Wat Tham Krabok

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Wat Tham Krabok (Thai: วัดถ้ำกระบอก, literally Temple of the Bamboo Cave) is a Theravada Buddhist temple (wat) in Thailand, located in the Phra Phutthabat district of Saraburi Province.

The temple was first established as a monastery in 1958 by the Buddhist nun Mae Chee Boonruen. It was upgraded to temple status 17 years later, in 1975. The temple is majestic in its appearance, with gold pagodas marking its entrance.

Hmong refugees

Since the end of the Vietnam War, Wat Tham Krabok has hosted Hmong refugees in a camp on its grounds, most of whom fled Laos alleging that they were persecuted by the communist government that has ruled Laos since 1975. The Hmong were United States war allies in the Secret War against the communist Pathet Lao, the Viet Cong and North Vietnam.

When several Thailand-based Hmong refugee camps closed due to a lack of financial support in the early 1990s, Hmong refugees in Thailand fled to the temple to avoid repatriation to Laos. The population at the temple quickly grew to about 16,000.

Wat Tham Krabok and its Hmong refugees drew global attention in the mid-1990s, as they became the subject of a major global political debate over their future. The United Nations, with support from the Clinton administration, sought to repatriate the Hmong at Wat Tham Krabok to Laos. But this effort drew significant opposition from American conservatives and human rights leaders. Michael Johns, the influential former Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst and aide to former President George H. W. Bush, helped lead opposition to the forced repatriation, labeling it a "betrayal," since many Hmong had aided the United States during the Secret War.

While some Hmong were repatriated, most began to be resettled to the United States, with about one-third of them relocating to the U.S. state of Minnesota, though California, Wisconsin and other states also received significant numbers.

Drug rehabilitation

Wat Tham Krabok has also gained global notoriety for its heroin and opium drug rehabilitation program, which was started in 1959. Over 100,000 heroin and opium addicts have since gone through the unique Wat Tham Krabok detox program, which includes Buddhist meditation, Asian herbal supplementation used for relaxation, induced vomiting, and the consumption of a secret detoxification potion made of over 100 unknown Asian herbs.

After failing in other detox programs, a number of prominent Western drug addicts have sought treatment at Wat Tham Krabok, including British punk rock musician and Pete Doherty, rock music singer Christy Dignam of Aslan (rock band), and American computer underground personality Patrick K. Kroupa. Because opium is commonly grown and consumed by the Hmong in the highlands of Thailand, many Hmong refugees also have undergone addiction treatment at Wat Tham Krabok.

Wat Tham Krabok also is believed to have served as a conduit for international heroin and opium trafficking and possible arms trafficking to Hmong insurgents in Laos. Responding to these concerns, the Thai military, in April 2003, deployed hundreds of troops to surround Wat Tham Krabok. Thai military and police have since fenced the Hmong village at Wat Tham Krabok with concertina wire in an effort to monitor and control entrance to it.

Global intrigue

Wat Tham Krabok's historic role in harboring Hmong refugees in the 1990s, and its global reputation for unique Buddhist approaches to lifestyle management and detoxification, have made the temple an increasingly popular destination for foreign tourists in Thailand. Thai officials, however, have sought to keep tourists at a distance from the Wat Tham Krabok grounds, citing suspicion that the temple is a likely source of international heroin and opium trafficking. There are also concerns that Wat Tham Krabok has played a role as a conduit for weapons and military support to Hmong military insurgents, who are engaged in a military conflict against the communist Pathet Lao government in neighboring Laos.

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