3 Ways to Experience Buddhism in Chiang Mai

The west face of the main building of Wat Suandok
The west face of the main building of Wat Suandok

When visitors spend one or two weeks in Chiang Mai, they will normally visited a few temples and photographed some Buddhist monks. Here are ways to go deeper into this philosophy and start to practice and understand some Buddhist concepts.

1. Give alms

Each morning, all Buddhist monks get up before dawn and set to walk in and around their respective temples. The goal is to collect offerings in the form or food or even money. In exchange, the giver receives blessings in the form of a chant.

What to do: Put your offering in the monk’s alms bowl and kneel while bringing your hands in a praying position while lowering your head. The monk will chant for about 1 minute.

Where to do it: At any moment when you see a monk walk around between 4:30 and 7AM. The most popular place to do this in Chiang Mai is the at the Chiang Mai Gate Market near the South-East corner of the old city where dozens of monks gather every morning.

Child giving alms at Chiang Mai Gate Market in Chiang Mai
Child giving alms at Chiang Mai Gate Market in Chiang Mai

2. Attend a Dharma talk

A Dharma talk will give you the opportunity to directly discuss Buddhism with monks. You will be introduced to the basic principals of Buddhism such as karma and precepts, learn about daily life for a monk and even be allowed to ask questions.

Where to do this: Wat Suandok offers a 2 hour talk beginning at 17:00 Monday to Friday.

3. Learn to meditate

Meditation is at the center of Buddhism; this is the way the Buddha attained enlightenment. Contrary to popular beliefs, meditation is not practiced while listening to relaxing music. It’s a practice which takes time, regularity and discipline. There are several methods but the ones taught and practiced in Thailand are mostly Vipassana and walking meditation.

Where to do it: Wat Rampoeng (temple) offers a mini 10 meditation retreat. If you have more time, they also offer one of 26 days. These two retreats are considered very basic introduction but will give you a very strong basis for a life long practice which will change your life.

Wat Suandok offers a tiny 2 day retreat.

The historical Wat Umong also offers a retreats. We suggest that you show up a few days before you decide to begin your retreat.

Please be warned that you will need to obey the very strict rules which are a part of daily life in a Buddhist temple.


I love to photograph people as they walk.  Street interaction is one of the very few instances in our lives, at least for most of us, where we can physically interact with strangers. Some people have had a job in the same location for 10 or 20 years and have been crossing paths with each other on a daily basis. Yet, most will remain strangers.

In each of these photos, there was something which stuck with me. The Chinese girl whose walking against a yellow background was in a terrible hurry. Nothing so special but the light was perfect, and so were the colours.

What I like about the one with pigeons is the fact that their are pigeons, which work very well with the arrow and the legs of the man in terms of a conceptual composition.

I love the look in the young monk’s eyes… Somewhere in between questioning and surprise. Yet, the older one at the beach completely ignored me as he was rapidly heading back to his temple after the daily collection of offerings called Bindabap in Thailand.

But my favorite is the one of the rice farmer in Northern Thailand. His walk had a quiet and peaceful purpose. Here’s a man who’s in tune with his trade. And I’m quite sure he spotted me!

I often witness this type of scene in Asia… The old and the new. In Thailand at least, it’s not a battle but rather a quiet co-existence. I hope it lasts. This lady never appeared bothered by the traffic or the pollution. She just quietly walked on her way as no driver appeared impatient at her being on the road.

stefan breton