Location:Thai Plum Village 174,176 Ban Sra Nam Sai, Moo 7, Tambon Pongtalong, Pak Chong (district), Nakhon Ratchasima (province), Thailand
Teaching Mandate In Manila while sitting in a Plum Village Monastery gathering, I was broached by Lizie about an English teaching job at the Plum Village Monastery in Pak Chong, Thailand. I said I was interested, and after coordinating with the organizer, my application was accepted. It turned out that the coordinator was the same guy who ushered me into my Vipassana practice - Jim. It helped that I had been to both Thailand and Vietnam, taught English to a Vietnamese while I was in Ho Chi Minh City, and have a background in meditation.
Leaving Bangkok for Pak Chong From Bangkok, I explored the possibility of taking the train (B290) to Pak Chong instead of the recommended van (B500) - cheaper, faster (if not late) and more space. The van can even charge an additional B160 if a suitcase occupies a seat. That move saved me more than B200! The staff at my hotel, Adventure Hostel were helpful in suggesting I take the train from the nearby Bang Sue Station instead of going all the way to Phu Lamphong Station. My train left on schedule and arrived on schedule. There wasn't really a scenery to enjoy but the trip was fast and efficient.
Generosity in Pak Chong Upon arrival in Pak Chong, I decided to walk around the place first before hailing a cab (B500). I thought Pak Chong was a dusty sleepy town. I was wrong. Pak Chong is a big city! Initially, I was hoping I could join some people bound for the center and split the B500 cab fare, but there was none. At the Khun-nio Restaurant (name is in Thai but pronounced that way), I was served good food for B35. I inquired with the owner if there is a cheaper way to get to Plum Village, hoping there might be a motorcycle to take me there for half the price. In a surprising twist of fate, the owner, Nui, asked her friend, Ei, who in turn offered to drive me all the way to the center at no charge! I said it was too much, but she insisted. I thought I would ride behind her on a motorcycle, but turned out, she was driving a Honda CRV! That was very comfortable. We got lost many times, but finally arrived at Plum Village. I was embarrassed that she had to go through so much effort for me, a complete stranger. I bid her goodbye and hoped I'd see her and Nui again. I had been told about the kindness of the Thai people, but I didn't expect this! Thank you very much Ei!!!
What is Plum Village? Plum Village is an international monastic order founded by renowned Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh and Buddhist nun, Chan Khong in 1982 in the Dordogne, southern France. The main focus of the tradition is to develop mindfulness in day-to-day life to generate happiness and eliminate craving and aversion.
Brief Background of Plum Village Monastery Thich Nhat Hanh's expulsion from Singapore for rescuing Vietnamese boat people and being refused entry to Vietnam prompted him to settle in France where he formed a small community in the village of Fontvannes, 100 miles southeast of Paris. He called it the Sweet Potato and hosted retreats focused on mindfulness. To accommodate the increasing number of participants to the retreats, he resettled to Thenac, Dordogne with Chan Khong and formally founded the Plum Village monastic order. There are now 6 Plum Village monasteries globally, one of them being in Pak Chong, Thailand.
In the Company of Monks Upon my arrival at the center, there was an ongoing monk retreat with more than a hundred Vietnamese monks in participation, men and women. My English teaching class will commence when the retreat is over in a week. All the monks and nuns were garbed in the traditional dark chocolate brown robe. With my white shirt, I stood out like a sore thumb! I managed to be in conversation with a few of them. I found them to be gentle, warm and friendly. Their movements are almost calculated, deliberate and mindful. Conversation is kept to a minimum and noble silence is practiced at night.
Meeting with the Admins In the evening, I met with the administrators to define my teaching parameters. My classes start after the retreat. I teach 2 classes a day, 4 days a week, for three months. One class is basic English and the afternoon class is for the more advanced students. They gave me some work materials. When I'm not teaching, I am free to join the monks in their daily routine.
Thought for the Day It's only the first day and I'm still in the dark about the many ways things are done at the center. I am curious what awaits me in the next 89 days and what I'll be taking with me when my 3 months are over. I am grateful for this opportunity. What are the odds that someone is given a chance to live a monastic life for 3 months? This broadens my horizon significantly. I'll come away perhaps transformed, I would have refined my English teaching skill, and I'm sure I'll be developing friends I'll be crossing paths with after my departure. I could imagine this experience will also open doors in the future. Of course, I hope to be helpful in enabling the newly ordained monks to be proficient in their English. The air is full of optimism.
Thank you Ei and Nui!
Thai Plum Village International Practice Centre
with direction coming from Bangkok
GPS waypoint: 14°33'25.4"N 101°31'45.0"E
174,176 Ban Sra Nam Sai, Moo 7, Tambon Pongtalong, Pak Chong District, NakornRatchasima, Thailand
How to Get to Plum Village from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport
You are encouraged to arrive at the Center Friday afternoon between 2-4 pm
Suvarnabhumi Airport to Bangkok proper (Phaya Thai Station) there is already a direct train from the airport that goes all the way to Bangkok with a final stop at Phaya Thai. Upon airport arrival, go down to Basement and take the Airport Link train to Phaya Thai Station35 mins | Baht 45. Get off at Phaya Thai Station (the last stop) and walk (.8km) to the Phaya Thai BTS Station.
Phaya Thai Station (N2) - Mo Chit Station (N8) by BTS TRAIN board the BTS train heading to Mo Chit and get off there.
Mo Chit North Eastern Bus Terminal - Platform 6, public van at #78 this is a short walk. Go to Platform 6 and get on the public van at #78 offering Jamnong Tour.
IMPORTANT ! - make sure you make it clear to the driver that HIS van drops you off at Plum Village. Otherwise, they might finish the tour in Pak Chong proper. If this happens, you're still 45 minutes away from Plum Village which costs 500 Baht by cab! Best to copy/print/take a picture of the image below to show to the driver:
Mo Chit North Eastern Bus Terminal - Plum Village by VAN the trip all the way to Plum Village, Pak Chong costs Baht 500 and takes 3.5 to 4 hours. Take the 11am or 12 noon van to ensure you arrive at the center before 4pm.
How to Get to Pak Chong (Proper) from Bangkok by train
ignore this if you plan to go to Plum Village. Take the direction above instead
If you are arriving Bangkok and would like to proceed directly to Pak Chong without spending a night in Bangkok, best to take a plane that will land in Don Mueang Airport in time for the #71 Train (Bangkok to Si Sa Ket) to stop at the MRT Train Station, Bang Sue, which is only a short walk from the airport. Train schedule at Bang Sue Station: Fri 10:27am, arriving Pak Chong 1:30pm. Express aircon car (Baht 289), non aircon (Baht 198). Duration is 3 hours, stopping right in the heart of Pak Chong. From Pak Chong.
You can also take the train from the main terminal near the center of Bangkok at the MRT Station, Hua Lampong Railway Station. Departure, Friday 10:00am.
Plum Village Cost Index
(US$1 = Thailand Baht 35.77 = Php 47.52 as of Feb 28, 2016)
Baht 500 van from Victory Monument to Plum Village
Baht 289 Express train from Bang Sue MRT Station (Bangkok) to Pak Chong Train Station, aircon (non aircon, Baht 189)
Baht 500 taxi from Pak Chong to Plum Village (call this taxi number, Mr. Khun Paisan: 085 772.4519 for the trip to Plum Village)
Things to bring if staying overnight
not a requirement, but it helps if you bring clothing in the dark brown color in order to blend-in