View from the Look out over Haad Thani beach, Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

Sanctuary, Thailand

On the day the annual world happiness index is released a breeze skims the light swell of the sea of Thailand rolling waves up on a sandy beach.

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Under a thatch roof light jazzy music mix with muted breakfast conversations mostly in English being it the Queens or the American variety. Young smiling Thai waiters whisk between the tables with coffee, omelets and fresh squeezed juices. As bowls of fresh papaya, pineapple, apples, grapes covered in sweet coconut milk are served late generation mobile phones, laptops and iPads of the Global Nomads are pushed aside.

Blowing in the wind
Rattan ceiling fans stir the air, an empty hammock flaps in the breeze. It won’t be empty long before a smoothie drinker take up the cotton canvas as the crowd grows and morning greetings on a first name basis only are exchanged. The first pair of flip flops at the bottom of the stairs is now a pileup of rubber, plastic and leather, Crocs, Cabanas and Birkenstocks. It is breakfast at “The Sanctuary” on Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand.

The name says it all as this is all about winding down, feeling the breeze, the sand between the toes, listen to the ocean and just be. For those who need help there is a spa, massage and treatment centers. Some of the patrons are healers, reiki masters and teach workshops in the Tea temple to make ends meet. Others soft sell tinctures, potions, collagen lotions and coconuts oils. For the physical body and mind there are yoga classes, detox cleansing cures, spiritualism and self-knowledge workshops like “wild soul woman” with Fiona and Malika for those who want to look further inwards. Seeing the multitude of options one might wonder if the whole world is broken (which is not a too farfetched suggestion).

Approaching along the path of coconut wisdom spandex and lululemon leggings cover up skinny legs and muffin tops alike. A roll carried in a burlap bag or sling. The Yoginis have finished greeting the sun.

In the surf of the new moon shaped beach a few long tailed boats await the day’s first fare. As the clock pass nine a horn sound from the mouth of the bay. The “supply boat” approach heading South and stop by to pick up those who must leave days of chill behind. In the afternoon they will be replaced by newcomers. Cyclic. The umbrella shaded beach loungers are soon filled with brick thick novels, a beach towel or a tote which’s owner is in the surf, beachcombing or are nowhere to be seen. As the morning drags on last night’s party goers literally come out of the woods after a night of 140 bpm. A pitched tent or sleeping bag in the bush is as cheap as accommodation comes around here. A rowdy British party decides to go top-less but are soon told to cover it up by another Brit in respect of Thai Buddhist traditions of modesty. There is a bit of a culture clash between the 20 somethings who carelessly demolish their perfect bodies with cheap booze and all night parties and the seekers and surviving hippies with deep tans, wrinkly skin, grey crowns and somewhat thicker wallets. Covering caftans, skin tight yoga outfits and skimpy bikinis all meet here.

“I’m too old for this…”
A few days earlier we had arrived at the (in-) famous Haad Rin on Koh Pha-ngan where the “full moon parties” have attracted partygoers since 1983. Sex (on the beach and elsewhere), drugs (pills, smoke, dope, booze by the bucket) but no Rock’n roll as the beat is a mind numbing techno/house pumped out at 20000 or more at the monthly beach party. The village itself a collection of T shirt stores, scooter rentals, tatoo parlors, ATMs, pharmacies, mini markets and of course bunk bed hostels reminiscent of morgues. Rumor has it that the Russian mob has interests here. However at the Rock bar a mango shake, garlic bread and Thai noodles with chicken for 80 Baht (about 2 Euros) does not seem to leave much room for (exorbitant) profit.

Just off the ferry we realize that the only way to our destination is by sea. After a bit of bargaining the two men crew gets our luggage onboard a long tail boat. Sticking the agreed amount of Baht’s into his dry sack the sullen driver swing the extended prop shaft into the water and revs the 4 cylinder Izuzu Diesel engine. A choppy salt splashing 10 minute ride ensues ending on the beach of Haad Yuan where we check into a somewhat run down resort a stop gap before finding a perfectly suitable alternative at half the price another cove up the coast.

The best find in Haad Yuan is the “Sun hut” a restaurant perched on the cliffs jetting out into the ocean separating Haad Yuan from Haad Thian (East) beach coves. An easy walkup, fresh juices, great food and free WiFi have made it both recovery central and warm up meetup for party goers. At night a rowdier often Russian speaking crowd occupy the lie down tables under the large canopy as pot smoke drift out over the green bay below. With plates and bottles empty, malplace handbags with dangling MK emblems are lifted off the floor to be dumped on the floor at the “Eden bar” where house music is pumped out well beyond sunrise. Lacking the stamina for an all-nighter we switch on our flash light and make our way over the hill to calmer quarters.

The “Tree hut” welcomes with a ceiling fan and a refreshing shower. A hairy spider skips as the water splashes. Once under the mosquito net cicadas and frogs serenade us to sleep with the monotone base line of a humming diesel generator.

Early bird
A pony tailed girl in lotus position is silhouetted against the crimson morning sky in peaceful meditation. Chickens roll around in the cleansing sand and Yoginis roll out mats at the Why Nam beach shala. The bright lights of squid boats fishing off shore fades as the water is gold sprinkled by the first rays. A few locals walk along the beach to collect what the ocean have brought up over-night. The planet has spun another lap and it is morning again. Fresh fruit, relaxing, meals, swimming, reading soon become a comfortable routine. I even am lured to a few trial lessons at the Tea Temple and a meditation session.

Spaced out
The 20 or so women widely outnumber a small minority of men as we all lie down on mats in the Buddha Hall. An Irish girl use bells, gongs and rattlers to take us on a journey. Initially through water air and fire to walk along our favorite water way we find a cave and walk in. Inside the cave a stair down, down, down ” to the center of the earth” where the light of bright orange magma carbonize friends and leave a smell of burnt flesh. Leave she tells us and we all head up the stairs to the highest top a table mountain where all I want to do is to jump off the edge and fly down to the water. Gongs go off and we pack up the borrowed mats and are on our way. I leave a bit confused wondering how busy people must be if they really need such an imaginary journey to relax. Not sure friends burnt to a crisp or a jump off a cliff will do it for me nevertheless I find it an interesting industry.

Hippie Market
On what might be a Sunday morning (in this chilled state week days are irrelevant) the Hippie Market takes over the lower part of the restaurant and Tie-Died skirts, tank tops, beach kaftans and scarfs share space with feathered ear rings, resin coated butter fly wings and Indian silver jewelry. A lilac haired girl braids and weaves feathers into a middle aged woman’s greying hair. Bare chests, arms and butts are covered in tattoos, an African grey parrot lacking much of its plumage sits on the shoulder of her owner. Tobacco and pot smoke mix as “old” friends catch up and make plans.

After days of winding down and tending to the body’s largest sensory organ, my skin has now taken on a tint of cured leather and my mind is flushed. The days have turned into a routine and their names are irrelevant. Soaking it all up I close my eyes listen to the waves, let the breeze dry the salt on my skin and my mind drift…. Empty your head and sail away. Nothing else matters but here and now. Until a boat boy shouts “Haaaa riiinnnn nooouuu” and eyes go to those who have to load up the long tail and…. tomorrow that will be us.

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