At the suggestion of my yoga teacher, I decided to head down south to Koh Phangan to do a week long Ashtanga yoga retreat at The Yoga Retreat (TYR) located on the north part of the island. I had booked a private room with a private bathroom well in advanced and did their retreat that included yoga once in the morning at 7am and a philosophy lecture in the afternoon around 4pm. They have a vegan cafe attached to the facilities and the food there is some of the best I have ever eaten.
Koh Phangan is seriously a magical island and as yoga hippy as it sounds, I had a truly transformative experience there.
The people I met during my retreat were some of the most fun, caring and creative souls I have come into contact with, I can't believe I only spent 7 days with them! I am grateful for social media that allows me to stay in touch and I hope our paths cross again soon! Elise Greenspoon was the instructor while I was there and she is such a special lady! I am so honored and grateful to have met her and been able to learn from her. Although she no longer teaches at TYR she does often travel and teach internationally. I recommend you check her classes out if she comes to a city near you! She is a level II authorized Ashtanga teacher, and currently is teaching in the Netherlands :) you can find her on Facebook @GreenspoonYoga
My first night at TYR brought me little sleep, I found myself listening to all the various creepy crawlers that I was sure were going to attack me as I lay in my bed. I had a bug net so they weren't actually going to get me but it was the first time being pretty much in a jungle. I also was lucky enough to shower with a tarantula about the size of my hand on one of my first nights and I can tell you it was thoroughly terrifying as I am afraid of spiders, but it was actually completely harmless. The experience has made me less frightened of spiders as I have yet to encounter any near that size since (thank goodness!).
After yoga each morning, typically we would all eat breakfast together at the cafe and then you were free to use the afternoon as you pleased. Most of the time I would go to the nearby beach and get a massage, hang out, swim, and have lunch. Haad Salad is in walking distance from TYR but the hill is pretty intense, so I would hire a taxi with some of the other people for really cheap to get back. We also walked down to Haad Mae Hat, but that is a bit farther away. There I rented a snorkel and got to see lots of fish without having to go very far out. Koh Phangan is one of the popular places to get scuba certified as it is supposedly one of the cheapest places to learn. I have never been scuba diving, but if I were to go back to Thailand I would probably take a course!
Most people usually rent a scooter to get around the island, but I didn't as I was only there for 7 days and pretty much could walk or get a taxi for cheap to anywhere I needed to go. Also I was a little bit scared to get one because I had heard about lots of people getting injured and a few people at the retreat were recovering from scooter accidents. The roads are not always in the best conditions for riding. Also, there are TONS of stray dogs on the island that pretty much do as they please and hang out in roads and don't care about incoming vehicles or anything so you have to drive carefully and be very cautious.
One night all of us went to this place near Chaloklum called the Dome which is essentially an herbal sauna that you can pay a few baht to use. They give you a sarong, unlimited watermelon and tea. They also have special cookies available for purchase. The area is really cool and unfortunately I don't have pictures. However, it was a little clearing with a bonfire with lots of pillows and cushions spread around so you could just lay back and enjoy the stars. There were also little cabana type structures with pillows and cushions where groups of people were gathered. They had ambient music playing and the place is owned by a hippy expat American, sometimes they have live music and events. Most of our group were in bathing suits in the sauna but other parties were completely nude, just an FYI if you plan to check it out :P They have a Facebook page @saunakohphangan
My friend Courtney met me on the island at the end of my retreat and we had rented a little bungalow on the beach from AirBnB. Most things in Thailand are not as luxurious as they are advertised, but you get what you pay for. I think we paid $10/night for three nights so we really couldn't complain. Koh Phangan is infamous for their Full Moon Party that takes place on the entire beach of Haad Rin every full moon. Both Courtney and I wanted to check it out, but I ended up not enjoying it at all. However, before the party we met up with my German friends Lisa and Stella who also came to the island for the party. We ate at the Amsterdam Bar which was close to our little bungalow. There we painted ourselves in neon paint, which is what everyone does for the party. We probably shouldn't have been painting each other in a bar/restaurant but they didn't seem to mind and actually one server asked if he could paint something on my leg and I let him. Everyone is so laid back in Thailand apparently it wasn't even a thing for him to just take a break and paint someones leg ha. The actual party is pretty crazy and I am glad I went for the experience. I am not much of a partier or a drinker and everyone there was like blackout drunk and sloppy, which is what the party promotes. I found it similar to tourists who visit Las Vegas with the "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" mentality. I had read about shady stuff happening to party goers so none of us ended up drinking there. It was fun to see the entire beach packed with people, but it was less fun trying to move through them. All the bars in the area had different DJs with different genres. Stella wanted to find the Reggae bar as she had heard good things about it but we ended up not even making it that far. We did get to see people jumping fire rope (mostly just getting burned) and sliding down a rooftop slide of one bar. I think I didn't enjoy it because it really isn't what I'm into but I was also like zen-ed out from my week of yoga that I was on a different frequency. I don't regret going and if that sounds like fun to you definitely check it out! Our taxi driver got in a fist fight with a tourist as we were trying to leave which was kind of exciting and scary...the whole atmosphere was crazy down there!
The day after the party was our last full day on the island. I had last minute decided to get a Sak Yant tattoo from Ajahn Man, owner of Triangle Ink. It was another magical experience, I believe the artist is also a monk but he designed a tattoo for me and hand poked it in. After he was done he took the time to explain the meaning and then blessed it with a little ceremony that included chanting and maybe lasted 15-20 minutes. You can check out his other work on Instagram @ajahnman. Traditional tattoos heal much more quickly and differently than ones that use a machine. The picture was take 3 days after the tattooing process and was pretty much completely healed. Another girl at TYR had gotten a tattoo from him a few days prior and she had spent time researching him and making sure he was legit and everything was sterile, so that is also why I felt safe going to him. I asked him very last minute and am very grateful he was able to fit me in! Although my mother was less than enthused about my decision, I don't regret it one bit!
That night we returned to the Amsterdam Bar, which if you didn't guess from the name they sell joints and happy shakes but also have the best view of the sunset on the entire island since it is kind of placed up on a hill. We thought it would be a fun place to watch the sun set on our last night on the island but apparently everyone from the Full Moon Party had the same idea so unfortunately it was super crowded with no where to sit or stand so we ended up leaving and only catching a bit of the sunset. - I should note that when you arrive on the island there is a huge sign informing you that bringing/purchasing or using drugs on the island is prohibited, however that seems to be mostly for show because it didn't seem to be enforced at all?-
The next day we left the island by boat and took a night train back up to Bangkok, on our way north to Chiang Mai! Stay tuned for my next post that includes lots of temples, elephants and thai cooking!
Stay curious friends!