There is something about the islands in the Gulf of Thailand — Samui, Phangan, and Tao — that makes them ideal for wellness retreats. It could be the fresh ocean air. It could be the back-to-nature vibe. Or it could be you’ve just attended a Full Moon Party and your liver now hates you.
Whatever your reason to get healthy, you have plenty of programmes to choose from, all set within the vanilla sands and lush jungles of the trio of gulf islands. From detox weekends to yoga retreats that cleanse mind, body, and soul; from lavish high-end options for those with no constraints to great on-the-cheap methods for the budgetconscious, Samui, Phangan, and Tao house some of Thailand’s top get-healthy destinations.
The term “detox” gets thrown around a lot these days. People try all different methods to rid their body of toxins that they’ve spent years building up. For many, this means enrolling in a programme where, under the watchful eye of trained guides, guests undergo tried and true cleansing methods. In the Gulf of Thailand, detox programmes abound, but a few stand above the rest. Still, before you start any treatment, it’s best to do research to find out what you’re getting into. Otherwise, you may be in for an unexpected surprise (colon cleanse, anyone?)
Time spent at The Sanctuary, on Koh Phangan’s Haad Thian East beach, is the stuff of travel legend. This decadesold resort has hosted countless happy customers, many of whom stay far longer than they had originally planned. Its secluded location, combined with its fantastic healthorientated facilities (they even have a yoga space topped by a pyramid that’s been astrologically-aligned with the Great Pyramid of Giza), scrumptious vegetarian and detoxorientated restaurant, and funky vibe, make it a wise choice for total wellness. Rumour has it this hotspot stoked the fire for Alex Garland’s quintessential travel tale, The Beach.
For something a little more upscale, Koh Samui’s Kamalaya has the accolades and accoutrements to back up its lofty reputation. Nestled into a cave once used by Buddhist monks as a spiritual refuge, Kamalaya has perhaps the most appropriate location on the island for soul searching and mind/body renewal. Accommodation options are posh, ranging from sea view suites to beachfront pool villas with two bedrooms. Like The Sanctuary, yoga is also available and can be combined with any detox programme.
YOGA YOUR WAY
You don’t have to be a master of backbends to partake in a yoga retreat. In fact, you’ll quickly learn that there is far more to yoga than flexibility. Yoga retreats usually consist of one session in the morning and one in the late afternoon. Many can even be combined with detox packages. There are many to choose from on the islands, each offering a singular experience, but two of the best in the crowd are located on Koh Phangan.
Acting as not just a yoga school, but a yoga university, Agama Yoga has an incredible 22 levels of learning. Their first-level intensive course is the most popular. At 28 days, with around six hours of tuition per day, it is every bit as intensive as the title suggests. But don’t be put off by the challenge. Many students are forthcoming with the words “life changing” when they describe their experiences at the school. There is some controversy about things that go on behind the scenes (it is a tantric yoga school, after all; what do you expect?), but if you want to experience yoga at a depth that goes far beyond its asanas, Agama’s classes will nourish your mind with knowledge that can be applied to everyday life.
Orion Healing Centre
Imagine waking up to fresh ocean air and easing into an early ashtanga class in a sala set on the beach. After class, you enjoy a freshly-blended smoothie that not only tastes delicious, but also does wonderful things for your body. This is the modus operandi at Orion, which, like Agama, is situated on the west coast of Koh Phangan. Orion has a style all its own. It takes a laidback approach to yoga, and its detox choices can be combined with yoga to great effect.
Wellness programs like these — even ones with low-rent dorms like The Sanctuary and Orion Healing Centre — can put a dent in the old pocketbook. If you’re on a budget, know that it’s possible, and surprisingly easy, to embark on your own DIY detox on these postcard islands.
Many detox centres offer packages without accommodation, but don’t advertise it. Take a bold step and inquire within so that you can have all the benefits of the detox without having to shell out for expensive accommodation.
Samui, Phangan, and Tao are packed with nutritionallyaware shops and restaurants. Sri Thanu on Koh Phangan’s West Coast is home to at least five healthy cafés within walking distance of each other. This gives you a chance to get in a little exercise before you unwind on the beach.
A new delivery service called Nature Home Asia ships all manner of health food — superfood, raw, and organic — to all three islands. While the service provides the proper nutrition for your body, the “mind and soul” aspects of the treatment trinity remain in your hands.
However you choose to do it, there is no such thing as a bad cleanse. Unless you really fall off the wagon, that is! Find the place that’s right for you, or channel your inner Martha Stewart and do it yourself for a totally bespoke approach. Whether you take wellness into your hands or trust in the direction of others, you’ll still bask in the glory of a refreshing, hangover-free island escape as you breathe in the salt-sweet sea breeze each morning.