The Embrace Founders had been prepared before their visit to Thailand for an intercultural mixing of
Chinese influences in traditional Theravada Thai Temples by the surprise arrival of a giant Kwan
Yin (Chinese Goddess of Compassion) statue in the garden of a local Wat in the U.S. The good-
natured abbot there laughed at our surprise and assured the Founders that everyone in Thailand
was nowadays mixing together.
Thai Spirituality - Expanding Horizons
Thailand is ruled by the Thai Royal Family and most recently governed by the military. The Royal
Family heads the official “religion” of Buddhism. However, the original royal religion of Thailand was
Hinduism. For centuries the Thai Royal family was Hindu and to this day they still claim their royal
lineage from Hindu kings. The government maintains one special Hindu temple in Bangkok
reserved for certain royal ceremonies. The “Brahmin” priests there are Thai. Still after many
centuries certain aspects of the Hindu tradition have endured in the hearts and minds of the Thai
people and so in many Buddhist temples there are also statues of Brahma (the Hindu Creator, who
is not often taken as a personal deity in India as he is usually considered above and beyond any
interest in human affairs.) The statue of Brahma features 4 heads facing the 4 directions. There are
also statues of Ganesha (a diety from Hinduism), the elephant headed aspect of the “Divine”
representing knowledge, scholarship and learning - also the remover of obstacles.
Tiger Cave - Wat Tham Suea
In the Southwest of Thailand the Embrace Founders witnessed considerable intermingling of
traditional Chinese spirituality, as well as Hindu aspects of the “Divine” at the Tiger Cave
(Theravada Buddhist) Temple & Monastery. The monastery is blessed because of the darshan
(baraka in Arabic - spiritual energy generated by a great soul) of a Buddhist saint who resided
there. Despite the number of people who come, it is intensely peaceful mainly because the vast
majority are silent and come to pray. The grounds encompass a tropical forest with a “forest
monastery”, a sacred cave, a giant Kwan Yin statue and small temples for statues of Ganesha and
Brahma. There are also smiling nuns living at the site who are kind and helpful. This area Northeast
of the town of Krabi has a sizable population of Thais of Chinese descent and more recently, it
appears, people from Myanmar. For those interested in Thai spirituality, we strongly recommend a
Like the Tiger Cave Temple and Monastery, Phetchaburi is for those who wish to spend time in a
small city that is unaffected by mass tourism. This is one of our favorite places in Thailand and it has
at least two of the most idyllic temple monastery complexes to explore. One is the Wat Yai
Suwannaram giving a home to the heart-soothing all-teak Sala Kanprian originating from the 8th
century Ayutthaya era. It is honored but little used by the locals. This complex has many temples,
paths and buildings to investigate.
The other is Wat Boontwee (Tumkub) Wat complex, (an easy walk from the Khao Luang Caves),
which is not famous but is comfortable to explore along shaded paths and in temples where locals
and monks will be surprised to see a visitor. Phetchaburi has many, many other inspiring Wats to
visit in the city.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai have so many temples, visitors can easily be overwhelmed by the beauty,
seeing gold leaf even when they close their eyes. All tour books have the most notable places. We
will just mention three primary ones, that we think should not be missed.
1.) Golden Mount - Part of Wat Saket (Phukhao Thong) Houses a Buddha Relic- Offers Beautiful
views overlooking Bangkok
2.) Wat Pho - Was once the school of traditional Thai medicine including yoga - This has been
revived - Elaborate tile work - Along with elegant Thai architecture are statues of Chinese Gods &
Spirit Warriors - some Chinese landscaping Very impressive & extensive complex
3.) Wat Mahathat - A Wat with Heart - This has the largest monastic order of Thailand. It is the
center of Vipassana Meditation (Insight Meditation) It has a relic of the Buddha and teaches a few
classes in English with facilities for those who are serious students.
The Embrace Founders spent part of an evening with an all-woman's chanting group. Very sweet
people. This is an excellent place to delve deeply into Vipassana meditation and if you are allowed
to stay, has lovely grounds and will enable the student to practice at length without distractions.
There are many places in the world that do not offer good allopathic medicine, Bangkok is not one of
them. If you need medical help - RSU is an excellent choice for a number of problems, as well as
other medical centers.
Getting A Good Nights Sleep
For those not familiar with the neighborhoods of Bangkok, you may be directed to the Khaosan area
for budget accommodations. This entire street and side streets are the exact epicenter of most
heavy partying. This area would not be your choice, if you plan on getting up early to see the sights.
AYUTTHAYA & SUKHOTHAI
Both of these ancient Buddhist cities, which are now ruins can be easily navigated on foot in a half
day to a full day. They do not necessitate a bicycle unless your time is short. Of the two, Sukhathai
is more extensive and a full day, with a lunch break would be desirable.
Chiang Mai is on the itineraries of many Western long-term visitors or expatriates. The “old city” has
come to embody a “party” place with an excess of motorcycles making it extremely noisy. It is
difficult, but not impossible, to find a quiet hotel or guest house within the old city. Our
recommendation is to find your sleeping quarters walking distance to - but outside the old city
where it is considerably quieter. For all the inconvenience of finding quiet lodging, Chiang Mai has
so many magnificent Wats that it is well worth an extended stay. There are also inexpensive
vegetarian/ vegan restaurants and cafes serving organic Thai coffee exclusively.
We will not recommend any special places which visitors will easily find themselves, except to
mention our experience going to a little temple complex on our way to the university area called Wat
Ku Tao. This temple - monastery is essentially Mahayana with a lot of Thai Theravada influences.
When the we entered the grounds with our camereas the young monks were riveted with surprise. -
In a matter of minutes, a group of young monks led by a couple of older monks gathered up brooms
and began sweeping leaves off the paved courtyard. The Wat is an grand mix of Thai and Chinese
architectures. As you may have imagined not many strangers visit this Wat, so it is a hidden gem.
Being largely shaded by huge trees it is a perfect location to enjoy visiting during the hotter part of
For some inexplicable reason, in many towns in Thailand absolutely everything shuts down on
Sundays. This is definitely the case in Chiang Rai, so if you are arriving on a Sunday, be prepared
to be confronted with something of a ghost town. Except for that caveat, Chiang Rai is a relaxing
and very enjoyable small town to wind-down in.
Chiang Rai has a small Tribal Museum that is a helpful introduction to much of what you will see as
if you cross the border into Laos. Due largely to the centuries old unifying rule of the Royal Family
and Buddhism, many tribal customs of the various people within Thailand have dissolved except in
remote regions. Those that remain are considered precious.
Chiang Rai is a town with a great deal of civic pride which is nice to see. When the Founders were
there (in January) a incredible flower show of child-like ingenuity and whimsy was on display in the
park for all to enjoy for free. The night time was when it became a wonderland of fragrance, light
Chiang Rai also has the Wat Pho Singh that exudes a magical, fantasy atmosphere which should
definitely be visited. (It also has delightful monks.) An excellent, informal, inexpensive, traditional
vegetarian restaurant is directly across the street. Although many Thai vegitarian/vegan restaurants
are now found in Western nations, Thai people (in Thailand) rarely take vegetarianism seriously, so
this place is something of a rarity for those in search of authentic Thai vegan or vegetarian food.
THE FOLLOWING NOTES ARE ON:
1. APPROPRIATE DRESS for Visiting Religious, Spiritual & Sacred Places
2. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT !!! Staying away from the Drug Trade outside Chiang Kong
APPROPRIATE DRESS FOR VISITING RELIGIOUS OR SPIRITUAL PLACES
A practical note for travelers going to anywhere in Southeast Asia
A beach vacation in Thailand in a resort-type location, is entirely different from an cultural
exploration of religious and spiritual places and shrines. If you are going to combine these vacations
it is important to know that the way you dress will greatly influence the responses you receive from
the local community at their sacred sites.
In all religions in Asia, dressing modestly to enter any religious institution is necessary. It is not only
a matter of religion but of culture. It is disrespectful to disregard the traditions of people whose
country you are traveling in. Westerns need to remember that even the Vatican has a dress code -
covered shoulders and knees.
While Westerners may have the mistaken notion that Hindus and Buddhists don't care how visitors
dress when they enter their religious or spiritual places of worship they do. Hindus and Buddhists
who have celibate monks, swamis and nuns are sometimes more offended by thoughtless visitors
dressed inappropriately according to their cultural norms, than Muslims who will generally be
prepared at the door to give a tourist head covering and an abaya. Men and women going to
religious institutions should cover their shoulders, the top of their arms, their midriffs (unless wearing
a sari) and legs. For those who are going to sit on the floor cross-legged or pray, loose pants are
appropriate, not exercise or bicycle shorts. Please note, that only the Chinese community (but not
Chinese Buddhist monks or nuns) is a lot less concerned with dress in their own traditional
temples than most others in Asia, but it is better for foreigners to dress conservatively which both
shows respect and gives you the flexibility to interact with monks or nuns as the case may be.
Visitors pretty much do not need to worry about doing the right thing in a Mosque, because the
women in the woman's section will generally take delight in teaching you how to do wudu or how to
pray and what direction to pray towards, etc. The same goes with the men.
However, in a Buddhist or Hindu Temple it is very important never to extend you legs while sitting
towards the alter, the Buddha or Deity. Usually, men and women sit on either side of an aisle, not
Altough there are not many Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) in S.E. Asia they almost always have
scarves for head covering for all who come - men and women.
Also, Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhist monks are much stricter about their contact with women
than other Buddhists. As a woman, you can not hand items directly to a monk, even a young boy.
The item should be set down and the monk then picks it up. Contrarily, young boys in the
Theravada Monasteries, who have left their Mothers are often a little homesick and within the proper
bounds love spending time with an adult female asking questions and trying to learn about the
Churches will expect visitors to dress respectfully. We are not familiar with synagogues in any part
of S.E. Asia except Singapore. However, the advice about churches applies to them as well,
especially for those visitiing orthodox, ultra orthodox and conservative synagogues, which often
have the women and men sitting on opposite sides. Also, most of these synagogues require males
to cover their heads and sometimes females as well.
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT ! ! ! AVOIDING THE DRUG TRADE
Outside Chiang Kong & Vicinity
Although some unsuspecting people will be lured into believing an ill-informed guide book which
states that the area once known as the “Golden Triangle” is defunct and completely safe, this is not
case. The Founder's were informed that while the poppy/ heroin trade might be down, the
manufacture of meth amphetamines is operating on a massive scale in neighboring Myanmar. As
most people know, the drug trade remains profitable only as long as their distribution and users
expand enough to cover those who die from overdoses or drug-related deaths and as one line of
distribution is shut down, another emerges.
People have disappeared in this area and there are intelligence agencies and their operations in
neighboring regions. Drugs are a huge generator of billions of dollars for certain governments that
Embrace has mentioned before and it helps fund numerous cases of violent aggression so stay
away as much as possible from the vicinity near borders. While you travel to or from Chiang Kong
or neighboring areas, keep an eye at all times on your bags, be careful of anyone who is unusually
talkative, aggressively friendly, asks a lot of questions about your itinerary or does not behave in
a reserved traditional manner.