Get in touch with your spiritual side in Thailand
Travelling, for many, can be a time for self reflection. Without sounding too corny, backpackers, hippies and soul searchers over the years have used long-term travel as a means of ‘finding themselves’. While for many people, this can be as simple as learning to relax and slow down into a day-to-day existence that is less routine-driven than the West, for others, it can be a real spiritual exploration to find deeper meaning in their busy lives.
Yoga is the first step for many in discovering more about themselves and learning to calm the mind and emotions amidst the chaos of the outdoor world. Whether you are more interested in the physical aspect of yoga or learning to better control your thoughts, yoga can mean different things to different people and there are many fantastic, friendly schools in Thailand, which are suitable for beginners or the more advanced. The effects of yoga are surprising and regular practice can improve your health, focus and help with stress and anxiety problems.
If you are looking to take things further, you may want to embark upon a meditation retreat. Many of Thailand’s temples welcome foreigners onto courses and retreats of up to 21 days, which offer an insight into Buddhist meditation and can help to teach you how to still the mind. Rather than jumping head first onto a course in the hope that you will gain enlightenment in a few weeks, a meditation retreat can be a difficult undertaking and self-discipline is needed. However, persistence has proven fruitful in the past and there are countless reports of travellers who have merged from retreats with life-changing stories and a healthy new approach to appreciating life to the full.
There are a myriad of schools and centres in South East Asia which offer the chance to learn about yoga, meditation, detox and other forms of holistic therapy, such as reiki, angel and crystal healing. With more hippies per square kilometer than any where else in South East Asia (and that’s a fact!), Thailand is the hub for this kind of adventure. If you’re looking to explore alternative ways of living, now is the time and this is the place!
Where are the best places to practice yoga, meditation & more in South East Asia?
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND:
In Thailand’s cultural and arty capital, Chiang Mai, yoga and meditation are thriving. With more than 300 temples in the town, for years, people have flocked to the town to learn more about Buddhism, meditation and basically chill out in beautiful surroundings. You could end up staying for weeks in this laid-back city taking in all that it has to offer. For the spiritual seeker, here are a few things you may want to try…
Daily Yoga Classes in Chiang Mai
- Namo Yoga: Located very close to Thapae Gate, Namo Yoga offers classes every morning at 10.30am and in the evening at 6pm. The price is 200 baht per session or 900 baht for a 5-session pass.
- Wild Rose Yoga: Offering daily classes in Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Anusara, Tantra and frequent workshops.
- Body and Mind Healing Chiang Mai: An established and registered health and holistic training school in Chiang Mai for over six years. Not only offering yoga, but also chi kung, tai chi, reiki, astrology and specialised courses all under one roof.
Yoga Teacher Training in Chiang Mai
- Wise Living Yoga Academy: Those of you wanting to take their yoga practice one step further may be interested in becoming a qualified yoga teacher. Chiang Mai has a lot of daily yoga classes, but the only Yoga Teacher Training Course in Chiang Mai is with Wise Living Yoga Academy. The complete course is a residential, all inclusive 200 hours program, and covers everything from the traditional background of yoga, to asanas, pranayamas, yoga physiology, public speaking, meditation and lots more. Wise Living Yoga Academy is dedicated to the teaching of traditional, classical yoga, so any student who embarks upon the teacher training course will be assured of a full immersion experience. Read more about Wise Living Yoga Academy and choosing a Yoga Teacher Training course here…
Monk Chat in Chiang Mai:
There are various temples around the city which offer the chance to speak to the monks and find out more about Buddhism. They are equally as happy to talk to you as the meeting with a foreigner allows them to practice their English.
- Wat Chedi Luang: Wat Chedi Luang offers ‘Monk Chat’ every day 9am-6pm.
- Wat Suan Dok: Wat Suan Dok has monk chat every Monday, Wednesday and Friday 5pm-7pm. Wat Suan Dok also offers short meditation retreats (2-day courses) costing 500 baht where you can gain insight into meditation and Buddhism.
Meditation Retreats in Chiang Mai:
- Wat Doi Suthep: Located on Doi Suthep Mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, Wat Doi Suthep offers 3-day meditation retreats in a beautiful setting. You can stay longer if you wish and the stay is by donation only – including accommodation, meditation guidance and food. The course is designed as an introduction to Buddhism and all attended must abide by the temples rules, for example, wearing only white and eating only twice a day, once at 5am and once at 11am.
PAI, MAE HONG SON, THAILAND:
Yoga in Pai:
- Xhale Yoga School: In the rolling green hills of Pai, Thailand – there really is no better place to relax and breathe in the peace and quiet of the surrounding beautiful countryside. This is the reason why Xhale Yoga School (rated number 1 on Trip Advisor for things to do in Pai) attracts so many travelers in search of something more than Full Moon Parties and hectic sightseeing. Check out our article about Xhale Yoga School here.
Vipassana Retreat in Mae Hong Son:
- Tam Wua Forest Monastery, Mae Hong Son, Thailand: Stay for as little as three days or as long as 21 days, you can certainly relax at this monastery situated in the stunning countryside of Northern Thailand. The Tam Wua Forest Monastery is for those who have a serious interest in Buddhism and understand the self discipline of a monk’s life.
- DHARMA INC: A gem of northeastern Thailand tucked away in the mountains of Isan, Kailash Akhara is a sustainable retreat center that is home to one of the largest Hatha Yoga temples in the world. The center offers ongoing courses and retreats in Adi Yoga, Primal Ayurveda, meditation, and the philosophy of Sakta-Saiva Dharma through its parent organization, DHARMA INC. It sits on over 50 acres of lush land, with inspiring mountain views, numerous ponds, gardens, and forest. Organic food production, extensive composting practices, rainwater harvesting, and natural buildings make it a model of permaculture principles. Guests enjoy three meals a day of regional cuisine prepared by the on-site Thai chef and sleep comfortably in the sunny dorm house or solo retreat cabins designed for serious meditators. The center also features free wireless internet, an open air gym, children’s playground, and an outdoor swimming and aquaculture pond for visitors to enjoy. It is home to a friendly residential community of practitioners who are available to answer questions and share insider tips on the local sights, including the nearby Pla Ba Waterfall and Phu Ruea National Park.
KOH PHANGAN, THAILAND:
As well as being insanely beautiful, this little island off the gulf of Thailand is becoming a hub for all those yoga, meditation and soul searcher types. And there really couldn’t be a more chilled out, naturally gorgeous place to be… even heavy metal rockers could turn into yogis here! The locals say it is something to do with the high content of quartz in the rocks on the island that are a magnet for spiritual types and it is true that the island seems to attract a certain type of people… There are some fantastic yoga schools on the island in some stunning settings which offer different types of yoga to suit all levels and preferences. Ashtanga, Hatha, Pilates and even Tantric yoga are all available. You can take classes every day or you can take longer courses and retreats and even train to be a teacher.
Yoga Classes and Retreats in Koh Phangan
- Agama Yoga: Agama Yoga is based at Ananda Yoga Resort in Sri Thanu, on the quiet West coast of the island. Agama has schools all over the world and the great thing is that if you complete a course in one country you are allowed to take the course again for free in another country. Advertised as a course for those people who are interested in ‘spiritual evolution’ and a ‘deep esoteric system of development,’ Agama Yoga has been a life-changing experience for many people. Most students embark upon the one month intensive course which offers an introduction to yoga and includes lectures, exercises and the teaching of breathing and meditation techniques. The course costs 300 baht for a full day and the daily program is as follows:
- 08.30-10.30 Morning lecture and asana practice
- 16.00-18.00 Afternoon sun salutations and asana practice
- 18.00-19.30/20.00 Lecture, questions and answers
Agama Yoga also holds courses throughout the year which specialise in specific types of yoga or spirituality, such as Kasmhiri Shaivism, Naturopathic and Yogic Healing, Full Moon Yang Spiral Meditation and Tantric Yoga.
- The Yoga Retreat: A truly beautiful location overlooking the jungles of the North of Koh Phangan, The Yoga Retreat is a friendly and welcoming school with morning and evening classes every day (apart from Sunday) and an Indian buffet on a Sunday! The school specialises in Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Pilates. Classes cost 300 baht / session or you can buy a 10 class pass for 2,500 Thai baht, a 20 class pass for 4,000 Thai baht or a 50 class pass for 5,500 Thai baht!
- 9.00-10.30am Hatha yoga
- 4.00pm-5.30pm Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga
The school also offers Swedish massage, chakra healing, a herbal steam room and detox programs. Teacher training courses take place throughout the year where you can learn to become a yoga teacher and take your skills to anywhere in the world.
- The Sanctuary: A boat ride away from Haad Rin, the famous Full Moon Party beach, the Sanctuary (at Haad Tien) couldn’t be further away from the hedonistic party culture. (Except on Fridays when there is a huge rave on Haad Juan for which the Sanctuary offers ear plugs in an attempt to block out the noise!) Specializing in detox programs and fasting, all different types of people head to the sanctuary for the 3 R’s; rest, relaxation and recovery. There are many events and activities going on daily that you may like to get involved in, such as yoga, meditation, a healers’ fayre, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, open mic nights, open air movie nights, spa, massage, chakra healing and other alternative therapies.
- Orion Healing Centre: Located in the bay of Sri Thanu, Orion Healing Centre is a very relaxing, natural and beautiful place. The Centre offers detox programs, reiki, yoga and other holistic treatments such as massage, craniosacral therapy, theta healing and acupuncture. The school is run by a young couple, Dalia from England and Ari from Israel, who are very passionate about their work here and helping people to make the most of their life.
- Monte Vista Retreat Centre: A beautiful, relaxing location overlooking Nai Wok Beach and the ocean, the Monte Vista Retreat Centre is a place where you can truly relax and forget about the rest of the world. They offer week and month-long programs aimed at transforming people’s lives with a mix of yoga, breath work, meditation, counseling, detox, weight loss, massage therapy and other forms of holistic therapy.
- All Yoga Thailand: All Yoga Thailand: Offers Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training, ‘Rocket Yoga’ Training (uplifting yoga sequences featuring many arms balance, inversions and pilate) and Yoga Retreats. All Yoga Thailand, founded in 1989 has locations all over Thailand, many of the programs and retreats taking place on the beautiful beaches of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, South Thailand. Retreats and yoga teacher training take place throughout the year and you can book online through their website!
Vipassana Retreat in Surat Thani, (south Thailand)
- Wat Suan Mokh in Surat Thani, Thailand: Wat Suan Mokh is a famous Buddhist Meditation Centre which is very popular amongst foreigners as the monks here speak perfect English and are able to guide you in your practice. The temple offers 10-day meditation retreats in peaceful, jungle surroundings. From Surat Thani it is just a short boat ride away to Thailand’s beautiful Gulf islands – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
Luang Prabang is home to a blossoming community of yogis who are putting the UNESCO World Heritage town on the yoga map! There are no fancy yoga studios offering state-of-the-art equipment; no trendy establishments selling mala beads and the latest and hippest yoga-wear; it is not the home of any self-proclaimed guru that might draw soul-seekers from around the globe.
What Luang Prabang does have is a devoted group of yogis comprising a grassroots yoga community with a view to sharing their practice. What this means for now is that yoga is affordable, making it a great place for those looking to linger around for a little longer and anyone who just wants to try it for the first time.
Luang Prabang Yoga is a community resource site covering class schedules, locations, workshops and retreats in Luang Prabang. Classes take place at various establishments around town and the website keeps up to date on the latest yoga happenings.
UBUD, BALI, INDONESIA
Ubud has long been known as the cultural heart of Bali, and despite becoming a bit touristy of late, it still only takes a few minutes walk from the main town to get in the heart of beautiful rice fields. With organic cafes, bohemian clothing stores and art galleries, Ubud attracts a certain crowd, many of which flock to the nearby Yoga Barn.
With a gorgeous setting overlooking rice fields, the Yoga Barn in Ubud is a ridiculously beautiful place to get in touch with your yoga side. They offer all different types of yoga from Hatha, to Vinyasa flow, Yin yoga and Kundalini, even Tibetan Bowl Meditation. Yoga classes here are more expensive than Thailand.
If you’re in Bali around March/April time, be sure to head to the ‘Bali Spirit Festival,’ an annual celebration of yoga, music and dance!