Life in a Thai Monastery


Sons of Isan

The following post has been contributed by William Mathew Ryland who currently lives and works in Bangkok, Thailand. This piece is an excerpt from his compelling, moving and humorous book,

Sons of Isan, which chronicles Bill’s experiences living in a rural Thai Buddhist temple. You can learn more about his adventures on his absorbing website, Bill Reyland.

Outside my cell, a heavy tropical rain has begun to fall and giggling flashes of orange hurry by my open door.  A platoon of ants drink from my lukewarm cup of instant coffee, and mosquitoes attack my exposed feet, feasting on a particular area where my sandals chafe badly. I contemplate scratching the area, but it’s already not healing very well.  I decide instead to scratch around the area. The blood and filth blend into a flinty brown. I light a cigarette.

As evening begins to fall, a woolen sky is torn away, revealing a giant Asian sun quivering midway on the horizon. Outside in the cambered light of the village, I hear the faint sound of water buffaloes, shuffling through the village, and then not so faint as they make their way past along the outer wall of the temple, their hooves like woodblocks on the steaming pavement.

Sprawled out, hot and in a stupor on the tile floor, I’m interrupted by a timid knocking at my door. There, in the darkness, stands Phra Suwatt, the abbott’s secretary who has been my welcome monk since I arrived.  He’s twenty-three and has lived in this temple since he was a boy.  He is tall and thin, so thin his robes fail to define even the slightest physical feature.  He’s the only monk I’ve spoken to since my arrival the night before. The other monks as though fearful or painfully shy keep their distance. Walking through the grounds they gracefully flee to nearby buildings at my approach. Huddled in small groups they peer  smiling from the darkened doorways and teak framed windows. Forty-eight hours ago, I was in the States drinking coffee. I wish I had savored it more because the only coffee here is instant. It seems trivial, doesn’t it?  It’s not that I didn’t do my research. I did plenty, but this is the kind of place no amount of research can prepare you for.

Photos by William M. Ryland

This entry was posted in Asia, Books, Travel Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Life in a Thai Monastery

  1. Laura Courier says:

    Is the book on sale in Canada ?

  2. Chris Schutzius says:

    This book changed my life. Although it describes Bill Reyland’s fascinating year living in a remote Buddhist Monastery, in spartan conditions, it is much more than a look into the life of Thai monks and villagers. His insights into to the mind and the self, along with his occassional humorous observations, remind me of the Dalai Lama’s speeches and interviews, which are also full of both revelations and laughs. It is also an excellent guide to Thai culture and society, which is rooted firmly in Buddhism, If one wants to understand the complexities of Thailand or it’s politics, one must know about the traditions and practices in the temples, which affect every aspect of life in
    the land of smiles.

    Even if one is not interested in Buddhism or Thailand, they can benifit immensely from reading this book, as it is also a tale of inspiration, perserverance, and the search for truth. I am an agnostic myself, but this book helped give me the courage to change my life for the better.

  3. Hi Laura,

    I’m very happy you are interested. You can purchase this book worldwide with various sellers. It’s also available for Kindle readers through Amazon.

    Have a nice day!


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