The temple was first established as a monastery in 1957 by the Buddhist nun Mian Parnchand (generally known as Luang Por Yai) and her two nephews, Chamroon and Charoen Parnchand, who had both ordained as monks at Wat Khlong Mao in Lopburi Province, Thailand. Luang Por Chamroon, a former Thai policeman, was the first abbot, although Wat Thamkrabok is not officially a Buddhist temple, but is a "Samnak Song", because it follows the teachings of Luang Por Yai, a woman. Still, the entrance claims it is a temple or Wat. The temple is majestic in its appearance, with two elephants supporting a globe marking its entrance. There are many large Buddha images on the temple grounds.
Following the end of the Vietnam War, in the late 1970s, Wat Thamkrabok hosted Hmong refugees in a camp on its grounds as result of losing the Secret War, most of whom fled Laos alleging that they were persecuted by the communist government that has ruled Laos since 1975. Many thousands of the Laotian and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers at Wat Thamkrabok had also sought refuge at the Temple after fleeing forced repatriation efforts at other refugee camps in Thailand, because they did not want to return to the Marxist government in Laos that they fled. More Lao and Hmong refugees continued to arrive and seek sanctuary at Wat Thamkrabok until over 15,000 Hmong were eventually allowed, after a long policy battle in both the United States and Thailand, to go to the USA in 2004 and 2005 as political refugees, instead of being forced back to Laos. However, some even moved to the United States as early as in 2001.
In the late 1970s Wat Thamkrabok, and particularly its abbot, Luang Por Chamroon, supported the Hmong armed resistance against the Lao PDR government, particularly the Neo Hom led by General Vang Pao and other Laotian leaders, independent Chao Fa groups, and one sub-faction of the Chao Fa led by Pa Kao Her. 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, Lao and Hmong refugees in Thailand fled to the temple to avoid repatriation to Laos. The population at the temple quickly grew to about 35,000, although it later declined significantly.
Starting in 1993, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Policy Analysis, or The Centre for Public Policy Analysis, (CPPA), and its Executive Director, Philip Smith, made over seven research missions to Wat Thamkrabok and Laotian and Hmong refugee camps in Thailand. Philip Smith, the CPPA, and the Lao Veterans of America, repeatedly conducted U.S. Congressional-backed research missions about the horrific plight of Laotian and Hmong refugees fleeing forced repatriation and human rights violations in communist Laos and Thailand. These joint U.S. Congressional and CPPA research missions sought to review policy developments in Thailand and Laos, and to convey humanitarian offers of support and assistance to the head Buddhist abbott, temple monks, and Hmong and Laotian refugee leaders, from Members of Congress and international human rights organizations. For over a decade, prominent Members of Congress, in bipartisan fashion, also supported U.S. Congressional-backed research missions by Philip Smith and the CPPA to Wat Thamkrabok, and the Laotian and Hmong refugee camps, along the Mekong River and Thai-Lao border. Support for these missions came from a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Congress, including U.S. Congressman Steve Gunderson (Republican-Wisconsin), U.S. Congressman Bruce Vento (D-Minnesota), U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) and others. The findings of these missions were frequently discussed in news stories, and at sessions of the U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos held in the U.S. Congress and Library of Congress.
Wat Thamkrabok and its Hmong refugees drew global attention in the late-1980s and mid-1990s, as they became the subject of a major global political debate over their future, and the future of Lao and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand. The government of Thailand, with support from the United Nations and the Clinton administration, sought to repatriate the Lao-Hmong at Wat Thamkrabok back to the communist regime in Laos that the Lao-Hmong refugees fled. This effort drew opposition from several human rights groups, and some key Hmong organizations.
Lao and Hmong human scholar and advocate, Vang Pobzeb, of the Wisconsin and Minnesota-based Lao Human Rights Council, participated in a number of research missions with Philip Smith and The Centre for Public Policy Analysis, as well as U.S. Congressional offices, including U.S. Congressmen Bruce Vento and Steve Gunderson, to the Lao and Hmong refugee camps in Thailand and to Wat Thamkrabok during the 1980s and 1990s. U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and others in the U.S. Senate were active in raising concerns about egregious human rights violations in Laos and the plight of Lao and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers who fled Laos to refugee camps in Thailand and to Wat Thamkrabok.
Michael Johns, a former Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst and aide to former President George H. W. Bush, helped oppose 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 were resettled to the United States in 2004 and 2005, most moving to the U.S. states of Minnesota, California, and Wisconsin. There are presently only a couple of Hmong families living at Wat Thamkrabok.
Wat Thamkrabok has also received global attention 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 Thamkrabok detox program, a program consisting of Buddhist meditation, Asian herbal supplementation used for relaxation, induced vomiting, and the consumption of a secret detoxification potion composed of many different herbs. In 1975, Luang Por Chamrun Parnchand was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for the temple's drug rehabilitation work.
A number of Western drug users have sought treatment for their addictions at Wat Thamkrabok, In 2002 Stuart Brindley became the first methadone addict from the UK to be treated at the monastery while other prominent westerners including British punk rock musician Pete Doherty, Irish rock music singer Christy Dignam of Aslan, American computer underground personality Patrick K. Kroupa and British singer songwriter Tim Arnold.
In 2004, Tim Arnold's success story was the subject of many news articles in the UK. After completing his programme Arnold subsequently became a permanent Tham Krabok resident and favourite 'son' of the monastery's abbot, Luang Por Charoen.
Because opium used to be commonly grown and, at times, consumed by the Hmong (largely for medicinal purposes) in the highlands of Thailand and Laos, some Hmong refugees have undergone addiction treatment at Wat Thamkrabok. Wat Thamkrabok also supports the detoxification of those addicted to alcohol and methamphetamines.
Wat Thamkrabok was believed to have served as a possible center of armed resistance to the Lao government with a limited number of weapons allegedly smuggled to some Hmong and Laotian insurgents and opposition groups in Laos. Responding to these concerns, the Thai military deployed hundreds of troops to surround Wat Thamkrabok in April 2003. This action was undertaken despite elements of the Thai military—many of whose officers were sympathetic to the Laotian and Hmong dissidents, insurgents and resistance fighter groups—allegedly, continuing to actively help to provide weapons and logistical support to Laotian and Hmong groups in Laos who oppose the communist government in Vientiane. The Thai military and police fenced the Hmong at Wat Thamkrabok with concertina wire in an effort to monitor and control entrance to it, before they were able to immigrate to the USA in 2004 and 2005. The area is no longer fenced.
Wat Thamkrabok became an official Wat (Temple) in 2012. Vichien Gitiwanno (Luang Por Vichien) has been entitled as the first abbot of Wat Thamkrabok as an official temple recognized by the Thai Government. The number of patients has reached to 110,312 by the end of 2015.
Wat Thamkrabok's historic role in harboring Hmong refugees in the 1990s and early 2000s, and its global reputation for unique Buddhist approaches to lifestyle management and detoxification, have made the temple a popular destination for foreign tourists and those seeking help with charitable and drug addiction treatment in Thailand. There have, however, been concerns, from some quarters, that Wat Thamkrabok may have played a role as an alleged conduit for weapons and military support to Lao and Hmong military insurgents and dissident groups, who were allegedly engaged in opposition to, and military conflict with, the communist Pathet Lao government in neighboring Laos as well as military and security forces from the allied marxist government in Hanoi, Vietnam. That alleged military support, and alleged assistance with weapons smuggling, has, however, from Thai military and other sources, apparently ended at Wat Thamkrabok and elsewhere in Thailand.