Koh Phangan: The Sanctuary

Hippie Haven on the shores of the middle island…

Blue Water and Blue Sky, Koh Phangan

After 19 days relaxing and catching up with ourselves on Koh Samui, we took a ferry over to the middle island of Koh Phangan. K.P. is said to be the more backpacker friendly island, and is also the location of the “Full Moon Parties” {essentially giant raves on the beach} that are infamous in Thailand. These were something we definitely wanted to avoid {I’m just not cool enough to wear day-glo and do fire dancing until 3:00am}. Either way, we took the ferry from Bangrak Pier on Koh Samui from the Seatran Discovery company. There are about 4 ferry operations on Koh Samui, and each one has their own pier in a different location throughout the island. We wanted to make sure and deal directly with the ferry company, so we went to Bangrak Pier, instead of dealing with the “travel agents” at Nathon Pier, where there seemed to be no official ticket booths.

Our ferry took us from Bangrak to Thong Sala on Koh Phangan in about 45 minutes. In a bizarre turn of weather, we left sunny Koh Samui, and plunged into a sea of white fog, and tumultuous waves. Our boat was rocking back and forth so hard that I was very glad to reach the rainy island. It was still sprinkling when we got to Thong Sala. We were a bit muddled in our understanding of the island though, because we thought we could take a longtail boat to our hotel from this main stop. Turns out, the thing to do is take a taxi or songthaew (something like a truck with benches and a roof installed in the back-see the picture) with others, to Had Rin, which is about a quarter of the way east around the island and from there we could take a longtail boat.

A Songthaew, courtesy of Wikipedia

It took us a few minutes to figure this out (and we didn’t want to deal with any of the touts) so by the time we realized where we needed to be and how to get there, the other share taxis had left. We had to take a private taxi, which was about double what we needed to pay {but still inexpensive in the grand scheme of things}. My advice to anyone traveling to K.P. is if you take a ferry to Thong Sala, just head on over to the taxi’s and songtheaws with everyone else, and let them guide you where you need to go. You’ll end up saving money. Alternatively, there is a ferry called the Had Rin queen, that takes you from Koh Samui, directly over to Had Rin. This would have been a more direct option if you are going to the east side of the island.

Longtail Boats in Had Rin, see they have long tails!

When we were dropped in Had Rin by our taxi, we were approached by a longtail boat driver (in our case, a little person with a lazy eye and a ponytail) who could take us to our hotel directly by these boast which seem to be unique to these islands. His boat was very lovely, painted sea foam green and red, with a little alter at the front.

Little Altar and a heart {why not?} on the front of our longtail boat.

He dropped us off directly at our hotel, The Sanctuary. I had been looking forward to staying here ever since I read about it when we got to Bangkok. Our friend Pete, who was traveled Southeast Asia extensively, recommended it and said it’s got a little more to offer than the other resorts on this part of the island. It’s nice because I would still consider it an available option to backpackers on a budget, but the ambiance is really nice.

Not that the accommodations are fancy, but the whole thing about The Sanctuary is that they believe in holistic health and well-being. They have a large vegetarian restaurant (with an extensive menu), a lovely looking spa, several yoga classes and pilates classes daily, free meditation class every day and a healing center that run various workshops as well as a very popular fasting program. I was excited to have access to the vegetarian restaurant and get back into some yoga.

The Sanctuary, Koh Phangan

Naturally, a place like this attracts a more hippy-oriented crowd which was a fun change from the families we’d seen on Koh Samui. It was certainly a younger crowd, and it seemed to us that a lot of the folks staying there were perhaps recovering from the full moon party that had taken place a few weeks before. Even though we didn’t make friends with anyone in particular during our stay, it was certainly a very positive and happy atmosphere and it looked like lots of different groups of guys and girls had made friends and were hanging out together. Always a good sign.

The restaurant at the Sanctuary, note the hammocks on the side that look over the ocean!

View of the ocean from the restaurant

The Sanctuary offers a wide range of accommodations, from dorms to big houses you can rent with 10 people. We stayed in a modest fan bungalow, that featured a deck and outdoor bathroom (!!)

Our bungalow!

Inside the bungalow

Our deck and hammock!

What did you say? Oh yes, that's our squat toilet!

They didn’t offer free wifi so we didn’t use our computers at all, which was a refreshing change. We spent our days going to yoga, reading {a lot}, laying at the beach and swinging in hammocks. We also tried a meditation class. We spent 5 days here (4 nights) and considered this to really be our beach getaway vacation. The sort of vacation where you laze about by the beach, reading for hours on end, and letting your anxious mind run it’s course until you’re finally unwound.

Beach at the Sanctuary

Koh Phangan itself is a much more lush looking island, with lot’s of beautiful beaches lining the entire coast. The order of the day here are “bungalow resorts” where you can rent bungalows from anywhere from $15-$30 a day, and hang out at your own little resort. Depending on the beach, many of these are side by side so you have a wide choice of lodgings if you want to shop around. Even from our hotel, which was bordered by two other bungalow resorts, but dominated the beach was a short hike away from Had Yuan beach where there were several other options.

We weren’t having the same type of experience on this island as we were on Koh Samui (having our own place, cooking our own food, getting some work done, having our own transportation) but it’s our opinion that if you are coming to the Gulf of Thailand for vacation, that the Koh Phangan and Koh Tao are the better options for a beach vacation. Koh Samui was developed enough that there were more options for an independent set-up;  I think this would be harder to do on Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. But K.P. and K.T. are certainly the more idyllic, lush beach vacation islands where you can disconnect from the world and just relax on a perfect beach for as long as you want {something I highly encourage you to do}.

We were a excited to move onto Koh Tao at the end of our stay. All that relaxing was tough! Haha, but seriously it was a beautiful, relaxing place to stay. Next stop: Koh Tao!

<3 Chelsea

(PS. in reality we’re in Berlin, but I’m just a bit behind on ye olde blog posts, bear with me! They’re coming!)


4 responses to “Koh Phangan: The Sanctuary

  1. Hi Chelsea!

    Sending good and grateful thoughts for a most satisfying vicarious thrill. Do keep them coming. Miss you. Karen

  2. What a great account of The Sanctuary – brought back fond memories. I have also been there – in 2007… and had a great time. I agree about Samui being over developed now. Is it ok for me to use 2 images (arrival + beach shots) on the website which I edit, http://www.i-escape.com? I can credit you (but can’t insert link) if that’s ok? Pls reply by email to michael@i-escape.com. Many thanks!

  3. Love your descriptions of the sanctuary and the island. Loved my stay there this year. Regarding your expat title, what kind of life do you think there is for a western expat living there full time?

    • Thanks for your comment! I’m glad it made you think of fond memories, the Sanctuary is a great place. I think that there is some back and forth about being a full time western expat in Thailand. Non-thais are not allowed to own any property, set us internet accounts, things like that so if you wanted to really set up a life there, you would need to work with some locals on that which can be hard. However, life is certainly cheaper there so you could save some money, and in places like the Gulf of Thailand islands you can have a very sunny and warm life which would be lovely. Since I haven’t lived there continuously full time I don’t have all the information but I’d be happy to answer any other questions you have that I could. Thanks again for reading! -Chelsea

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