Wat Khao Tam (Mountain Cave Temple in English) is a small temple with a dozen or so monks offering meditation courses in English and Russian every month on the island of Koh Phangan. Wat Khao Tam is a popular destination for vipassana retreats because of it hillside location with dense forest separating the temple from the nearby busy Ban Tai road area.
About Wat Khao Tam
Wat Khao Tam (also sometimes written as Wat Khow Tham) started to open its doors to foreign students in 1988, when the resident nun at the temple invited an Australian couple to stay and assist with the teaching. The Australian couple have moved on and now the teaching is conducted by an accomplished former academic, Phra Dr Marut Damchaom, who also teaches at meditation centres in Koh Samui and at Wat Suan Mokkh in Surat Thani Province on the mainland.
The facilities at Wat Khao Tam are basic in keeping with the practices of the Thai Forest Temple tradition, which is a group within the Buddhist church of Thailand practising a form of Buddhism with stricter rules than those followed by other monasteries in Thailand. The temple has an ordination hall, an assembly hall, a sala, living quarters for the monks and dormitories with bunk beds for students. The temple does have electric, and it also has a lot of mosquitoes on account of its location in the jungle, which the good Buddhists of Wat Khao Tam take no measure to control because of their beliefs. For most visitors, however, the views and tranquil atmosphere of the temple make up for any lack of comfort.
Courses at Wat Khao Tam
English language courses run every month from the 10th to 20th day of the month, and Russian language courses take place from the 23rd to the 30th depending on the level of interest. Courses, food and accommodation are free although attendees are expected to make a donation of 5,000 THB at the point they register for a retreat. You can simply turn up on the first day at 08:30 and 16:00 although contacting the temple a few days in advance to find out if the course is actually place in that month is advisable.
At 17:00 on the second day of the course the ‘silent period’ begins and you will live like a monk (literally) for the next 7 days with a 04:00 wake up and most of the day meditating and doing chores. Students are not allowed to talk or leave the temple groups for these 7 days, nor are they allowed to eat after midday. No book, no computers, no smoking, no phones and men and women are separated throughout the day. The only thing you are allowed to do is meditate and listen to the various instructional talks which are given throughout the week.
Visiting at Wat Khao Tam
You can still visit even if you don’t want to do a vipassana retreat. Remember though that this is a temple, you must dress modestly, and try not to disturb monks or students particularly when there is a course taking place.
Volunteers to help out at the temple are welcome. Things at the temple need fixing and the grounds need cleaning, as well help with preparation and service of food. Volunteering at this temple may be helpful to people who ‘partied out’ during their time on Koh Phangan.
Travel to Wat Khao Tam
There are lots of different ways to get to Koh Phangan. The cheapest option for travel from Bangkok to Koh Phangan is to take a train or bus to Surat Thani and then the Raja car ferry over to the island. From the main port town of Thong Sala in Koh Phangan its a 4.8 km journey to Wat Khao Tam.
Other more expensive, but quicker, ways to travel to Koh Phangan include using the joint ferry and bus service operated by the Lomprayah High Speed Ferry Company, flying to Surat Thani airport and then taking a joint bus and ferry service to Koh Phangan, and most expensive of all: flying to Koh Samui and then getting a ferry over to Koh Phangan.
Location of Wat Khao Tam
- Wat Khao Tam is in Bantai on the South Coast of Koh Phangan.