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The Sanctuary in Koh Phangan: a novel balance between hedonistic and healthy

By | Green Juicing

Sep 29

A resort in the Gulf of Thailand may be the inspiration for Alex Garlands The Beach. Brigid Delaney takes a plane and two barges to check it out

This year it is 20 years since Alex Garland first published his backpacker classic The Beach . You couldnt get on a plane or lie on a beach without insuring copies of the book in your neighbours hands. It was reprinted 25 hours in less than a year and the cinema rights were hot property. The volume about seclusion and secret places was everywhere.

The Beach is a modern take on Conrads Heart of Darkness. The backpacker, Richard, fulfils an unhinged Scotsman running by the alias of Daffy Duck who devotes him a hand-drawn map, with directions to a beautiful island with a concealed lagoon and beach, located in the Gulf of Thailand and inaccessible to tourists. Richard finds paradise, but he and his fellow traveller are locked in a constant battle to keep it to themselves.

There are many places that claim to be the inspiration for The Beach including the undeveloped Ang Thong national marine park near Koh Samui. But there is one place I maintained hearing about that was the original inspiration for The Beach: The Sanctuary on Koh Phangan. Even its name has a Beach-like vibe.

One friend who was get over a breakup ran there for a week and objective up staying several months. The visit changed her life, she told me. Get on a plane, do what it takes, simply get over there, she exhorted.

The Sanctuary is a hippie resort that specialises in yoga, spa therapies, detoxes and alternative therapies yet also offers a hedonistic, party-vibe if thats what you want. Accommodation ranges from dormitory room to self-contained air-conditioned bungalows, high up in the jungle hills.

Because it was paradise it was not easy to find. When the weather is wet you can pay a guy to take the sometimes-treacherous road inland though dense jungle to get to resort but, if its pacify, you can arrive by sea.

I flew from Penang to Koh Samui and caught a barge to Haad Rin wharf, then scrambled down rocks with a suitcase, which got tossed on to a angling barge, before we took off, away from the hectic beaches that are home to the full moon parties, and headed towards a string of beaches that sit at the start of steep hills, contained within jungle. We pulled in at Haad Tien, which is made up of three bays and is the home of The Sanctuary.

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The main bar and eatery is the hub of the community. Photograph: The Sanctuary

As soon I get off the barge, carrying my suitcase aloft as I waded though the water, I was greeted by administrators Michael Doyle and Nolan Dalby.

Doyle has been on the island for almost 20 years. An Irishman, he lived and worked for a time in Australia as a psychiatric nurse before “hes been gone” travelling around Asia and discovered the beach.

The Sanctuary in the early days was a few hippies on the beach, he says. It started as a communal thing 20 years ago. Ten to 15 years ago they built the wellness centre. Conscious, colorful party people come here.

Each year more dorms and bungalows are added to accommodate the growing word-of-mouth mob but costs are maintained down, which results in an eclectic mix of budgeting backpackers and older, monied travellers having a week or two off from their banking jobs.

The Sanctuary easily fits the description of paradise. And not just because its devastatingly pretty with an azure bay circled by palm trees. Its paradise because it operates like a community but without the boring chores like clean, cook and governance.

The community aspect is strengthened by the fact that many people arent just passing through on their style somewhere else its one of those places where people come for a week and remain for months or, in some cases, years.

Theres a current between here and Bali, says Dalby, who co-manages the property. A number of yoga both teachers and healers run between the two. We find people changing their flights all the time. There have been people who get to the airport on the boat and they turn around and come back.

One Irish guest, Anne-Marie, loved it so much she moved into the bay area permanently. One of the most beautiful things I find is that people genuinely bond, she says. You see guests at the start and they are quiet and nervous and then they might do something like a course or a fast and get great support from the others doing it and they are friends for life.

Dalby adds: People become friends then come back with each other. Thats prevalent on the island people work hard and then come back for six months and chill.

The Sanctuary is a good balance between hedonistic and healthy. There is a fasting centre that sits down near the beach and is run by a human who goes by the name Mr Moon. The fasters sit in sofas away from the main bar and drink their special detox beverages at regular intervals. Not far away is the primary bar and restaurant, which is the hub of the community. I am feasting not fasting and each day enjoyed pad Thai or seafood curry served in a coconut.

Doyle tells me about the parties every Friday night on another part of the island. You go and only connect. He takes his two peace fingers and point them at me connect.

On medications? No , not medications here, he assures me through the eyes you have a connection with people.

At first, I spend time alone in my room, high up in the hills with a balcony overlooking the bay, or reading the Bangkok Post in the restaurant, eavesdropping and scribbling in my publication.

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One guide said: Everything in the jungle speaks to us. Im interested in rewilding the human being. Photograph: The Sanctuary

But I soon find my style to the mending centre where you can put your name down to sample various new age therapies. I signed up for an ecstatic dance and at twilight I induce my style along the road to the corridor. There were about eight of us and we sit in a circle, with Patrick as our guidebook. He is Australian from a small town outside Sydney and has hair so blond it is almost white. He wears those Thai fishermans pants with the complicated knotting at the front and more billows than a bagpipe yet he carries it off. He has a sort of regal bearing.

I take people into the jungle and we do ancestral movement and games, he explains. Everything in the jungle speaks to us. Im interested in rewilding the human being.

Patrick has mixed up a drinking containing cacao, a chocolate plant that is one of the most venerated of the ancient Mayan deities. Music plays. He passes around the drink and we are asked to nation what we are grateful for. There were several fasters in the group whose gratitude seems deeper and more profound than the gratitude of the eaters, who say things such as, I am grateful to be here.

The fasters are grateful not just for being here, but also for being. In the darkened corridor, the whites of their eyes are illuminated as though they are wearing Halloween contact lenses. Their number includes a monk, an MBA student, a hypnotist, a lawyer and a traveller who had previously worked in the arts and culture sector in Darwin.

In the next 90 minutes I dance ecstatically, beginning with the Polynesian-style movements and clap, followed by call and reply and then simply free-form dancing, until I am dripping with sweat. Massive Attack brings everyone down, then Patrick plays African drums and guitar and then a flute and we all lie on yoga mats. The candles around the room burn and the jungle makes noises and it is incredibly great and peaceful and then there is a videotape of an Indian voice saying, Be grateful for everything, and for a few long minutes I am.

The wellness centre stocks plentiful detox books locked in a cabinet that reeks musty. The first volume I pull out looked old and is filled with diagrams of bowels. I flick it is accessible to a part about impacted faeces the stuff that hangs around in your intestine for, like, ever . Fasting and detox along with colonics is the only way to clean it out, apparently, and The Sanctuary offers it all.

Throughout the week I feast on delicious hand-made rice newspaper rolls with prawns, huge chunks of grilled salmon with soba noodles, coconut-battered fried fish with jasmine rice and green curry sauce, fish cakes, fried spring rolls filled with vegetables and prawns, ice-cold Singa served in stubby holders, smoothies and juices, fresh coconuts, cocktails, and fresh ginger, lemon and honey tea.

Dalby tells me that their regular visitors tend to alternate theyll come and enjoy the yummy food and the next visit theyll do a detox.

Well see.

Bookable accommodation costs start at A $95 a night. Guardian Australia was a guest of The Sanctuary

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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