Here I am again, sitting on the cliffs of Bamboo restaurant in Haad Yuan Bay, Thailand, surrounded by lush beauty. The place feels almost unreal when it’s calm and there is no parties going on, as there are quite a few. But Haad Yuan and Haad Tian beach have another side to them: yoga, healthy food and pure relaxation. It’s the perfect place for detox, and retox, if aside from being healthy you need a little uncontrollable wild dancing with a Singha in your hand.
Today I want to share with you my favourite spot on Koh Phangan called The Sanctuary. It’s a precious gem with wooden bungalows, big and small, spread out over a beach, mountain and tropical garden. I love to come here to unwind, get some new yoga inspiration (and inspiration in general), eat healthy food and meet lovely new people. The Sanctuary has a cool hippy vibe, but hosts all kinds of people. It is really well organised, offers all types off accommodation, suitable for all budgets from 500 Baht (HK$113) in a dorm to 7000 Baht (HK$1583) in a luxury bungalow with a view over the bay. It’s a bit more expensive than the average accommodation in Thailand, but it also offers more comfort and you get to enjoy amazing food, wellness packages and workshops offered throughout the year. Just one day here and my mind and body tune into the soothing ‘island vibe’.
The day starts with a yoga class at 8am (optional) followed by a yummy breakfast. I love the fresh mango and papaya salad with lime, and a healthy green smoothie with coconut. The Sanctuary restaurant offers all kinds of delicious salads, my favourites are Salad from Heaven with dates, apple and mozzarella and the warm Thai Spinach salad with peanut sauce.
There are 3 daily yoga classes that take place in Buddha Hall, a beautiful yoga hall in the jungle. The 8am classes are usually designed for beginners, 10.30 classes are quite soft and relaxing as there are many people who do fasting programmes. The 4pm classes are more challenging. On the other side of the bay, in Haad Yuan, is Pure Lotus yoga, another beautiful yoga hall in the jungle. Here they offer daily drop in classes at 9 and 5 as well as continuous retreats and training sessions. If you’re looking for a special kind of therapy or healing you can consult the team of the Tea Temple at the Sanctuary, where numerous residential therapists offer treatments from craniosacral therapy to shiatsu and acupuncture. Craniosacral therapy is just amazing. It’s basically healing with hands, but the therapists require a vast knowledge of anatomy as they feel into every nook and cranny of your body, communicating with those body parts that need healing and attention. I studied craniosacral therapy in Vienna and strongly recommend it to everyone. It’s especially good for those with chronic pain or feel mentally stressed; one single treatment can clear your brain fog or heal pain through the healer’s attention and way of listening to your body through the palms of her hands. There is also a subtle form of manipulation applied, a kind of wave-like rhythm that the therapist connects to, called craniosacral rhythm. It simply feels amazing.
The Sanctuary also offers a steam room. I like it best when it smells like cinnamon, but the lemongrass is relaxing, too. Open from 1pm to 7pm each day. it also has a small pool attached where you can cool down in between the steam sessions. There’s plenty of entertainment here, too. Tuesday is movie night, Thursday is open mike night, where yoga instructors, healers and guests pick up their guitars and other instruments. There’s even a piano on stage!
If you’re looking for a new experience, try the famous cacao ceremony on Fridays. Enter the mysteriously lit Prana Hall in the Tea Garden area, surrounded by jungle. The instructor blesses you and welcomes you, burning incense to purify you and the room as the scent of wild salvia (a form of sage) and other incense hovers in the air. As darkness falls we dance to trance-like music, moving our bodies in whatever way until we’re naturally stepping into the rhythm of life. The raw cacao is handed around in a circle after an initial dance session. It contains herbs and spices and has aphrodisiac qualities that awaken your senses. I felt energised and full of gratitude for this emotionally liberating experience. The surroundings and music were just perfect and it was a healthy way to spend a Friday night too. For those still up for more, the party at Guy’s bar starts two hours later.
Peter Clifford, one of the many experienced yoga teachers here, says that everybody is different, and that’s why yoga postures should be different for everyone, too. He encourages his students to find their own way into poses and listen to their body instead of imitating the Asanas they see described in magazines or modern yoga workshops. I really enjoyed his gentle stretching class in the morning. There are also ‘Connective Breathing’ workshops and classes that are just amazingly transformative. We forget how important the breath is; you can live a while without food and water but after a few minutes without oxygen, you die. I tried the classes and was amazed by their healing power. You might get a tingling sensation in your arms, and it can be a bit scary once your body starts to feel over- oxygenated, but the process releases so much hidden tension it is worth going through until the end, when relaxation and integration happen.
I found Fiona Leibowitz’s Trauma Release classes very special, too. She teaches a series of exercises that naturally lead to shaking movements in your body that help your system get rid of accumulated stress and tension. The exercises are very simple but so effective. Her website, TRE for life gives more details on the process, training and workshops.
Over in the detox centre next to the beach, where the fasters hang out (a bit isolated from the rest because they can’t eat all the delicious food at the restaurant), is where I found my favourite treats: phyllantus tea for liver detox and the wheatgrass shots made from fresh wheatgrass. Oh, and the try the fresh spirulina coconut water, it’s refreshing and full of healthy nutrients.
At the Sanctury shop you can pick up a feather earring and a batik dress then unwind with a Margarita and a portion of fish tacos. The portions are so big you’ll have to share. Then treat yourself with a raspberry or Kahlua cheesecake that would put its NYC brothers and sisters to shame. Look out at the ocean, engage in a conversation with the friendly and welcoming staff or other guests, and be grateful you get to be in such a peaceful and transformative corner of our planet Earth.