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Traveling the Eightfold Path in Buddhist Thailand

Traveling in Thailand can be a lot of fun, which is why millions visit the Land of Smiles every year. However, the Kingdom also offers a unique opportunity for personal development and self-growth, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in Thai culture — an experience which can challenge your comfort zones, while providing fresh perspectives on life. This is especially true if you decide to explore “Undiscovered Thailand” destinations like Sakon Nakhon.

We’ve talked previously about the special mindset needed to maximize a “Thailand Off the Beaten Track” holiday — including the application of our unique 5 by 5 travel itinerary. Today, we are going to expand on our previous advice, so as to incorporate more directly the tenets of Buddhism.

When exploring a Buddhist country such as Thailand, you can leverage the teachings of the Buddha (in particular the Eightfold Path) as a guide for a transformative travel experience.

Regardless of your religious background, the Eightfold Path provides a framework for ethical and mental development, offering a roadmap for self-discovery amidst the backdrop of Thailand’s rich cultural heritage.


5 by 5 Travel Tips in Thailand
The 5 by 5 Thailand Travel Itinerary by

The Eightfold Path for Tourists

The Eightfold Path is a fundamental concept in Buddhism. It consists of eight interconnected principles aimed at achieving enlightenment, which means liberation from anxiety, discontent, egotism, and other negative states of being that cause suffering.

The Buddhist path emphasizes ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom. When applied to the travel context in Thailand, each aspect of the Eightfold Path serves as a guide for personal development during your Thai holiday.

1. Right View (Samma Ditthi): The right view of the Noble Eightfold Path also is translated as “right understanding”. We often have wrong understandings because we view things through a narrow prism.

Begin your Thai adventure by first taking an inventory of your current views of Thailand, yourself, and your life. Then cultivate an open mind as you explore Thailand’s fascinating culture, history, and people.

Thailand’s diverse landscapes (from bustling cities to serene mountain temples and pristine beaches) invite travelers to expand their mind with new perspectives on the world in which they live.

By engaging with Thai people; discovering local myths; and visiting historical sites like the ancient city of Ayutthaya and the Khmer ruins of Phra That Phu Phek you can not only gain insight into the rich tapestry of Thai beliefs and customs, but new perspectives on life in general.


2. Right Intention (Samma Sankappa): Travelers of the Eightfold Path also should focus on “right intention” or “right aspiration”. You should set clear intentions for your Thailand travel experience. Reflect on your purpose for visiting the Kingdom — whether it’s exploring the hill tribe culture of Chiang Mai, seeking inner peace the forest temples of Sakon Nakhon, or simply unwinding on a sandy beach in Phuket.

To fulfill your right intentions (aspirations), cultivate a sincere and positive mindset during your travels. Do not allow trivial inconveniences or problems interfere with your travel aspirations. Always view them as challenges that emerge to test your equanimity and cheerfulness. Seek to find the good that is always present in any situation.


3. Right Speech (Samma Vaca): You can practice “right speech” in Thailand by engaging in mindful communication with the locals, always expressing yourself with kindness and respect, and never in agitation or with a raised voice.

Anyone who commits themselves to traveling the Eightfold Path in Thailand should learn some basic Thai phrases and vocabulary. YouTube is filled with short videos teaching Thai for tourists. It’s now quick and easy to basic Thai, compared to 20 years ago. So, spend a few hours learning the essentials, keeping in mind that it’s not just about the language. It’s about understanding the cultural nuances of Thailand and connecting on a deeper level with the Thai people.

Carefully consider your conversations with fellow travelers too. Before saying anything, quickly ask yourself, “Is what I’m saying helpful? Is what I’m saying necessary? Is what I’m saying sincere?”


4. Right Action (Samma Kammanta): Thailand’s cultural and religious norms provide a perfect backdrop for practicing “Right Action.” Respecting and following Thai customs, such as being greng jai, wearing proper attire, saving face, and practicing the Thai wai (greeting) are a few right actions to be practiced during your travels. Meanwhile, practicing ethical tourism and eco-friendly behavior fosters a sense of responsibility and ethical awareness.


Sakon Nakhon, Northeast Thailand
Sakon Nakhon is a Thailand destination visited by many Thais who follow the Buddha’s Eightfold Path

5. Right Livelihood (Samma Ajiva): When traveling through Thailand, you’ll find endless opportunities to align your activities with “Right Livelihood.” Supporting Thai artisans, Isaan craftspeople, sustainable initiatives, and small businesses not only contributes to the well-being of local communities; it also encourages travelers to make conscious choices that align with their values, while promoting responsible consumption.


6. Right Effort (Samma Vayama): Like every worthwhile accomplishment in life, successfully following the Eightfold Path in Thailand requires dedication and effort. How you apply the principle of “Right Effort” during your holiday will vary, depending on “Right Intentions” (as discussed earlier). This might involve taking part in wellness activities such as yoga, meditation, or Thai massage; engaging in physical challenges like trekking through the forests of Phu Phan or Phu Pha Yon National Park; or participating in a Thai cooking class or arts & crafts workshop. These experiences will contribute to your physical and mental well-being.


7. Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati): Immersing oneself in the present moment through “Right Mindfulness” is an integral part of the Eightfold Path. Whether you’re meditating at a serene temple, strolling through bustling markets, or admiring Thailand’s natural beauty, practice being fully aware and appreciative of each experience.

Even commonplace activities like popping into a 7-11 should be done mindfully, as you note the differences between such stores in Thailand versus the ones in your home country. Get into the habit of people watching (but discreetly). You’ll often find an hour of people watching while eating at a roadside food vendor more interesting and rewarding than a visit to any Thai museum.


8. Right Concentration (Samma Samadhi): When traveling in Thailand, dedicate time to introspection and self-reflection. Find moments of solitude: perhaps during a visit to a rural Thai temple, or while surrounded by the tranquility of nature. Wake up early while other tourists are still asleep. Visit destinations entirely off the tourist path (there are many!). Cultivate mental clarity and focus, allowing for personal insights and growth.


By integrating the Eightfold Path into your travel experience in Thailand, you will embark not only on a physical journey but a profound inward exploration. The rich cultural and spiritual heritage of the Kingdom serves as a guide for travelers. Let it inspire you to cultivate mindfulness, pursue positive intentions, and embrace ethical conduct. In this way, a holiday in the Land of Smiles becomes a journey towards enlightenment and a deeper understanding of yourself.


David Alan