Jetstar , Australia

A life-changing wellness retreat on a Thai island

How a working mum swapped play dates for downward dogs on a magical Thai island for her first wellness retreat ever — and found it more transformative than she could have imagined.

Reclining on the roof of a supply boat chugging towards Koh Samui island, whipped by warm wind and watching the coastline unfurl like a loosely strung ribbon, I’m having an interesting conversation with Kalle from Berlin. “So,” he says softly, “Apparently in my past life I was a sailor, and before that, a French woman called Anna.”

“Oh,” I respond in an equally conspiratorial whisper. “I had reiki and saw bright lights and a fluffy duck…”

Fluffy ducks and past lives? What? If this sounds out of your sphere, only a week earlier it wouldn’t have been in mine either – let alone Kalle’s, who’d never done so much as a yoga pose. But then, this exchange takes place as part of a mid-ocean debrief as we are leaving The Sanctuary Thailand, a wellness retreat that proclaims to be for those seeking “something else”.

The Sanctuary is not just a yoga haunt, detox centre and alternative therapy hub, though. It can also be an idyllic beach holiday, where you end up dipping your toes in the waters of wellness.

The lush, mountainous Koh Phangan island, where you’ll find the resort, is a world away from my usual life of picking up tiny shoes and eating leftover peanut butter crusts. For a start, it is only accessible by boat (or a bumpy 40-minute 4WD track if the sea is rough), following a flight and an island-hopping ferry. But the palm-fringed paradise that lies in wait as you wade to the beach, carrying your suitcase aloft, having jumped from the longtail fishing boat, is well worth the journey. This adventure literally starts with a splash.

We’re not the first to be swept away by the open energy of this pocket of Thailand. Remember The Beach? The book and movie (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) depicting a utopian backpacker community? It’s not such a fantasy. The Sanctuary is said to be the original community that inspired the storyline and author Alex Garland began writing his book more than 20 years ago right here. While many beaches claim to have inspired the tale, The Sanctuary’s Haad Tien is the beach.

“There are definite characters from the book I could give actual names to,” says general manager Michael Doyle. “It’s true, he [Alex] passed through here and got inspiration from the early community.”

But instead of backpackers waving spirit fingers, you’ll find a thriving, yet laid-back resort receiving burnt out executives, the curious and those in some sort of transition phase. Welcome to The Beach 2.0.

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