Goodbye Thailand’s islands

As I write this I’m on the upper berth of a clattery night train heading out of Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. There’s a Chinese couple on the bunks below and we’re desperate for the sheets and blankets to be given out as the air conditioning is so fierce. Around us, I can hear various languages being spoken – Thai, Chinese and the unmistakable drawl of Australian English. And now a knowledgeable Yank has piped up: ” I rode these trains before and they don’t know how to turn the air-con off. Like, at all.”

This marks the end of over two months loving the islands and beaches of Thailand. Today I said goodbye to my sister on Koh Samui. We’ve had over two weeks sunning ourselves up the east coast of Koh Phang An.

In my previous blog post, I talked about our experience at The Sanctuary and from there we travelled on this little almost dead ferry up to Thong Nai Pan Noi. It sputtered up onto the beach and we stayed in some bungalows next to what Tripadvisor calls the number one choice of accommodation on the island. We learnt that no beach looks nice in the rain, but it can look a bit better when you’re sipping a sneaky smoothie at the Anantara. Boutique chic eat your heart out. Each seafront villa had its own plunge pool… and intercom. The area in between the villas was so beautifully landscaped – think foot bridges, palms and koi carp. Yes, we had a good old nose about. My sister could review hotels for a living.

Then the sun came out and we felt compelled to stay for almost a week.

I also managed to secure my first bit of freelance yoga writing work so I’ve been spending time typing away whilst looking at beautiful turquoise sea. Much better than a desk in Whitehall.

We risked life and limb by getting back on the almost dead ferry to travel back down to the southern tip of the island, just close to the place famed for full moon parties – Had Rin. Thankfully we missed the party but I’ve still managed to see enough neon to last a life time. T-shirts, sunglasses, shorts, even a sign on our bungalow door saying ‘if floresant paint on sheet pay 600 baht’.

We stayed in a rickety bungalow perched precariously on the side of rocks overlooking crashing waves and, in the distance, Koh Samui. It felt like the end of the world.

And then onto Koh Samui for one night. On the island I pointed out every sight that was ever-so-slightly related to my teacher training:

“We ate on this beach one night!”
“We set off lanterns from right here!”
“I bought your ripped-off Muppets DVD from this stall!”

I would like to formally take this moment to apologise to Katharine for being a yoga teacher training bore. She was very understanding and made all the right noises.

I was sad to say goodbye to Kaths. We travel well together. I’d get up early to do my yoga practice and then we’d see each other at breakfast. We’re both very happy to spend time sitting relaxing although I’m much more of a shade-seeker than her. We’d have a dip in the sea, then lie to dry off. It’s a tough life. She’s off home to London in two days’ time but I’ll be seeing her and the parents in Kerala in November.

Anyway, I’m on my way to Chiang Mai in order to do a two-week Thai massage course. I’m intrigued and I’ll let you know how I get on.

Oh and we now have blankets! And I’ve had the opportunity to remember how challenging it is to use a squat toilet on a moving train! Night night sleep tight.

Clackety clack… clackety clack… clackety clack…

Creatures seeking Sanctuary: part two

To give you an update, yesterday my sister Katharine and I left The Sanctuary. I can see how easy it could be to stay there indefinitely but Katharine rightly said it was time to see more of Thailand. The Sanctuary is wonderful – there’s interesting people, the place has a bay to itself, the food is amazing and the staff bend over backwards for you (and they’re not the yogis). It brilliantly caters for people who are interested in detoxing, alternative therapies, yoga and spa treatments. It also could be a great place to get material for some new-age sketch show or parody. I heard both these comments on day one:

“Do you actually like the taste of wheatgrass?”
“My dream is to set up a commune. Wouldn’t that be the coolest thing ever?”

One girl had a daily ritual of topless hula-hooping on the beach whilst doing a great impersonation of whalesong. Another seemed to ethereally float around the place and, instead of saying hello, she’d serenely smile and slowly close and open her eyes and glide on by.

One morning she tried to separate two cats who were fighting outside her bungalow and they turned on her. She was covered in bruises and bloody scratches. This prompted a debate about whether she should jump in a boat and go to nearby Had Rin for a tetanus jab. Katharine, with her obscure medical knowledge, shared how if you contract tetanus your entire body seizes up – hence it also being known as ‘lock jaw’ disease.

The girl decided not to get the jab as she didn’t like the thought of anything unnatural in her body. She saw the cuts as a physical manifestation of the inner torment she’d been feeling over the previous few days. As you do.

At The Sanctuary there were also many women who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Primrose Hill or Chelsea. They had that hippy-chic-effortlessly-cool-yet-bohemian-yoga look. Some of us can only dream of looking that amazing in a mosquito-infested jungle doing yoga in humidity that leaves you a gorgeous shade of beetroot.

Katharine and I discussed the need to invent a word to describe this phenomenon. “We need to smoosh the words ‘yoga’ and ‘glamorous’,” said Kaths. She then had the brainwave of ‘glamoga’. I took it one step further and ‘yo-glam’ was born.

As an adjective: “she’s very yo-glam”
As a noun: “there’s loads of yo-glams here”

Feel free to incorporate as you see fit. I believe that if a word is used in common parlance by many people for a few years (note my use of specific details) it’ll enter the Oxford English Dictionary. Let’s make it happen people.

We left The Sanctuary yesterday on a dinky ferry for Thong Nai Pan Yai further up the coast. Kaths said goodbye to one guy who looked like Robinson Crusoe. Peeking out of the top of his ever-present drawstring bag was a bamboo flute. I never found out whether he could play it. “Where are you heading next?” Kaths asked him. “Erm well, I think it’s more important to live in the present moment. I’ll let the universe decide,” came his reply.

I love The Sanctuary.

Read my previous post about The Sanctuary from when I was there before my training course.

Yoga and money: an emotive subject

It’s been so wonderful to spend almost two weeks at The Sanctuary but all good things must come to an end. As I jumped into a boat to take me back to Had Rin, my new found friends waved me off from the shallows on the beach. What a farewell. I’m now writing this waiting for a 50-minute ferry to Koh Samui where I’ll start a five-week 500 hour yoga training course with Absolute Yoga.

When I mentioned this course to people at The Sanctuary, it was very devisive. Some were intrigued and had heard good things about their training, others hadn’t heard of them, and some were very opinionated indeed.

Just by looking at the Absolute website, it’s clear to see that they’re very commercial. They have studios all over Thailand. The fact that I’ll be doing a module on ‘The Business of Yoga’ makes it as clear as day. I mentioned this to one of the yoga teachers at The Sanctuary and she went off on one about how she learnt to teach from an Indian Swami who refused to take any money from her. She thinks it’s terrible that a company in Germany now calls itself a ‘yoga company’ because it offers staff a class at lunchtime (I saw where she was coming from). It is certainly an emotive subject in yoga circles.

Now I wouldn’t say that I’m very commercially-minded and I have written about this before. I know the basics having working in marketing but I completed my first teacher training at an ashram in the Himalayas. I know a bit about where it all comes from and the intention behind it – I love it all and I try to be a bit yogic in my approach to life.

I don’t know if I’ll teach full time on my return to the UK but what I do know is that I’d rather not be out of pocket having taught a class to eager, stressed Londoners. If I pick up a few tips from that particular module then that’s great.

I’m also really looking forward to Carlos Pomeda’s module on yoga philosophy, having taken a workshop with him in London a few years ago. He is a totally inspiring and engaging speaker.

Right, well the ferry’s leaving in an hour and I fancy a pad thai. I’ll keep you posted about the course.

What do you guys think about making money from yoga? Is it a possible job or would you rather not rely on it to pay your bills?

The creatures seeking Sanctuary

I’m going to take you through a typical day at The Sanctuary, Koh Phang An, but with a particular emphasis on the beings that I often meet along the way.

7.25: Alarm goes off and I emerge from under the mosquito net in my bungalow. Before my feet touch the rug on the floor, I quickly scan the floorboards checking that no creepies have snuck in through the little cracks between the floorboards that let in the sunlight and show the grass below.

I get showered and dressed for yoga. I open the front door and almost immediately I can hear Linguine, the black and white cat miaowing. He appears from behind the bushes and strolls up to my bungalow. As bold as brass, he jumps up the three concrete steps up to my balcony and tries to walk into my room. I stand blocking him at the doorway, shooing him and telling the Thai cat “no” in English. I turn my back and he’s inside collapsed by the steps that lead down to the bathroom. “Get out!” I say. “Let me flop here like my namesake. I won’t be a nuisance,” he replies in cat Thai (I’m a fast learner of languages).

I don’t want to catch Thai cat lurgies but I want him out before I leave for class. I wrap the rug around him and push him towards the door. He stays in his exact slumped, deadweight position as I deposit him under the hammock on my balcony. “Why are you being so mean?” he asks as I lock the door and leave for my class.

I walk up the stone steps to the Buddha Hall, passing little ponds containing lush green water plants and black fish. In the undergrowth there’s Ganesha statues and the occasional Buddha.

8am: Yogi Simon teaches the flow yoga class. We do some Ashtanga sun salutations and he likes making us sit cross-legged with our arms straight up in the air. Shoulders relaxed and away from our ears, fingers outstretched, bottom ribs tucked in. “It’s good for you,” he says in his clipped South African accent with his bronzed torso on show. I find myself wondering whether his slightly odd line tattoos have any significance… FOCUS!

9.30am: After class, shiny black millipedes scurry along the footpath obviously on important business. This morning, Julie (Austrian, Sivananda-loving, barmy, Hindi-speaking, ex-air cabin crew) and I discussed whether they’re millipedes or centipedes. She thinks they have more than 100 legs but less than 1000. We settled on selling them ‘twohundredandfiftypedes’.

Myself, Julie, Matieu (French, Bikram boy, big smile and big curly black hair, soon to be covering for Simba in the West End’s Lion King) and Aurore (French, also smiley, likes reading, LOVES yoga) sit having smoothies and discuss yoga whilst swiping at the mosquitoes who are also hungry for their first meal.

From left: Aurore, me, Mathieu and Julie.

I spend time sitting in a hammock under the palms on the beach reading. I might swim out to the platform and lie gazing into the see-through sea watching the Nemo clownfish dart about below. Matieu will probably be on the hammock on the platform. He’s never off the thing. We only get out when our fingers are pruney.

I might go to a talk at the Tea Temple. Yesterday’s was on Ayurveda and the Five Elements. Maybe I’m an Earth person with a touch of Fire. Throw is some of the restaurant’s healthy baked beans and I may become that popular 70’s soul band…

I might go to the 4.15 Yin Yoga class. Spend ten minutes lying on my back in a twist resisting the overwhelming temptation to fall asleep.

6/7ish: back to room, shower. Marvel at the tiny black ants on my bathroom wall, scurrying along an invisible path. They’ll be gone later but back tomorrow. What are they up to?

Dinner with yogi pals. Matieu uses his highly honed navigational skills to get us lost searching for a restaurant over the hill. The explorers emerge from the jungle and secure a spot sitting on a platform on top of a rock with views of the stars and the bay below. We eat by lantern light.

There’s a weekly film night where people lounge in the beach bar on cushions, and last night was the open mic night. Who’d have thought that ‘Ain’t nobody’ by Chaka Khan could sound so good accompanied by didgeridoo.

Then soon to bed. Tuck mozzie net in round bed and the fun really starts. Scrabbly noises in the dark… later there’s a repetitive two-tone noise that’s high then low: a huge gecko lizard. Claire from London (yes, there’s two of us. She’s from Crouch End) says they sound like they’re saying their name: GEH koooooh…. GEH koooooh. The crickets and cicadas join in too. And I fall asleep – well, at least until the gecko starts up again.

Have you been to The Sanctuary? What are your memories? Or perhaps reading this has whet your appetite. Feel free to comment below.

Oh and TTC buddies – you may spot a familiar face on the homepage of The Sanctuary website. Watch the slideshow.