The Sanctuary Resort

»Surprisingly laid back wellness retreat, even at Full Moon«

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On the idyllic island of Koh Phangan in Thailand is a resort that feels more like a genteely hippy holiday camp than a white-gloved spa. The Sanctuary is devoted to providing a therapeutic and relaxed space for yoga devotees, holistic-healing seekers and the occasional burned-out backpacker looking for a more sedate (dare we say adult?) pace of life than the sometimes-frenetic Thai party scene.

  • What we love
  • The eclectic nature of this unique resort
  • Good blend of fun and seriously yogic pursuits
  • Excellent Teacher Training Courses
  • What to know
  • Children are allowed but gently discouraged from visiting
  • Nearby Guy's Bar is sometimes too noisy for quiet enjoyment
  • Many non yoga-based stay options
  • Why go
  • A legendary name on the retreat scene
  • The beauty of Thailand's Koh Phangan
  • World-class yoga teachers

The Sanctuary's full name is The Sanctuary Resort, Spa, Detox & Life Center. This accurate but lengthy version is often shortened to simply The Sanctuary' which is exactly what this lovingly-created compound is. There are plenty of ways to destress and detox at The Sanctuary, and although our focus is yoga, intertwining all kinds of cleansing into a yoga getaway is not only allowed but actively encouraged. There is also some serious training going on here too, despite the permanent-vacation atmosphere. Accredited Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Courses are a regular occurrence on the schedule, interspersed with more light-hearted pursuits like the Tuesday night open-air movies that make The Sanctuary about the best fun you can possibly have while actually becoming healthier.

This being Thailand, beach parties are common, with three regular parties a week in the three bays around The Sanctuary. The most popular one is at Guy's Bar, kicking off at 11.30 on a Friday night and rolling through to noon on Saturday. There's some occasional noise-drift but the crowd tends to be a little older, and small, with only a couple of hundred people at the height of the season. As the lovely Tasha (one of The Sanctuary’s managers) says: “We don’t want to come across as a very pristine and pure health resort ... we are just as good at retox as detox! Whether that comes in the form of chocolate cheesecake, great coffee, cocktails, or...” In other words, a couple of happy and love-filled gatherings do little to detract from The Sanctuary's vibe. Just the opposite - they’re generally considered to be an added bonus to staying here.

In-house daily yoga classes are offered on a drop-in, pay-as-you-go basis for anyone staying (or not) at The Sanctuary. Three classes are held each day, in varying styles, for around US$10 a session. The new Yoga Mini-Break is for guests who don't have the traditional full week – or longer – but need a little Savasana in their lives. Like the 7 and 10-day Yoga Holidays, the mini-break includes accommodation, welcome dinner, daily yoga, Pilates, Steam passes and a couple of other goodies. The cost of the Yoga Holiday varies from $100 - $200 per day depending on the accommodation chosen in the package. The Yoga Intensive Retreat is held on an ad-hoc basis depending on demand and is a little more rigorous than the more detox-focused yoga holiday. Yoga Teacher Training Courses are held at varying times of year and the style taught depends on the guest teacher. The Sanctuary has some heavyweight yoga names among their regulars – if you've never heard of Peter Clifford then get yourself to Google immediately – and all of the instructors are world-class teachers and very approachable. There are three spacious, open-air shalas. A wooden floor gleams with warmth and love, and simply stepping on to one is a refreshing experience even before the yoga mats are rolled out.

The range of accommodation options at The Sanctuary is vast. Dorm rooms are as little as $8 a night and the mind-blowing jungle houses are at the upper end of the scale at $215 a night. Even the pointy end of the price range isn't exactly budget-breaking but tends to be booked more by honeymooners and their wedding guests than the more budget-conscious travellers in Thailand. Food is predominantly vegetarian although leaving fresh seafood off the menu here would be a crime against foodies, so the main protein option comes straight out of the water. The Sanctuary once experimented with growing their own food onsite, but quickly discovered that they would need to turn far too much land over to agriculture to stay true to the spirit of sustainability that is at the heart of home-grown food. Instead they source locally, and serve fresh raw food wherever possible. All food is served in the onsite restaurant and the menu is packed with local dishes and tantalizing Indian and raw-food meals, smoothies and juices.

The guests of The Sanctuary tend to fall into one of two camps - those who are seriously detoxing and those who are here to relax and have some fun. Because of this, the Tea Temple is primarily for the more esoteric pursuits (think ecstatic dancing and transformative breathing) while other parts of the resort are either devoted to – or a starting point – for more vacation-style fun. Sea kayaking, hiking, boat trips, Thursday's Open Mic night or those Tuesday movie nights. The Sanctuary is an eclectic, unique, and honestly unmissable highlight on any serious (or not so serious) yogi's itinerary.

About the area: Koh Phangan

Ko Phangan is one of Thailand's moderately well-kept secrets. It's certainly much calmer than its hectic cousin Koh Samui and is popular with tourists who prefer backpacks and beads to Best Western hotels. A 30-minute boat-ride from Koh Samui, Ko Phangan is known for its eye-popping natural beauty and resort culture that has a strong streak of 'alternative community' running through it. This is a great area for retreats, yoga, ayurveda, massage and beach gatherings that run from family-friendly to Full Moon. The climate of Ko Phangan is consistently warm year round, and temperatures of 28 degrees C (82F) are normal.

Image credit: The Sanctuary Resort

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