Location: Malaysia, Kedah state, Lunas district, a rural area accessible from Penang city. (Lot 297, Kampung Seberang Sungai, 09600 Lunas, Kedah Darul Aman.)
Tradition: Mahasi Sayadaw Vipassana method from Myanmar.
Practice intensity: 9 out of 10. Strict enforced practice schedule from early morning til bedtime. UPDATE June 2019 – I hear the schedule is not strictly enforced these days. So perhaps intensity now of 6 out of 10, at a guess.
Accommodation: Individual rooms, some kutis, shared bathrooms, some with attached bathrooms.
Food: Dana (donated) by the local laypeople, and not vegetarian. Some days there were few vegetable options that were not cooked with meat/fish. You could ask management if more vegetarian options can be provided, although I didn’t ask so have no experience with this. UPDATE June 2019 – one new report says the food is amazing and diverse, so it’s possible the above has changed considerably.
Min/Max stay: None, as far as I know.
Cost: MYR 7 (USD 1.60) per day, required upon arrival. Option to donate more when leaving. UPDATE June 2019 – this fee is no longer required. Donation on departure if desired.
Transport: Uber from downtown Penang (Georgetown) around USD 15-20, 40 minutes.
Clothing: White top and dark bottoms. Not strict.
Visas: 90 days on arrival, possible to extend, or leave and return to get another 90 days. (This applies to most nationalities, but be sure to check your nationality’s conditions before going).
This centre, opened in 1990, is not far from downtown Penang, aka Georgetown. It is set in lush countryside, by a small river, and is heavily shaded by copious amounts of trees, including Bodhi trees. The head monk, known as Sayadaw Candobasa, hails from the main Mahasi Centre in Yangon, Myanmar, and is due to be stationed here til end 2018. Other monastics stay from time to time. UPDATE June 2019 – the teachers change from time to time and by yogis’ reports they are each quite different. Sounds like a case of roll the dice and see what you get.
They set strict rules in numerous notices posted around (see photos below), and demand that yogis adhere closely to them or risk being asked to leave. The schedule is quite rigorous, as yogis are required in the hall for the 4am chanting, and again at 9pm. Assuming you don’t nap during the day, which is possible, then you get a maximum of about 6 hours sleep a night. Of course, once your practice is in full swing, this shouldn’t be a problem, but for the first few days, it can be a struggle. UPDATE June 2019 – I heard the schedule is no longer strictly enforced and yogis regularly take breaks or read instead of sitting.
The centre is popular with the local Chinese population, and so everything is bilingual (Chinese, English) or trilingual (Burmese, Chinese, English). Accommodation consists of a 2-storey block for women by the meditation hall, and for the men there are several individual kutis as well as a single storey block. There is a washing machine in each area of the centre, intended for washing communal items, but you may be able to sneak in some clothing too, and shared bathrooms for those in the blocks, and attached bathrooms for those in kutis. Bathrooms have electric water heaters for hot showers.
The meditation hall is large, with many fans, and a marble floor, so it tends to be comfortable even on hot days. I stayed during the Sept-Oct monsoon and found it very comfortable, with maximum temps around 32 C outside in the sun where you don’t tend to go, and on the frequent rainy days, around 25 C. Surprisingly, humidity was comfortable even on the rainiest days, and there were very few mosquitoes, as the centre avoids keeping stagnant water around, and the government fumigates the area. There are, however, lots of flies in and around the dining hall, possibly exacerbated by the mangy dogs hanging around.
Food is served at 6.30am and 11am. Yogis sit at long tables and dishes supplied by local devotees are passed along so you can choose what you like. Please note there is no vegetarian rule here so the food consists of the full range of animal products. If you are lacto-ovo vegetarian, and especially if you’re not bothered by picking the veges out around the meat/fish/shrimps, then there are plenty of options. If you’re vegan, it’s a little tougher.
I’ll assume you know about meditation centre routines and also the training in the Mahasi method. If not, please see the schedule posted below, and search around for further details on the method.