Wat Tham Krabok (วัดถ้ำกระบอก, literally Temple of the Bamboo Cave) is a 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.
Since the 1970s, the temple has hosted Hmong refugees in a camp on its grounds, mostly consisting of people who fled Laos following the end of the Vietnam War. 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 lack of financial support in the early 1990s, the refugees 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.
Wat Tham Krabok is also well known for its heroin and opium drug rehabilitation program, which was started in 1975. Thousands of heroin and opium addicts have been cured there. Over the years a variety of prominent Western junkies have been treated at Wat Tham Krabok, including:
- Pete Doherty (musician)
- Patrick Kroupa (writer, hacker)
However, it also has been suspected as a conduit for international heroin and opium trafficking. This led to a decision by the Thai government, in April 2003, to ring the temple with concertina wire and to establish strict controls on entering and leaving the temple.