Get in touch with your spiritual side…
Travelling, for many, can be a time for self-reflection. Without sounding too cheesy, backpackers and hippies 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 in 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 today’s world. Yoga is the first step for many along their spiritual journey.
Whether you are more interested in the physical aspect of yoga or the mindfulness benefits, there are different types of yoga retreats across Southeast Asia, suitable for beginners or the more advanced. Most beginners tend to start with Hatha yoga (Hatha means movement), which is a type of Yoga that is often taught at gyms in the West and focuses on the asanas (postures).
However, today, there are so many different types of yoga and it’s an exciting journey to discover which one is perfect for you, or maybe you enjoy a bit of everything! Check out: Ashtanga Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Tantra, Bikram Yoga, Hot Yoga, Acro Yoga, Restorative Yoga, even Beer Yoga! In short, if you’re looking for any kind of yoga retreat, Southeast Asia has some of the cheapest and best options in the world – with experienced teachers and paradisical locations. For regular classes, the cost will cost anywhere from $5-$15 USD, for Yoga Retreats, on average, you’re looking at $400-$600 USD / week. (Some of the retreats can cost in the thousands depending on how much luxury you’re after!)
If you’re a more advanced practitioner looking to take your practice further, Southeast Asia is also one of the best places in the world to take a Yoga Teacher Training Course.
If you’re interested in embarking upon a Meditation Retreat, Southeast Asia has many wonderful options to choose from, many of which are completely free of charge!
The main school of thought in Thailand is Vipassana, which is basically watching your breath and noticing thoughts and sensations arise. It sounds simple, but this technique can be extremely powerful. Thailand’s temples welcome foreigners onto Vipassana Retreats of up to 21 days (see more on Vipassana here), which offer a deep insight into this Buddhist style of meditation.
The retreats are often free or on donation and basic accommodation and vegetarian meals are provided (2 meals a day/served before 11 am). Rather than jumping headfirst onto a course in the hope that you will gain enlightenment in a few weeks, meditation retreats in Asia 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.
In short, there is a myriad of schools, centres and spiritual retreats in Asia which offer the chance to learn about different kinds of yoga, meditation, detox and other forms of holistic therapy, such as reiki, Ayurveda, massage, re-birthing, ecstatic dance, even didgeridoo, angel and crystal healing!
With more hippies per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world (I know ‘cos I’m one too!), Southeast Asia is the hub for this kind of “self adventure”. If you’re looking to explore alternative ways of living, this is the place!
Where are the Best Places For Yoga & Meditation Retreats in Southeast Asia?
Yoga and Meditation in Chiang Mai, Thailand:
If you search ‘yoga and meditation retreat Thailand’, you’re bound to find many located here in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s cultural and arty capital – where 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 and meditation. With so many opportunities for yoga and meditation, yoga buffs could end up staying for weeks in this laid-back city taking in all that it has to offer. (Plus there are loads of vegetarian and vegan cafés which fit the Yoga lifestyle too!)
Yoga classes range from 200 THB – 400 THB, which is the cheapest you’re likely to find in Thailand. There are also some excellent value for money, authentic Yoga retreats! In short, Chiang Mai offers some of the best and cheapest Yoga retreats Southeast Asia has to offer.
Daily Yoga Classes in Chiang Mai:
Freedom Yoga: Offer daily classes at 10 am and 6 pm.
The Yoga Tree: Set in a lovely location, The Yoga Tree offers daily classes, workshops, events, retreats, training courses and a garden café.
NAMO Yoga: (Much loved by the SEA Backpacker Team, sadly closed August 2017). Wish you all the best!
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.
Mahasiddha Yoga: Based in the old part of the city, near Wat Phrasing, Mahasiddha Yoga offers tantra yoga classes, workshops and tantra retreats for people of all levels. They also offer daily hatha yoga, free movie nights, free meditations and kirtan. Blue Garden Yoga and Thai Massage Training: Located close to Thapae Gate in the Old Quarter, this school offers daily yoga classes, massage courses and abdominal Chi massage. Classes are only 200 THB and you can buy a 10-class pass for 1,400 THB.
Yoga Retreats in Chiang Mai, Thailand:
OUR PICK: Suan Sati Yoga & Meditation Retreat: We recently spent a week at Suan Sati Yoga & Meditation Retreat in San Sai, about half an hour from Chiang Mai. Read our review of Suan Sati here. (Spoiler: We loved it!)
Mahasiddha Yoga (above): They offer all kinds of yoga and, meditation retreats, everything from chakra healing to silent meditation retreats to tantra.
Yoga Teacher Training in Chiang Mai
For those of you interested in becoming a Yoga Teacher, there are many 200 and 300-hour Teacher Training Courses in Chiang Mai. (See more on Yoga Teacher Training Here.) The standard yoga teacher training course is 200 hours and will certify you as a Yoga Teacher able to practise all over the world. Most of the programs are all-inclusive and cover everything from the traditional background and history of yoga, to asana, pranayama, yoga physiology, meditation, diet and lots more.
OUR PICK: Wise Living Yoga Academy Teacher Training Courses: Ran by wonderful husband and wife team, Daniel (Brazil) and Jeenal (India), Wise Living Yoga Academy offers a number of 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Courses in 2018, which we highly recommend. Find out more and check upcoming dates here.
Meditation Retreats in Chiang Mai:
Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai: 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 rules of the temple, for example, wearing only white and eating only twice a day, once at 5 am and once at 11 am.
Wat Phra Si Chom Thong Insight Meditation Centre, Chom Thong: This is one of the most popular places for foreigners to take Vipassana courses. Located in Chom Tong which is about an hour south of Chiang Mai, the school was developed by the well-known Thai monk, Phra Ajarn Tong Sirimangalo. They offer 4-21-day Vipassana retreats.
Wat Ram Poeng, Chiang Mai: This Buddhist temple just outside of the Old City of Chiang Mai offers a meditation centre that is open for foreigners interested in Vipassana Meditation. You can read about one traveller’s challenging experience at Wat Ram Poeng here.
Monk Chat in Chiang Mai:
Various temples around the city offer the chance to speak to the monks and find out more about Buddhism. The exchange is beneficial for both monk and foreigner. As you absorb their Buddhist wisdom, they get to practise 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 5 pm-7 pm. Wat Suan Dok also offers short meditation retreats (2-day courses) costing 500 baht where you can gain more of an insight into meditation.
Yoga and Meditation in Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand:
As a bohemian hub, the mountain town of Pai has a few popular yoga schools which offer daily classes and retreats amongst the rice fields. If you’re looking for a Pai Yoga Retreat, check out the following options…
Yoga Classes and Retreats in Pai:
OUR PICK: Xhale Yoga School: In a beautiful location, Xhale Yoga School is a popular place that’s rated number 1 on Trip Advisor for things to do in Pai. Xhale Yoga School attracts many travellers in search of something more than the lively bars of Walking Street and live music in Pai.
Pai Circus School: If you’re more casual about your yoga and are looking for a cheap stay, the Pai Circus School offers free daily yoga classes for guests (100 THB). (Acro Yoga and slacklining also available).
Sawasdee Pai Resort: Several of the resorts also offer daily yoga classes such as this one.
Meditation in Pai and Mae Hong Son:
The Womb Meditation Centre, Pai: This spiritual retreat centre offers meditation retreats, Vipassana, Osho Kundalini, personal growth workshops, ecstatic dance and even aqua-floating!
Tam Wua Forest Monastery, Mae Hong Son, Thailand: Stay for as little as three days or as long as 21 days 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.
Yoga & Meditation in Koh Phangan, Thailand:
As well as being insanely beautiful, the little island of Koh Phangan off the Gulf of Thailand is a huge hub for yoga, meditation and soul seekers. The hippie ex-pats say it has something to do with the high content of quartz in the rocks on the island that is a magnet for spiritual seekers. What can we say? This island does seem to attract a certain type of people… (I stayed there myself for 6 months and still name it as one of my favourite islands in all of Asia! Yes, yes, I’m a hippie too…)
People who have heard of the island only because of the Full Moon Party, wouldn’t believe that you could utter ‘meditation, Koh Phangan’ in the same sentence, but that is a complete misconception about this little island that has way more to offer than buckets and neon paint.
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 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:
OUR PICK! Pure Flow Yoga: Pure Flow Yoga offers an intimate and affordable yoga retreat in Koh Phangan where you can stay for a week or a whole month! (Or six if you like!) They offer daily yoga classes, retreats and Yoga Teacher Training amidst a stunning natural setting and a vibrant community. Their yoga is perfect for all levels, from beginner to advanced. Find out more about their retreats here.
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. Class times are 9.00-10.30am Hatha Yoga and 4.00 pm-5.30 pm Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. The school also offers Swedish massage, chakra healing, a herbal steam room and detox programs.
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 earplugs 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 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, breathwork, meditation, counselling, detox, weight loss, massage therapy and other forms of holistic therapy.
Vipassana Retreats in Koh Phangan and Surat Thani:
Wat Kow Tahm International Meditation Center: You wouldn’t believe that people travel to the so-called ‘party’ island of Koh Phangan in order to spend 10 days sitting in silence – but they do! Retreats at the Way are guided by Australian teachers, Rosemary and Steve, who offer 9-day and 18-day meditation retreats taught in English to foreigners.
Wat Suan Mokh in Surat Thani, Thailand: Wat Suan Mokh is a famous Buddhist Meditation Centre that 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.
Meditation Teacher Training in Koh Phangan:
OUR PICK: The Institute of Meditation: If you’ve always wanted to learn more about meditation or you are even thinking of becoming a meditation teacher then there’s a Meditation Teacher Training Course taking place in March 2018 which may be of interest to you. Ran by Merel and Paul, both originally from Holland, the course takes place over 10 days at the Samma Karuna Resort in Koh Phangan. (Merel is also the founder of the Yoga School, Parimukti, based in Goa, with who we took our Yoga Teacher Training last year. You can read our diaries of the course here.)
Yoga & Meditation Retreats in Bali, Indonesia:
The beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia, is very popular amongst travellers wanting to take yoga courses, classes and retreats. The central town of Ubud, known as the cultural heart of Bali, is a place where many travellers flock (particularly since the fame it gained from being featured in Eat, Pray, Love) to do yoga and hang out in the organic cafes, bohemian clothing stores and art galleries. (Don’t expect hippie prices though!)
Yoga Classes and Retreats in Bali, Indonesia:
The Yoga Barn is a very popular place to take classes in many different types of yoga. 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, if not a little expensive. They offer all different types of yoga from Hatha to Vinyasa flow, Yin Yoga and Kundalini, even Tibetan Bowl Meditation.
Ubud Yoga Centre: With daily classes, retreats, a restaurant (a wine bar!) and plants growing on the roof, this trendy and contemporary space is becoming hugely popular amongst hedonistic yogis in Bali, offering everything from Bikram Yoga to Pilates, Yin, Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow and something they like to call ‘FlyHighYoga’.
Blooming Lotus Yoga: Offering retreats, yoga teacher training and silent meditation retreats in Ubud. Starting at $795 for 7-day retreats, this one is more expensive than the rest on account of the luxurious accommodation.
OUR PICK! Serenity Eco Yoga & Guesthouse: If you’re after a good value yoga retreat, the 6-day retreat offered by Serenity Eco Guesthouse in Canggu is great value for money with two daily yoga classes (as well as a novelty themed class such as acro yoga), basic, but excellent and clean accommodation, a swimming pool, free massage, trips to local places of interest such as natural springs, waterfalls and temples, all delicious healthy food included and more…
Don’t Miss Southeast Asia’s Biggest Yoga Festival!
The Bali Spirit Festival – 2-8 April 2018.
If you’re in Bali around April time, be sure to head to the Bali Spirit Festival an annual celebration of yoga, music and dance! Located in a gorgeous Ubud, the festival takes place over 6 days and attracts yogis from all over Southeast Asia. Here you’ll find an assortment of workshops and classes for all levels in many different types of yoga, from Kundalini and Laughter Yoga to Children’s Yoga, as well as nightly concerts and classes in Reiki, meditation, dance and other holistic therapies.
Yoga in 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.
Yoga Classes & Retreats in Siem Reap, Cambodia:
Siem Reap in Cambodia has quite a few offerings for yogis passing through. There are daily classes and longer retreats available, which are very popular amongst beginner yogis. Here are a few places we like:
The Peace Café: This place has been running for a long time, founded by an English lady called Maureen. They offer daily classes which cost $6 USD in Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga and the cafe is great for juices and snacks after class!
Angkor Bodhi Tree: This peaceful haven is run by an Australian couple, Bob And Claire, and is located right in the heart of town near many backpacker-friendly guesthouses, yet feels a world away. They offer special stretching classes, Kundalini yoga and unique sessions of ‘water meditation’ (where you are sprinkled with water while you meditate!), as well as many other types of yoga that we know and love.
The Siem Reap Hostel: This Backpacker Mecca offers two classes a day of Ashtanga Yoga which are only $5 USD/class, complete with a lovely view of Wat Damnak.
Angkor Zen Gardens and Retreat Centre: Highly rated on TripAdvisor, this centre offers daily yoga classes, as well as yoga and meditation retreats in a lovely garden setting with a swimming pool.
Yoga Retreats in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
Capital cities aren’t usually somewhere you think of when you think of yoga and meditation retreats. However, Phnom Penh has a number of very interesting, unique and excellent value for money options…
The Art of Living Centre: A non-profit organization founded in Southern India by the world-famous spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 1981, the Art of Living has a cult following in many parts of Asia. The original centre is based in Bangalore, India, but now there are several centres across the world where you can take part in their unique self-development retreats. Their programs offer a mix of breathing techniques, meditation, yoga and wisdom for living a happy life. They are currently running ‘The Art of Living Happiness Retreat’ at their centre in Phnom Penh. 3-day program costs $100 USD.
Samathi Lake Resort & Spa: If you’re passing through the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and you’re in need of some R&R, don’t miss their ridiculously good value for money yoga retreats on the rural outskirts of the city. Samathi Lake Resort (previously known as “Bohemiaz”) offers packages which include daily yoga and meditation classes, spa treatments (facials, pedicures, manicures, massage), luxury breakfast, daily meals, health drinks, plus unlimited usage of their lovely swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and gym.Prices starting at just $75 USD for dorm accommodation on their 3-day, 2-night package. Perfect for the road-weary traveller in need of a break from their travels!