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Buddhist monks settled here some 2,000 years ago, and the Thai island Ko Pha-ngan has maintained its one-of-a-kind spiritual nature to this day.
Hear the name Ko Pha-ngan and all-night raves at hedonistic full-moon parties instantly spring to mind. But this sublimely pretty, jungle-clad island in the Gulf of Thailand – just across the water from party-mad Ko Samui – has also become a hot destination for yogis, who come for the chilled hippie vibe and stay for the impressive array of retreats and schools.
It’s not just about the yoga asanas (postures): most of the island’s retreats take a holistic approach, with daily meditation, pranayama (breath work), group workshops, reiki and intensive detox packages – all designed to give your physical, emotional and mental health a serious reboot. Between classes, you can get out and explore this gorgeous island, cloaked lavishly in tropical rainforest, perhaps hiring a motorcycle to rumble between crescent-shaped beaches, temples and waterfalls.
Tucked away in blissful jungle solitude in the northwest of the island, The Yoga Retreat was founded by Teresa and Kes Kennard, passionate yoga teachers who trained in Ashtanga in the ashrams of Mysore, India. The retreat has a wonderfully remote and intimate feel, with fabulous views across the rainforest from the prayer flag-bedecked shala (yoga hall), where days begin with morning sun salutations. The rooms and wooden huts are simple, but that’s really part of the back-to-nature ethos.
Come here to learn the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga, considered the ‘classical’ or ‘royal’ form of yoga, with highly experienced teachers, and realign your body’s chakras (energy channels) with pranayama and meditation. If you can resist the fantastic raw veggie and vegan food, sign up for a three- to 14-night detox program for a deep and rejuvenating cleanse.
Just south of pretty and popular Secret Beach (Haad Son), with its sugar-fine sand, shallow turquoise water and coconut palms, Orion is a fine choice on the island’s west coast. The centre shot to fame in BBC Two’s The Retreat in 2016 and has continued to go from strength to strength since. Right on the beach, the centre has a dreamy backdrop for fine-tuning your physical, emotional and mental well-being. And the sunsets here are incredible.
Yogis rave about the extensive range of classes, which swing from Vinyasa yoga to Hatha Flow yoga, aerial yoga and sleep-inducing yoga nidra. Alongside yoga, there’s always plenty going on: voice healing, vegan cooking classes, Thai massage, shamanic sounds – you name it. The kitchen plays up garden-grown ingredients in raw vegan, Thai and fusion food – and it’s all delicious.
Detox-wise, you can choose from the likes of fasting and colonic cleansing, juice detoxing to promote weight loss and eliminate toxins, and a fast coupled with daily reiki.
Reclining on Haad Chao Phao’s gentle sweep of blond sand, Samma Karuna bills itself as a centre of awakening and healing. With a wonderfully laid-back feel, it stands out among Ko Pha-ngan’s yoga retreats for its beachfront beauty, excellent array of classes and well-pitched packages (they offer budget options for backpackers on a shoestring).
With an aim to boost health and happiness, a typical five-night break here entails daily yoga classes, pranayama, Qigong and activities that go from dance meditation to rebirthing and compassionate sharing. If time isn’t an issue, the month-long Awakening and Healing Program is the ultimate game-changer. Or you can channel your energy into one of their teacher training courses, among them aerial yoga and Tantra techniques and practices. Detoxes include seven- to 29-day Ayurvedic cleanses.
Originally designed as a private retreat for friends on jungle-swathed Haad Tien Bay back in 1989, The Sanctuary still feels thrillingly remote to this day. Snatch your first glimpse of the bay – a lovely scoop of white sand lapped by azure water and ringed by rainforest – and you’ll start ticking those tropical paradise boxes. Of course it is tempting to just lounge in a hammock, but you’re here for the yoga, right? This takes place several times daily in a trio of shalas in the jungle. The teachers are second to none, with the aim being to find balance and inner peace through gentle, restorative asanas.
Besides yoga, The Sanctuary has carved out a reputation for massage and treatments in its treehouse spa, plus workshops and retreats reaching from reiki to breath medicine. Served by the beach, the food is legendary on the island, taking you right through from salads and wraps to Thai curries and winningly fresh seafood.
Slicker and more modern than most retreats, this centre promises physical and spiritual transformation – and you can believe the hype. A newer addition to Ko Pha-ngan’s yogi scene, Wonderland has a pleasingly calm vibe and a tranquil setting in the jungle-draped, waterfall-laced heart of the island.
Set up by a group of friends, Wonderland has a community-based ethos that makes it feel particularly inclusive and welcoming. Luxury dorms and private villas nestle among tropical gardens, with a pool, herbal steam room and fireside chill zone.
As for the yoga, this centre caters for all levels, with Hatha, Vinyasa and Yin styles, alongside the likes of aerial yoga and acro yoga, and other classes from rebirthing sessions to sound healing. Organic garden-grown produce goes into creating delicious vegan buffets. And cleansing here is not limited to juice fasts – take the cathartic Inner Walk, for instance, where you walk for four hours a day for four days in a row. It’s a moving meditation of sorts.