One of the most enriching things about traveling is being able to interact with and learn from people who live a very different life than you. The monk chats in Thailand are a great way to do exactly that and it’s a unique opportunity that I highly recommend.
Having spent over an hour chatting with monks in Chiang Mai, I share practical tips on how to do it here.
Planning a trip to Thailand? This Thailand guide covers things to know before getting there, including how to get around, safety and scams, cultural differences and top places to visit.
About Monk Chats in Chiang Mai
Here are important and practical things to know about monk chats in Chiang Mai.
🗣️ What Is a Monk Chat?
Monk chats are part of a program offered in Thailand, a Buddhist country where more than 95% of the population practices the official religion. The monk chat program is most available and popular in the city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
Monk chats allow visitors to have a casual conversation with Buddhist monks. The chats are open to everyone (e.g., women, kids, people of all nationalities and religions).
Just visit a Chiang Mai temple that offers the program, sit down at an outdoor table next to a monk, introduce yourself and start a conversation with them.
📚 Why Are Monk Chats Offered?
The monk chat program is beneficial to both parties engaged in the conversation.
- The monks are usually young monks aiming to improve their English, Spanish or French by talking to visitors about Buddhism, being a monk and whatever other topics you want to cover. They also get to learn about different experiences and lives.
- Visitors benefit from monk chats by learning about Buddhism and monks’ way of life in a respectful and low-pressure environment.
An overwhelming majority of visitors who do the monk chats find the conversations engaging, educational and delightful. Most agree that it’s a fun cultural exchange.
Although most monk chats are with a novice monk, you’ll sometimes get to talk to a senior monk who has a pretty good handle on English and just enjoys learning about different international visitors.
📍 Where Are There Monk Chats in Chiang Mai?
Here’s a map showing the location of Chiang Mai temples that offer monk chats:
These are the different temples in Chiang Mai that have monk chats:
- Wat Chedi Luang has monk chats every day from 9 am–6 pm on the northern end of the temple. When I visited in November on a Tuesday at 1 pm, there were only two other people at the monk chat.
- Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most popular temple, has monk chats every day 1–3 pm. The monk chats here are more popular so you might see more crowded tables, especially on the weekends.
The monks at Wat Doi Suthep run the International Buddist Center which offers meditation retreats ranging from 4 to 21 days.
- Wat Sri Suphan has monk chats every Tuesday, Thursday and Wednesday from 5:50–7:20 pm.
- Wat Suan Dok has monk chats on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from 5–7 pm.
- Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham has monk chats every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5:30–7:30 pm.
Many of these temples have their own meditation center where you can take a meditation course to learn about Vipassana meditation and concentration meditation.
⏳ How Long Are Monk Chats?
A monk chat can last for however long you like. You can sit down and chat a little bit for five minutes or stay for a long time. I talked to two monks for about an hour and a half.
If the monk chats are busy and you’re staying for a while, other visitors can join your table.
💰 How Much Do Monk Chats Cost?
The monk chat program is completely free to visitors. All programs have a donation box that you can donate to towards the program.
Monks do not earn or make money. They only use and eat what’s offered to them.
✅ Do You Need to Prepare for a Monk Chat?
You don’t need much preparation to engage in a monk chat. The main two things to know are:
- There are monk chat etiquettes that you should follow.
- If you’re nervous or unsure, you can prepare some questions in advance, but the conversation can be free-flowing.
Monk Chat Etiquettes
You don’t need a lot of preparation (e.g., reservations, a script) before doing a monk chat, but you should follow these etiquettes:
👕 Dress Code
Just like visiting most Chiang Mai temples, you need to wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders when engaging in a monk chat.
👩🏻 Women and Monk Chats
Women are allowed to participate in monk chats, but need to make sure to never touch a monk as it goes against their vows.
Monks are not allowed to have any physical contact with women.
If you’re a woman like me and want to hand something to a monk, make sure to place it down on the table instead of directly handing it to them to ensure you don’t accidentally touch them.
📸 Taking Photos
You are allowed to take photos at monk chats, but make sure to ask for permission first.
As mentioned above, monk chats are free, but if you spend a decent amount of time having an enjoyable conversation, consider leaving a donation as monks do not make money and only use what they’re offered.
Ideally, donations should be in the local currency, Thai baht.
What To Talk About at Monk Chats
Monk chats are informal, so you can talk about anything you want that’s within reason.
I spent about an hour and a half talking to two monks and below are some of the types of questions I asked them. Some of the answers surprised me and led to some very eye-opening, honest and humorous conversations.
You can start a monk chat by introducing yourself (e.g., your name, where you’re visiting from and why you’re interested in doing a monk chat). The monk will also likely introduce himself, but shyer monks may need more prompting.
📿 Buddhism and Monk Life
Typical topics in a monk chat are centered around Buddhism and a monk’s way of life. You can ask them whatever you’re curious about regarding their religion.
Some questions I asked at the monk chat include:
- Why did you become a monk? (I was surprised to discover that many younger monks become one to get a better education, as opposed to reaching some level of enlightenment.)
- What Buddhist rules do monks abide by?
- What does a monk’s daily routine look like?
- Why do monks meditate?
- Why do monks wear orange robes?
- Can women be monks?
💡 Opinions and Personal Questions
The monks are usually open to talk about different topics and some of the non-shy ones will ask you questions about your life and home country.
I asked a lot of questions that can be considered personal or opinion-based. The two monks I chatted with were very open to answering them in an honest and sometimes funny way.
Some of the questions I asked at the monk chat include:
- How old are you?
- What’s your least and most favorite thing about being a monk?
- What do you like doing during your free time?
- What do you miss about your life before becoming a monk?
- Where are your family members located and often do you get to see them?
- What do you think about other religions?
- What are your thoughts on Americans?
- Do you watch YouTube? What videos do you like watching?
- Do you want to become a layperson after finishing Buddhism university?
- Have you found inner peace?
- What is the purpose of life?
Questions I was asked by the monks include:
- What’s my nationality?
- How much money do I pay for rent in the United States?
- What is the typical cost of education in the United States?
Attending a monk chat was one of the most enlightening experiences I had in Thailand and I hope you get to experience an engaging conversation as well.
If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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