Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Thai-m out: Two weeks at The Sanctuary, Thailand

From the moment I left for The Sanctuary, I can only describe my mood as apprehensive. Apprehensive that I wouldn't know how to get there from Koh Samui airport (Which ferry? Which pier??), I didn't know what to expect when I got there, whether or not I would like it, or whether or not I would be able to go through with it. From the outset, I had committed myself to do a 14 day 'raw fast' - nothing but raw fruit and vegetables and no beer or coffee. Beer I can live without (believe it or not) however coffee is something entirely different. All I could think was "shitshitshitshitshit"...

Let's just say things got easier when I got to Big Buddha Pier:

And caught a long tail boat to Koh Pha-ngan (after some wrangling over the price, of course).

I have to admit, when I first got off the boat, I thought "uh oh, this is a mistake". There were some seriously cool and beautiful people sunning themselves on the beach, looking at me over their hipster Ray Bans. Me? I was red-faced and sweating, lugging my 19kg backpack up the sandy incline. Shitshitshitshit...

Checking in, I also signed up for the yoga holiday package - yoga every day either as a class or private one-on-one lesson. Perfect, I love yoga - just never made enough time for it in Sydney. I was then shown to my room and I quickly became aware of how bloody hilly the island is. The Sanctuary is nestled into the side of a granite-laden hill. This granite-laden hill has steep steps which require the traveller to select 'mountain goat' gear in order to negotiate the paths. Never mind, my butt will thank me for it. Burn baby, burn.

For the first week I stayed in a Weeman - a kind of bungalow with a fantastic view of the bay. The entire resort tries to accommodate the natural surroundings. If there's a significant tree, it becomes part of the building. Same can be said for the aforementioned granite, as you can see in my bathroom.

After dumping my stuff, I got my togs and headed for the beach. Once in, I had an almost overwhelming feeling of panic. "What the hell am I going to do for the next 2 weeks? This?? Christ this is going to be bloody boring."

Despite my panic, I quickly settled into the rhythm of Island Life. Waking with the sun (my room faced east), reading until 9am, head downstairs for a bowl of fruit, climb the hill to Buddha Hall for 10.30 yoga, come back down for a shitload of water (you wouldn't believe how much you sweat in the tropics... I'm talking litres!) and a salad for lunch. The Sanctuary have a 'raw menu' which makes it very easy to eat the right foods. And they're bloody yummy too - maki rolls (nori seaweed rolled around carrots, nuts, bean shoots, spring onions and dipped in tahini), raw spaghetti (ribbons of carrot, pumpkin, onion, tomato, coriander, garlic and capsicum) or the island favourite - Salad from Heaven (dates, apples, tomato, cucumber, herbs) were my usual picks.

There was usually a class on at some point throughout the day - either at 10.30 (which meant I went to the 4.15 yoga class) or after lunch. I had some brilliant workshops: jewellery making, expressive harmonics (where we ended up composing our own songs using the other participants as instruments), awaken the healer within, ecstatic dance (which I actually missed but would have loved to have gone)... are you picking up the hippy vibe? There's plenty of that. For those of you familiar with the Woodford Folk Festival, it's pretty close to that. For those of you who aren't, it's a very warm and friendly environment, which encourages you to let go of any reservations and just enjoy the atmosphere. The feeling of community is encompassing and soothing. Of course, it is always possible that people go too far...

This climate is perfect for meeting people: it's hot, we're all sitting around (either in the restaurant, the hammocks, on the beach...) and many of us are traveling alone. I had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world, with some incredible stories. For example, one woman I met from Holland was traveling in Mexico when she met someone from Seattle who always wanted to go to Holland... so they swapped keys! She drove the woman's car to Seattle, while the other holidayed in her house in Holland. Also, she was diagnosed with liver cancer and given 6 months to live, only to be told 4 months later it was benign and it was removed, along with half of her liver. The same woman was in the Haitian earthquake, and ran back into her hotel room in the middle of the quake to get her passport! I've got some drinking stories, however I think these might trump them.

The staff are just as wonderful as the guests. If the guys and girls behind the bar aren't looking after you, chatting away and teaching you Thai phrases, the staff who run the workshops and classes are usually sitting around chatting with everyone, as they're usually fellow travelers themselves. Again, these are some truly inspirational people: one woman in her mid-20s is traveling from England to NZ by land or sea while continuing to perform, create jewellery and run workshops during her time at The Sanctuary. Another woman is an absolute classic - at the age of 60 (she looks 50) she is a yoga instructor and is thinking about getting her personal training certificate. Finally, a man who gave away his house, his business, his car... everything, in order to work on himself and his healing practice. Born in Togo, he has spent 30 years traveling the globe researching native peoples' healing techniques. As well as being a karate champion, of course.

After a week of raw food, I kind of felt like I was cheating. There was another group on the island that were doing a fasting detox, and they all said they were coping with it quite well. Phuket, I thought, I can do this. I moved away from my Weeman (it was right above the restaurant, and fasting with the smell of garlic and chilli permeating your room is just masochism) and signed up. No solid food for 5.5 days. Piece of cake... or not, as the case may be.

So this was a new rhythm. 7am psyllium husk and clay shake (mixed with water). 8.30 herbs. 10.30 psyllium and clay shake (mixed with watermelon juice), 12.00 herbs. 1.30 shake, 3pm herbs. 5pm lymph flush, 6pm fruit juice, 7pm vegetable broth (highlight of the day), 8.30 herbs, 9.30 pro-biotic. Repeat.

The clay tastes terrible. There's no two ways about it. You have to drink it quickly or else it congeals with the psyllium husk and what was revolting becomes intolerable and a considerable test of the gag reflexes.

There is something that I've left out... between 4 - 6pm, you should administer your own colonic. Every. Day. I'm warning you now, don't read on if you don't want to hear the details.

For the brave at heart - I'll continue. Behold, the apparatus:

By this time, I'd moved into another bungalow with its own private colonic room. (I should note now, it's technically not a colonic - it's somewhere between an enema and a colonic, apparently). The staff at the Wellness Centre were now looking after me - handing me shakes and whatnot. Moon, the man running the Centre, took me to my room and showed me the ropes, so to speak.

While he was demonstrating what everything was for, and using the word 'anus' many many times in a sentence, the school girl inside me was laughing. The adult was saying, "yes, this would be fucking hilarious IF YOU WEREN'T ABOUT TO SHOVE A FUCKING TUBE UP YOUR ARSE AND FILTER TEN LITRES OF COFFEE THROUGH IT!" The school girl promptly shut the fuck up and went pale.

Anyway, away I went. Clothes off, olive oil applied to tube and me. Slide forward et voila... Release bulldog clip, feel coffee draining into your body. Massage abdomen as instructed, then bombs away - the best shit you've ever had... and now there's only 9.5L of coffee to go. I'm sorry, how many times do I have to do this??

Truth be told, the colonics (or whatever they're called) made my stomach cramp and made me nauseous. They were a total chore. However, they did make you feel incredibly good afterwards - lighter, cleaner. The aim of these was to clean out the years of detritus gathered in your bowel, along with mucoid plaques that build up and prevent the body from reabsorbing nutrients in the large intestine.

On the subject of the detritus, there were detailed conversations amongst the fasters on a regular basis. "What colour did you get last night? Have you had ropes yet? (Ropes - a string of mucoid plaques - were the pinnacle of colonic achievement) Mine just looked like shit jelly..." Totally acceptable conversation at the 'dinner' table. Now I was thinking "shitshitshitshitshit" for entirely different reasons...

Before I finished the fast, it was time for Open Mic night again. On Thursdays, the many talented people on the island get up and perform songs, poetry, dance, jokes etc to the rest of the guests. It's a great night, and a great way to find out more about our fellow travelers.

For my first Open Mic performance , I did a sort of improv thing with some 'story cubes' (dice with pictures on them) which I asked the audience to toss. While some people told me it went well, I had a suspicion many of them were being polite. This time, I would do better, and be even more daring. I'm not going to see half of them again anyway.

I sang Valerie (Amy Winehouse) and Easy (The Commodores/Faith No More) with no music. Valerie I did entirely by myself, and for Easy I had back up singers. What an absolute blast - the audience clicked and clapped me in time, they cheered me on, and as a result I hit and held notes I didn't know I could. It was the highlight of my week, and probably the moment I completely let go of any inhibitions and just went for it. And it felt good - really bloody good.

Finishing the fast was extremely satisfying. A bowl of papaya with lime juice to start off with, then slowly introducing fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and proteins to your diet. It took me a half an hour to get through my bowl of papaya, but you probably wouldn't have guessed that judging by the look of excitement on my face...

The Sanctuary was a perfect start to my trip. It gave me confidence that I can manage this trip, complete with its challenges. More importantly though, the people there helped me to trust that there are plenty of good times ahead, and to let go of the apprehension and worry. I know I'm not just saying this, because when I left I wasn't upset - just looking forward to the days ahead.


  1. Thank you for sharing your journey with us Loz! X

  2. Thank you so much for this! I am booked for the 1 week Raw Fest myself in January. I am hoping a week is enough time, as I have only given myself7 days before I fly off to another island. Think I'll be ok?

    1. I think you'll be fine. The Raw Fest is great - lots of variety and you'll have more energy to make the most of what The Sanctuary has to offer. I'm dying to go back - enjoy your time there!