Ever since Alex Gar­land wrote his back­packer clas­sic The Beach, thou­sands of ad­ven­tur­ers have been search­ing for the fa­bled Thai is­land that in­spired the book. Brigid De­laney took a plane and two boats to check out ....

Friday - - Travel -

t may be more than two decades since Alex Gar­land first pub­lished his back­packer clas­sic The Beach. You couldn’t get on a plane or lie on a beach with­out see­ing copies of the book in your neigh­bours’ hands. It was reprinted 25 times in less than a year and the film rights were hot prop­erty. The Beach is a mod­ern take on Con­rad’s Heart of Dark­ness. The back­packer, Richard, meets an un­hinged Scots­man go­ing by the alias of Daffy Duck who gives him a hand-drawn map, with di­rec­tions to a beau­ti­ful is­land with a hid­den la­goon and beach, lo­cated in the Gulf of Thai­land and in­ac­ces­si­ble to tourists. Richard finds it, but he and his fel­low trav­ellers are locked in a con­stant bat­tle to keep it to them­selves.

There are many places that claim to be the in­spi­ra­tion for The Beach in­clud­ing the un­de­vel­oped Ang Thong Na­tional Ma­rine Park near Koh Samui. But there is one place I kept hear­ing about that was the orig­i­nal in­spi­ra­tion for The Beach: The Sanc­tu­ary on Koh Phangan. Even its name has a Beach­like vibe.

One friend who was get­ting over a break-up went there for a week and ended up stay­ing sev­eral months. The visit changed her life, she told me. ‘Get on a plane, do what it takes, just get over there,’ she urged.

The Sanc­tu­ary is a hip­pie re­sort that spe­cialises in yoga, spa treat­ment, detoxes and al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies yet also of­fers a party-vibe if that’s what you want. Ac­com­mo­da­tion ranges from dorm rooms to self-con­tained air-con­di­tioned bun­ga­lows, high up in the jun­gle hills.

Be­cause it was less known, it was not easy to find. When the weather is wet you can pay a guy to take the some­times-treach­er­ous route in­land though dense jun­gle to get to re­sort but if it’s calm, you can ar­rive by sea.

I flew from Pe­nang to Koh Samui and caught a boat to Haad Rin wharf, then scram­bled down rocks with a suit­case, which got tossed onto a fish­ing boat, be­fore we took off, away from the hec­tic beaches that are home to the full moon par­ties and headed to­wards a string of beaches that sit at the start of steep hills, cov­ered in jun­gle. We pulled in to Haad Tien, which is made up of three bays and is the home of The Sanc­tu­ary.

As soon I got off the boat, car­ry­ing my suit­case aloft as I waded though the wa­ter, I was greeted by man­agers Michael Doyle and Nolan Dalby. Doyle has been on the is­land for al­most 20 years. An

Ir­ish­man, he lived and worked for a time in Aus­tralia as a psy­chi­atric nurse, be­fore he went trav­el­ling around Asia and dis­cov­ered ‘the beach’.

‘The Sanc­tu­ary in the early days was a few hip­pies on the beach. It started as a com­mu­nal thing 20 years ago. Ten to 15 years ago they built the well­ness cen­tre. Con­scious, colour­ful party peo­ple come here,’ said Doyle.

Each year more dorms and bun­ga­lows are added on to ac­com­mo­date the grow­ing word-of-mouth crowds but costs are kept down, which re­sults in an eclec­tic mix of bud­get­ing back­pack­ers and older, monied trav­ellers hav­ing a week or two off from their banking jobs.

The Sanc­tu­ary eas­ily fits the de­scrip­tion of par­adise. And not just be­cause it’s dev­as­tat­ingly pretty with an azure bay cir­cled by palm trees. It’s par­adise be­cause it op­er­ates like a com­mu­nity but with­out the bor­ing chores like clean­ing, cook­ing and gov­er­nance.

Peo­ple work hard and then come back for six months and chill. The com­mu­nity as­pect is strength­ened by the fact that many peo­ple aren’t just pass­ing through on their way some­where else – it’s one of those places where peo­ple come for a week and stay for months, or in some cases, years.

‘There’s a cur­rent be­tween here and Bali,’ said Dalby, who also man­ages the prop­erty. ‘A num­ber of yoga teach­ers and heal­ers go be­tween the two. We find peo­ple chang­ing their flights all the time. There have been peo­ple who get to the air­port on the boat and they turn around and come back.’ One

Ir­ish guest, Anne-Marie, loved it so much she moved into the bay area per­ma­nently.

‘One of the most beau­ti­ful things I find is that peo­ple re­ally bond,’ she said. ‘You see guests at the start and they are quiet and ner­vous and then they might do some­thing like a course or a fast – and get great sup­port from the oth­ers do­ing it – and they are friends for life.’

Dalby added: ‘Peo­ple be­come friends then come back with each other. That’s preva­lent on the is­land – peo­ple work hard and then come back for six months and chill.’ The Sanc­tu­ary is a good bal­ance be­tween party and healthy. There is a fast­ing cen­tre that sits down near the beach and is run by a man by the name of Mr Moon. The fasters sit in lounges away from the main club area, and drink their spe­cial detox drinks at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Not far away is the restau­rant, which is the hub of the com­mu­nity. I was feast­ing not fast­ing and each day en­joyed pad Thai or seafood curry served in a co­conut.

On my first night, Doyle told me about the par­ties ev­ery Fri­day night on an­other part of the is­land. ‘You go and just con­nect.’ He took his two peace fin­gers and pointed them at me – ‘con­nect’.

‘There are no drugs here,’ he as­sured me. ‘Through the eyes you have a con­nec­tion with peo­ple.’

At first, I spent time alone in my room, high up in the hills with a bal­cony over­look­ing the bay, or read­ing the Bangkok Post in the restau­rant, eaves­drop­ping and scrib­bling in my jour­nal.

But I soon found my way to the heal­ing cen­tre where you can put your name down to sam­ple var­i­ous New Age ther­a­pies. I signed up for an ‘ec­static dance’, and

The Sanc­tu­ary eas­ily FITS the de­scrip­tion of par­adise. And not just be­cause it’s dev­as­tat­ingly PRETTY but be­cause it op­er­ates like a COM­MU­NITY but with­out bor­ing chores like clean­ing and COOK­ING

at dusk I made my way along the trail to the hall. There were around eight of us and we sat in a cir­cle, with Pa­trick as our guide. He was Aus­tralian – from a small town out­side Syd­ney – and had hair so blond it was al­most white. He wore those Thai fish­er­man’s pants with the com­pli­cated knot­ting at the front and more bil­lows than a bag­pipe yet he car­ried it off. He had a sort of re­gal bear­ing.

‘I take peo­ple into the jun­gle and we do an­ces­tral move­ment and games,’ he ex­plained. ‘Ev­ery­thing in the jun­gle speaks to us. I’m in­ter­ested in rewil­d­ing the hu­man be­ing.’

Pa­trick had mixed up a drink con­tain­ing ca­cao, a choco­late plant. Mu­sic played. He passed around the drink and we were asked

The well­ness CEN­TRE stocks plen­ti­ful detox books. Fast­ing and DETOX – to­gether with colonics – is the only way to CLEAN out the MUCK in our guts, ap­par­ently, and The Sanc­tu­ary of­fers it all

to state what we were grate­ful for. There were sev­eral fasters in the group whose grat­i­tude seemed deeper and more pro­found than the grat­i­tude of the eaters, who said things such as, ‘I am grate­ful to be here.’

The fasters were grate­ful not just for be­ing there, but also for be­ing. In the dark­ened hall, the whites of their eyes were il­lu­mi­nated like they were wear­ing Hal­loween con­tact lenses. Their num­ber in­clude a monk, an MBA stu­dent, a hyp­no­tist, a lawyer and a trav­eller who had pre­vi­ously worked in the arts and cul­ture sec­tor in Dar­win.

Over 90 min­utes I danced ‘ec­stat­i­cally’, start­ing with Poly­ne­sian-style move­ments and clap­ping, fol­lowed by call and re­sponse

and then just free-form danc­ing, un­til I was drip­ping with sweat. Then Pa­trick played African drums and guitar and then a flute and we all laid on yoga mats. The can­dles around the room burned and the jun­gle made noises and it was in­cred­i­bly great and peace­ful and then there was a tape of an In­dian voice say­ing, ‘Be grate­ful for ev­ery­thing’, and for a few long min­utes, I was.

The well­ness cen­tre stocks plen­ti­ful detox books locked in a cabi­net that smells musty. The first book I pulled out looked old, and was filled with di­a­grams of in­testines. Fast­ing and detox – to­gether with colonics – is the only way to clean out them muck in our guts, ap­par­ently, and The Sanc­tu­ary of­fers it all.

Through­out the week I feasted on de­li­cious hand-made rice pa­per rolls with prawns, huge chunks of grilled salmon with soba noo­dles, co­conut-bat­tered fried fish with jas­mine rice and green curry sauce, fish cakes, fried spring rolls filled with veg­eta­bles and prawns, smooth­ies and juices, fresh co­conuts, cock­tails, and fresh gin­ger, lemon and honey tea.

Dalby told me that their reg­u­lar vis­i­tors tend to al­ter­nate – they’ll come and en­joy the yummy food, and the next visit they’ll do a detox.

We’ll see.


Spec­tac­u­lar views, fresh fruit and warm hos­pi­tal­ity are just a few at­trac­tions

The food at The Sanc­tu­ary is a per­fect bal­ance be­tween party and healthy

For those who are not on a strict detox, there are plenty of de­li­cious food op­tions to choose from

New Age ther­a­pies and chill­ing out on the beach in the moon­light are par for the course

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