The Sanctuary

near Haad Rin, Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand Book from

Hippy island hangout that's grown up to be a seriously cool place, with detox and retox in equal measure
Detox or retox, that is the question. All-night beach-party with beers, smokes and music? Or all-day fast, with meditation, massage and a bowl of veggie broth? Both are on offer at the Sanctuary, a laid-back resort on one of the remote beaches of Koh Phangan ('Full Moon Party') island. The social life sure swings: from Notting Hill navel-gazers to Californian casting directors, it has become quite well-known, in an unpublicised sort of way, among the young and trendy. And meeting other guests is definitely part of the fun - sharing stories on the sand, or strumming guitars from a hammock.

But the health treatments are what sets it apart. Dietary courses, massages, hydrotherapy, even colonic fasting are available for those who need to de-stress physically as well as mentally. This combination makes it unique among Thai beach resorts, but it's not for everyone. If you're after a well-appointed room in a highly-organised resort, look elsewhere. If you want a memorable experience, and don’t mind some friendly chaos, self-examination and dirt under your fingers, then read on…

Highs

  • The coast here is glorious - a succession of sandy coves with turquoise sea, backed by dense green rainforest, waiting to be explored on foot or by kayak
  • You won't find a healthier or more extensive menu - from fresh seafood and spicy curries to fruit smoothies, low-salt and sugar-free - anything you can think of, they have
  • Beautiful sea-views, especially from the higher houses
  • You're guaranteed to meet some fascinating people

Lows

  • All this introspection among the young and beautiful can seem self-indulgent
  • Some of the accommodation is very basic (despite the price), and night-time noise from nearby parties can keep you awake
  • The Sanctuary don't take card and there's aren't any cash-points in the bay - best to bring cash!
  • It can get busy, but nothing like the drug-fuelled mania of Haad Rin
  • Service can be quite hit and miss, we’ve had reports of slow and unfriendly waiters and front-of-house staff
  • You are in a jungle so there will be creepy crawlies about, including irritating mozzies, spiders, frogs and geckos

Best time to go

January to April is high season, with hot and humid days, perfect for lazing on the beach. Like all islands on the eastern (gulf) side of Thailand, Koh Phangan is affected by the northeast monsoon from October to December, with the worst of the rains coming in November. Travel to/from the island can be difficult during these months. May through September are cooler, with pleasant breezes spilling over from the southwest monsoon during July - September.

Don't forget that the island is bursting for a few days either side of the full moon - you'll need to book well ahead then, and also during major Thai and western holidays. Bear in mind that Friday night is party night.

Our top tips

  • There's a minimum stay of 3 nights in all the houses (5 in peak season), and we'd recommend staying 4-5 nights for a 'casual' visitor - enough to see the area and still get some serious relaxation in
  • If you're interested in the health courses, most last 7 days. If you're doing a colonic fast, bear in mind that you shouldn't travel immediately before or afterwards, so add at least 2 nights to the course length
  • Don't bring anything valuable, as none of the bedrooms or houses have lockable doors (there have apparently been no incidents of theft to date). If you're worried, bring some small padlocks. There are no power sockets for recharging
  • Great for...

    Beach
    Eco
    Spa
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Beach Resort & Wellness Centre
    • 21 houses, suites, cottages and villas
    • Restaurant and bar
    • All ages welcome but not recommended
    • Open all year
    • Pool
    • Spa
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Daily Maid Service
    • Towels & Bedlinen
    • Snorkelling equipment available
    • Health and wellness classes
    Room:

    Rooms

    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. Of these, the luxury houses, air-conditioned rooms and hillside bungalows are prebookable, 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; located close to the yoga hall, it's a popular room, but it does get some generator noise. 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.

    Features include:

    • Fan
    • Kitchenette
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Mosquito net
    • WiFi

    Eating

    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.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Kitchenette
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Restaurant
    • Restaurants nearby
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

      Chances are you'll either be coming for a course in yoga, healing, fasting or one of the other treatments on offer - in which case that will take up most of your time and energy. Or you'll be coming to chill, swim and party, in which case that is precisely what you will do

      HEALTH AND BEAUTY
    • Try a detox programme which includes colonic fasting; made famous by Princess Diana and continues to have its fans around the world today. They talk of renewed energy, vigour and clarity of vision, though most conventional doctors consider it to be neither useful nor harmful. There's only one way to find out for sure… Be prepared to live off psyllium and clay 'shakes', and the occasional broth, oh, and to give yourself 2 colonic flushes every day
    • Alternatively, sign up for a more relaxed yoga retreat which includes daily group session, private classes, access to the spa and a therapy session
    • Spa and beauty treatments - body scrubs, facials, manicures, pedicures and after-sun massages are available (book on arrival), plus there's a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi
    • Yoga and Pilates classes are held in the tranquil meditation hall are available daily - just book the previous day. Or you can join a scheduled group at certain times of the year
    • Weight loss programme (14 days): fruit, fasting and detox coupled with daily yoga, gym and exercise routines help shed the kilos, and allow beach time too
    • Massage training (7 days) is a great gift to bring home - the course is enough to make you feel competent and comfortable with all aspects of deep-tissue massage
    • Self-realisation courses (4 to 7 days) are held at certain times of year, with 2 trainers to help you explore and transcend your limitations, often using rolphing or satsang techniques

      For current course dates, please enquire through our booking form

      OTHER ACTIVITIES
    • Once a week sees an open mic night which has a lively, relaxed atmosphere. Start warming up those vocal chords now!
    • Koh Phangan's east coast is stunningly beautiful, and surprisingly unspoilt given its proximity to the party capital, Haad Rin. A small path threads along its entire length, passing through dense rainforest and above a succession of inviting beaches
    • Our favourite beach is Had Yao, 1 hour north, whose smooth sands are often empty bar the occasional khlong (shrimp) fisherman
    • Serious hikers can continue to Thaan Praphat waterfall, particularly impressive after the rainy season
    • Book one of the resort's kayaks and paddle off to whichever cove takes your fancy
    • Or take the easy option - a longtail boat-ride along the coast, or around the whole island; it's best to find a small group to share the cost
    • There's excellent snorkelling and fishing all year round
    • Or just chill out in a hammock - there's no better place!

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Hiking
    • Kayaking
    • Nightlife
    • Snorkelling
    • Swimming
    • Well being
    • Yoga

    Kids

    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.

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    10/
    Food
    9/
    Service
    9/
    Value
    9/
    Overall

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