A Buddha head in a tree at Wat Mahatat in Ayutthaya. The temple was built in about 1384 and has had to be rebuilt and remodelled since but still houses Thailand’s oldest higher education institute for Buddhist monks.
Bangkok – Been There

Can you stay silent for ten days?

Photo by Paule Seux

Bangkok – Been There Can you stay silent for ten days?

Ten days of silence, bar optional evening question sessions with the teacher. "I didn’t speak at all,” Shona tells me. “Day two, I thought I’d have to leave, but it suddenly got easier.”

Meera Dattani
Meera Dattani Travel Writer

I’ve just met Shona in a café in the former Thai capital and Unesco city of Ayutthaya, about fifty miles from Bangkok. We’re near Wat Mahatat, a temple complex most famous for the stone Buddha head in the roots of a bodhi tree. But this temple also has Thailand’s oldest higher education institute for monks, Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, and the Vipassana Meditation Center.

Vipassana is, according to its teachings, about seeing things as they really are. And it requires serious meditation. No talking, writing, reading, physical contact of any kind. Not even any praying or yoga, and no food after midday. For ten days.

“I can’t quite explain it,” says Shona, “but I feel serene. Like I’m in control of my emotions.”

Ten days is difficult to contemplate. I visit the center and discover they run three-hour meditation classes in English. It’s a start. There’s no clock but the first 20 minutes, at least it feels like 20, are relaxing. After perhaps an hour, a mind-body struggle ensues, the brain determined to continue, the body desperate to walk, move, anything. But when three hours come to an end, I feel unexpectedly calm. But ten days? Hats off.

This hotel in Bangkok (about 50 miles from Ayutthaya) had our local expert Joan lost for words. Check it out! 

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A Thai woman prays at a temple in Chinatown on the first day of the Chinese New Year. There are about 8million Chinese in Thailand, making up 12 percent of the total population – although up to 40 percent now have mixed Chinese ancestry. It is the second largest Chinese community after Indonesia’s outside China and many have roots going back five generations. Photo by Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Paula Bronstein

Paula Bronstein

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Agency
Getty Images
Aperture
ƒ/3.2
Exposure
1/125
ISO
1600
Focal
180 mm

A Thai woman prays at a temple in Chinatown on the first day of the Chinese New Year. There are about 8million Chinese in Thailand, making up 12 percent of the total population – although up to 40 percent now have mixed Chinese ancestry. It is the second largest Chinese community after Indonesia’s outside China and many have roots going back five generations.

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