking was discouraged. Almost all the rules made sense including the one about food; one of the reasons that Buddhist monks don’t eat after midday is that a full stomach makes meditation difficult.

Each of us lay guests were provided with a kuti – a small room where we could sleep. These rooms were very basic, but this was obviously to discourage distraction. The food was provided for free by the local people who donated it to the temple as a way to make merit. In fact everything in the temple was free as Wat Rampoeng doesn’t charge and only accepts donations.

Each day we were expected to go visit the head monk; this was an experienced meditation master who always gave advice in a friendly and encouraging way. I would always approach him with the fear that the crazy things that would happen to my thinking during my hours in meditation would shock or amaze him; it never did either and he would always just smile and say, “this is normal”.

The Determination

By the last week of the Vipissana meditation retreat in Chiang Mai I was meditating for fourteen hours a day, and couldn’t imagine how I could do even a second more than this amount. It was then that the head monk explained to me about the ‘determination’. For the next three days I would be expected to meditate constantly without sleep. I was to stay in my room and the only time that I could leave would be for ten minutes for a daily interview with the meditation master. My meals would be left outside my kuti, and I wasn’t to speak to anyone. I was told to not even bother washing; just meditate. They removed the bed from my room.

The next 72 hours was the strangest period in my life. I just kept on going walking meditation for an hour and then sitting for an hour. All sorts of things happened in my mind; some pleasurable and some upsetting. I had the most vivid memories of my early childhood, that is was hard not to get absorbed in them; the monk warned me though, to not allow anything to distract me. The nights were long and the days were fast. During the last few hours my mind felt a wonderful lightness. Then the determination was over, and I would be leaving the temple the next day.

For the next few days my mind felt wonderful and free; the world appeared so much simpler. Unfortunately it didn’t last. I was so proud of my progress that I decided to celebrate with beer. I didn’t manage to quit alcohol for good until two years later at another temple in Thailand; still I really give the meditation retreat in Chiang Mai a lot of credit. It created a taste in me for mental freedom that once tried could never be forgotten. If you are thinking of doing a meditation retreat in Thailand then make sure you check this one out. You can found out more details by visiting their website here. They also have ten day if you can’t manage the 26 day retreat – or at least they did have.

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15 thoughts on “My Experience at Wat Rampoeng;Vipasanna Meditation Retreat in Chiang Mai

  1. Paul thanks for relating your fascinating experience at Wat Rampoeng in Chiang Mai. It sounds a challenge and a half to me and one which would be beyond my own mental scope.

    Reading your last paragraph you give a lot of credit to the Wat and their meditation methods for your eventual release from alcohol. There’s a lot to be said about mental recollections. A few years back I gave up smoking for three months and I felt so good. My health was better, my confidence higher and I suddenly started smelling scents and things which I remembered from my childhood. Nowadays I still occasionally have those mental recollections and I hope they will eventually spur me on to kick my 20 a day habit.

    Must go….I’m off for a smoke in the garden and a look at the flowers I can’t smell.

    Best wishes from a very pleasant and sunny Wiltshire.

    Three days off work, bloody handsome.

    1. Hi Martyn, I think you will kick your smoking habit; once you have had a taste of living another way this memory will keep on bugging you until you quit. I’m not sure if you know much about midfulness. This is a type of meditation that is easy to do; you don’t have to sit in any special position or learn anything new. All you have to do is observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. I used this when fighting my alcohol cravings and it worked quite well. When the craving would arise I’d just observe it without thnking of it as “my craving”. Looking at cravings this way makes them lose their power. It might sound very odd but it really does work.

  2. Paul thanks for the tip (perhaps that should read filter), when I get around to trying to give up cigarettes again I will add your technique to whatever method I use to quit.

  3. I cannot meditate that long, I’m so sure! You’re so amazing to pass those 26 days of meditation! Just meditate for an hour could makes me going crazy so I do respect those who can. LOL

    How was your mind when you meditating? Could you remember anything or had some weird vision? I just want to know as some Buddhists often see that kind of things. : )

    But that’s good for you .. meditation is one way to make a merit or if you’re not a Buddhist, it will still make you feel free from all things that disturb your mind and will give you peace anyway. I wish I could do that too : )

    1. During the retreat all types of strange things were happening in mind. Memories from my past were intense and so vivid. The days went really fast because I was meditating so much. It is something that I’d really love to do again sometime.

  4. Hi Paul
    Found your blog searching for things to do in Minburi surprisingly. Ive lived in minburi for close to 7 years now and its always great to find that im not alone, as things here do feel quite detached from the hustle and bustle, and for me i also live exactly the same lifestyle as you, i work at home for myself.
    Ive also done a few meditation retreats, and yes the 26 days is fantastic, ive done it a few times but for me i chose Wat Doe suthep in the chiang mai mountains. I love it up there but my sister is very partial to Wat rampoeng as you have done.

    Everything you say is spot on, The whole 26 days is a magnificent experience, and ofcourse it shouldn’t end there.

    I am due another meditation trip hopefully this year some time, perhaps i will try rampoeng next time around.
    I live in 196 ramkhamheang, drop by anytime 🙂

    1. Great to hear from you Daniel. I think retreats are great for giving us a boost in our practice, but as you say it shouldn’t end there. I hope that I get a chance to go on another retreat in the not too distant future. I do get periods where I meditate intensively at home (sort of mini retreats), but it is not the same as a real retreat.

  5. Hi Paul Garrigan,

    I really look forward to doing this 26-day retreat. How I wish I can finish it. My concentration is very poor- mainly the reason why I want to have this retreat. My mind is always distracted, and one really bad memory keeps on disturbing me. I have a short-term memory loss, when i read a line, i have to repeat it at least 3 times. My mind is just full of negative things. I can’t concentrate even for a minute. Were you really able to meditate for 3 days w/o sleep? I mean…seriously? Hows that possible? Of course sleepiness would kick in, wouldnt it?

    1. Hi Timmy, there were times when I got really sleepy and I’d be like a nodding dog, but I did somehow manage to make it through the 3 days. At the end of it I felt like I could go on for longer. The secret at Wat Rampoeng is that you build up to it.

  6. Hello,
    My name is Steve. I am having a very difficult time in my life. I have been thinking about joining a temple in Thailand. I am in Toronto now but I lived in Thailand for 6 years up until recently.
    I do not know how to meditate. I want to learn. Do they provide meditation lessons in English? What is the maximum amount of time I can stay there?

    1. Hi Steve, when I went to Rampoeng I had also been going through a difficult time as well so maybe it will be a good option for you too. They do provide instruction in English and you do not need any previous experience with meditation – in fact not have experience could be an advantage because you will be starting with a clean slate. If you want to stay longer than 28 days I’m sure it is possible because some people stay there for years. Of course you will still need to get visas. When I went to the temple I did have the intention of staying there long term but my life took a completely different direction. It worked out well for me.

  7. Super happy to hear your life is going in a positive direction. I just found this blog on google. Will have a look around and THANK YOU for the response!!

  8. Hi Paul,

    I’d like to know how to make arrangements to do a retreat at Wat Ram Poeng. Do they have fixed starting dates? I can’t seem to find sufficient information on the website.

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