Two hours drive from Bangkok in the middle of the countryside, this Thai temple is like no other I have seen. Rather than a haven of tranquillity you will find a bustling hive of activity to support an active Thai medicine program.
At any time there are around 100 patients who have enrolled in a 10-day traditional Buddhist healing program. The treatment is a total lifestyle change, starting with 4am wakeup for 5am morning chanting. Next comes alms giving to the monks then morning herbal medicine — individually tailored and freshly made. Everyone joins in to serve food to the monks before communal eating around 9am.
The program continues with Ruesi Daton ("Thai Yoga"), lunch, meditation, individual therapies, meditation, communal cleaning tasks, and closing with around 3 hours of evening chanting. Yup, there's no dinner - participants share the monks' rule of no food after noon, and it's also no comfy beds, just a thin mat on the floor of the huge communal dorm.
It all seems very strange to a Western mind, but the temple has a good record for helping people with serious conditions such as cancer. However the most remarkable part is that the whole program is free — or rather donation basis. The staff are volunteers, either short-term or resident, and food/funding comes as gifts from wealthier Thais who welcome the chance of "making merit" by supporting such as auspicious program.
I support the temple as I feel it is amazing in many ways. It is preserving an ancient system of alternative medicine. The temple helps heal people irrespective of wealth. It brings the whole community together in a spirit of wide-scale generosity. It reminds Thais of their Buddhist heritage in an increasingly commercial time.
I came for 10 days in 2016 and ended up staying for 5 weeks, eventually joining in as the first foreign volunteer massage therapist. It's a crazy life: you don't get enough sleep, the bed is hard, the dorm is noisy, the food is tasty but strange to Western digestion, there is no evening meal, the chanting is long and hardly anyone speaks English. I learnt a lot about Thai massage in an authentic situation, but most of all I learned a lesson for myself: if I can accept that the whole strangeness is exactly as it should be then actually it's not really so bad. Suddenly the mind can be very relaxed.