“Hippy island hangout that's grown up to be a seriously cool place, with detox and retox in equal measure”
Hidden among the palm and cashew trees above the beach, you'll find a surprising number of stilted wooden houses, rooms, simpler bungalows and dorms (36 on last count). Of these, the luxury houses, air-conditioned rooms and hillside bungalows are prebookable (min 3 nights), while the dorms aren't. Luxury is, of course, a relative term. Here it means fabulous open-plan design and tree-top terraces. For these are home-made, home-designed extravaganzas of casuarina, bamboo and thatch, with open-plan rooms and back-to-nature plumbing.
Of these bookable options, the most stylish is Ocean View Round House, built by co-founder Steve as his 'dream house'. It's a perfectly circular platform under a pyramidal thatch, but the pièce de résistance is a small bridge leading onto a vast, flat-topped granite boulder with unbeatable sea-views. Another favourite is Leela House, built in a large, open-plan L shape. More secluded is Star House, built over several levels and set deep in the forest canopy, with an outdoor bathtub for bathing in the moonlight. Garden House is set in its own private garden with a great view of the bay. Sunshine Cottage has an elevated sun-deck where you can see the sun rise over the horizon, or the myriad stars puncture the dark night’s sky. We also like the look of Rainbow House, spread over several levels with ladders, boulders and a semi-open-air chill area.
Of the others, the 4 Weemarn (Angel) Houses and the Weermarn (Angel) Beach House are smaller and nearer the restaurant (easier access, but more noise), while Padma House is set back in the jungle for more privacy. If you want air-con, book a room in the newer garden building, a 5-minute walk from the restaurant and beach. The Palms Villa has lots of living space and can be booked with an additional hut for 2, the Garden Suite has a kingsize double bed but not much extra room so may be better for a solo traveler. The Garden Deluxe Suites have an additional sofa bed in the lounge, so could sleep 4 at a squeeze. Also available are 2 Hillside Bungalows, situated between the beach and yoga halls, these deluxe bungalows are spartan wicker-and-thatch affairs with fans, but do offer kingsize beds, hammocks and balconies.
Most of these have indoor and/or outdoor living space, room for extra beds or mattresses, a kitchenette with gas rings, running water and a small fridge, and a bathroom, often built against the granite boulders, equipped either with shower or tub (gas-heated water).
If all else fails - or if you are on a seriously tight budget - there are a few mixed dorms (these are’t bookable) above the restaurant with 8 thin, netted mattresses on the floor. Take your earplugs and not much else, as space and security are limited.
Just above the beach is a large, open-sided, thatched building which houses the restaurant and bar, as well as the dorm, library and reception. It's the hub of the resort, with a constant stream of guests and staff padding through, flip-flops in hand, or swopping travellers' tales from the comfort of a bamboo easy chair or a low-slung hammock.
People-watching aside, it's also a great place to enjoy what must be the most specialised and frankly the most fascinating menu in southern Thailand. They serve up fresh seafood and an array of vegetarian dishes including spicy curries, steamed or stir-fried veg, snacks and spring rolls, salads, sandwiches and open baguettes, pasta, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, soups, cocktails, all-day fried breakfast, fruit fritters, cakes, fresh mixed fruit juices, shakes and smoothies, tofu burgers, low-salt and sugar-free dishes, pre- and post-fast broths … You name it, they've got it - which is all the more impressive when you consider that most ingredients are boated in (fresh) from Haad Rin.
We’d suggest you immediately order the smoothie of the day from the bar and then settle down with the menu. Choosing takes a while, and service can be slow, so be prepared. Our recommendations include the carrot, apple and yoghurt salad, the steamed snapper with lemon and ginger, the boiled pumpkin with yoghurt and grated coconut, the tofu pad thai on a bed of crunchy veg and cashews, the pumpkin and garlic soup, the halved pineapples filled with veg and nuts (sure beats a bag of crisps!) and - if your diet allows it - the rich banana chocolate fool. If not, you might allow yourself a 'revival ball' of ginseng, royal jelly, spirulina and chocolate chips.
All dishes - and all guests - are assigned a number, so you end up saying "Hi, I'm 170 and I'd like a 119 and a 56". If you're unsure (and let's face it, it's a daunting choice), stick to the veggie options - it's what they do best, and it may even convert you. If you prefer fish, go for steamed - the BBQ'd steaks come overcooked and dry.
The Tea Temple, which acts as a tea house, a cafe, a library, a health shop, and lounge, serves drinks and snacks throughout the day, and offers a healthy lunch menu of Japanese favourites, including sushi rolls and miso soup.
We would not recommend the Sanctuary for children - it's hard to reach, and the activities are definitely geared for adults. However, you do see some couples with toddlers, and occasionally with teenagers. The hotel prefers not to have children in and around the bar area after dark and there are no special meal plans or facilities for children.