It can be difficult to stay centred in a city as busy as Bangkok. Find your inner balance by exploring the Buddhist practice of meditation at one of these recommended locations.
Bangkok is a 21st-century city. Around each street corner, there’s state-of-the-art public transportation, every kind of shopping imaginable, uninterrupted mobile and WiFi service, and cuisine spanning every corner of the globe. But it’s difficult to pass through this ancient city without encountering constant reminders of its entrenched Buddhist history, whether it’s the immaculate temples towering over the Chao Phraya River or quaint familial spirit houses inconspicuously perched among buildings. As the official religion of Thailand, Theravada Buddhism is practiced by more than 95 percent of the population and many of its holidays, traditions, and everyday habits factor into this culture.
In Buddhism, meditation is woven into everyday life and among the ever-increasing chaos and energy of Bangkok, this tradition has largely sustained. Promising avenues to balance and wellbeing, weary and industrious locals and non-Buddhist visitors alike are increasingly populating these meditation halls. With offerings ranging from free drop-in sessions to full-scale retreats, check out these top spots to get centred in the city.
An iconic landmark near the Grand Palace, Wat Mahathat is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, originally built to house a relic of The Buddha. It evolved to become a location for Thailand’s largest monastic order and Vipassana Meditation centre and the oldest Buddhist university in the world. Three guided meditation classes are held daily from 07:00-20:00, 13:00-16:00, and 18:00-20:00, assisted by English-speaking monks. Longer periods of study, which include accommodation and food, can be arranged by the centre as well.
Located in the Yogatique Building, this small studio is run by a nonprofit organisation – The Shambhala Mandala Association – part of an international community of more then 200 urban meditation and rural retreat centers. The practice is focused on Shambhala vision, rooted in the teachings of Buddhism but with applicative guidance to the challenges today. The practice traces its roots to schools of Tibetan Buddhism, from which one monk called Chögyam Trungpa incorporated his experiences in the Western world to develop the Shambhala tradition. Shambhala Centre hosts open-level meditation classes as well as a regular schedule of visiting teachers, special workshops, and study events. Drop-ins are welcome to any scheduled offering, though online registration is encouraged to ensure availability. All classes are free, and donations are appreciated.
This centre is one of nearly 200 around the world dedicated to the practice of Vipassana Meditation — one of India’s most ancient techniques. Vipassana refers to “seeing things as they really are”, and is typically taught through 10-day residential courses where students learn the history of the practice and basic methods. The centre accepts applications online to its signature 10-day course, along with one- and three-day sessions catering to past students. All programs have no set cost, and everything — including food and accommodation — is run solely on a donation basis. Check their schedule to ensure availability of English language courses.
This community centre has a range of events held in English and Thai, including the popular Meditate with a Monk Mondays, which it recently took over from Little Bangkok Meditation Centre. It also gathers the local mindfulness community for a monthly Thai Buddhist, or Theravada Puja, a ceremony held daily in Thai temples considered the staple entry to Buddhism. Visitors are welcome to observe or join in, and the half-day session includes a guest speaker to discuss Dharma Elements, or the matrix of the actual teaching in Buddhism. Past topics have included The Four Noble Truths, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Karma, Sense Desire, and Kilesa.
The Middle Way Meditation Institute is a nonprofit that operates in six countries. In Bangkok, the organization coordinates retreats at its POP House — for Power of Peace — located just outside the city in a peaceful and natural setting, dedicated to the study of the Middle Way Meditation. This technique aims at attaining the Dhammakaya, a state of purity and a path to wisdom within. The three-day retreat introduces beginners to learn and practice the philosophy of mindfulness through meditation, and live among the tenets of Buddhism during their stay. Yoga and other activities are available to encourage conscious living, and meditation sessions are overseen by a teaching monk who suggests solutions to individuals’ meditation obstacles. The organisation has longer retreats available at its other centres around the country, each with all-inclusive registration fees of 4,000THB (about 130USD) and up.
This small centre on the outskirts of Bangkok hosts meditation retreats during the first week of the month from November to February in English, German, and Thai. The retreats immerse participants in full training of the Buddhist philosophy and lifestyle, from instruction on bowing and chanting, discussion sessions with monks, mindful work, and attentiveness to the eight Buddhist precepts. The program was founded by Mc Brigitte, a Buddhist monk who was honoured by the UN as an “outstanding woman in Buddhism” in 2009.
This quaint shophouse in the northern suburbs of Bangkok was converted into a cosy community centre that provides a meditation room, a Buddhist library, and meeting space for events and workshops. Archarn Helen, the centre’s Vipassana teacher, has immersed herself in the philosophies of meditation and Buddhism for decades, honoured in 2002 by the United Nations as the Foremost Western Woman Meditation Master in Southeast Asia. It is open several days a week for schedule meditation classes, healing sessions, and caters to private requests as well. Basic meditation classes are priced at 500THB (about 16USD) per person, with one- and two-day all-inclusive retreats starting at 3,000THB (about 96USD). The centre also offers Reiki healing courses, Metta meditation and Pendulum workshops, as well as introductory sessions to healing crystals.
Up your meditation game by booking yourself an appointment to float. Bangkok Float is the first dedicated float centre in the city, providing guests with private spa suits with its state-of-the-art “Dream Pods”. The pods are filled with water heated to skin temperature and loaded with around 700kg of Epsom salt to allow floaters to achieve effortless buoyancy in the water, blocking out all sensory input. Freedom from inputs like gravity, temperature, touch, sight, and sound — which together account for 90 percent of neuromuscular activity, according to the centre — redirects and conserves mental energy for maximum relaxation and meditation. Studies have indicated that hour or longer floats lower cortisol levels, the main chemical related to stress, and elevates its dopamine and endorphins, which relay overall feelings of wellness and happiness.