Thailand’s The Sanctuary: How a hippie hideaway remodeled right into a high seaside retreat

Ko Phangan, Thailand (CNN) – Michael Doyle first traveled to Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand in the 1980’s, enjoying a comfortable life in the island’s suburbs in the middle of an Australian nursing home.

Later, he settled in Hat Rin, a sunny beach south of the island where the fast-growing wolves around the world offered everything from trance and tai chi to hedonism and spirituality.

By 1989, Hat Rin had become world-famous for his monthly Full Moon party on the beach, and Doyle melted away and started a “new Goa.”

One day in 1991, a well-known friend invited Doyle to a new opening party on a private beach beyond the beach. It was called the “Holy of Holies,” and it was accessible only by boat or canoe down steep mountains and rocky outcrops.

He agreed, and choosing the latter route, he and his new friends began to embark on a difficult journey.

Doyle explains: “When we got to the first mountain, we saw a very white, empty beach, it was real magic.” But it had not yet reached the “shore,” and the group traveled through a narrow lane of communication between large stone groups.

“We checked the second port before sunset,” says Doyle. “Coming down from there, I felt like I was going through some kind of invisible membrane and I realized,‘ well, my life has changed. “

Sitting among Volkswagen’s largest rocky outcrops drenched in white sand, the Sanctuary at the time had a tall house dorm, several wooden and grass bungalows and an open cafe. The opening party exploded for three days, sharing food and entertainment, as well as the establishment of a large meditation pyramid.

The magician Doyle had been there for three months, along with a few other long-time members who joined in to form other bungalows.

Initially, the Sanctuary was accessible only by boat or by sea.

reverently the Holy Place

Perfect vibe

Behind the scenes were two Koh Phangan people, Gill Beddows and Steve Sanders, who decided to set up a Sanctuary after being frustrated by the ongoing trade in Hat Rin.

“At Hat Rin we sold restaurants, and we participated in big parties,” says Beddows. “But one day Steve said he found an amazing beach on the beach.”

He advised them to try to do something worthwhile there.

Known as Hat Thian (Mangrove Beach), the lake belonged to a Thai family of Sanders friends. This made it easier to reach a lease agreement and build a Holy Place, compared to many other plots divided into several competing families.


Pictured here in its early days, the Sanctuary was established in the 1990s.

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“We started building in 1990,” says Beddows. “Steve and I spent some time in Osho ashram in India, and our experiences had a profound effect on us. From the very beginning, we focused on health and spirituality, and provided opportunities for recreation on the beach. We wanted to be a yoga training center and the removal of toxins, and alternative therapies that are now widely accepted, but which were then witchcraft. “

For the first seven or eight years, the Sanctuary and its long-term residents were interested in being informed by the press.

“We heard that the place had a very good vibe, and we didn’t want it to be ruined,” said Doyle. “So for a while we tried to keep it to ourselves, as word of mouth among our friends, as best we could.”

The anointing of the ‘Coast’?

Unsurprisingly, in 1996 first-time author Alex Garland published “The Beach,” an intriguing story of a small, loose group of self-employed travelers from around the Thai coast.

Reprinted 25 times in less than a year, the book became Generation X’s “Lord of the Flies”, and in 2000 was revised to $ 40 million by Danny Boyle and Leonard DiCaprio.

The story unfolds as Richard, a British protagonist, encounters a sad Scottish briefcase at a Bangkok guesthouse in Khao San Road who paints a map of Richard’s home before committing suicide.

Richard and a French family follow the map to a hidden island on a beautiful island, where they find a group of celebrities around the world struggling to keep their idyll out of sight.

CNN Travel was unable to reach Garland to confirm or deny the connection, but a similarity to The Sanctuary led to rumors that going to a safe place would give him some encouragement.

“We believed in hippies that everyone could be together, and we didn’t have to allow the outside world to allow money to ruin anything.”

Gill Beddows, Founder of the Sanctuary

Originally, the fictional group Garland and The Sanctuary was formed in 1990.

As Gill Beddows oversees the development of the Sanctuary, with the help of an experienced architect, a secret team on the edge of Garland’s book is supervised by Sal, a woman with a carpenter’s girlfriend. While Beddows and Sanders are from the UK, Sal and his partner are American and South African.

In the book, Sal explains to Richard: “Obviously, this is not just a beachfront. But at the same time, it’s just a beachfront. We come to relax near a beautiful beach, but it’s not a beachfront because we want to escape the beachfront. Or we want to make it. a place that can’t be a resting place. See? “

Asked if Garland actually visited the Sanctuary, Doyle said, “I vividly remember the boy hanging from the manger and watching the life-style for a few weeks in the ’90s. like a movie. “

Beddows are coming in very promising for Garland.

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Several sleeping options are offered, ranging from private suites to shared dorms.

reverently the Holy Place

“As soon as the book came out, I knew.” he says. “It just happened a lot by accident.

“We lived in the hippie belief that everyone could be together, and we didn’t have to let the outside world allow money to ruin everything. Little by little the realities came, knowing that this would not be good without money.

“As our yoga, self-study and weight loss programs grew, and these things began to sell in Thailand, we realized that it would be crazy not to share the knowledge and skills we had developed. We were already ahead of it.”

The pair asked Doyle to oversee the Sanctuary in 1998 so they could do other things on the islands and at home in the UK.

As the self-proclaimed Capricorn “Capricorn,” Doyle established the site in the 21st century, developing programs in goodness and spirituality in the far-flung market, where he developed close friendships with loyal guests who returned year after year.

By 2013, the Sanctuary was held for a long time and staff were removing hundreds of applications to attend the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Former Sanctuary representative Nolan Dalby oversaw daily in 2016, although Doyle, who now lives in Koh Samui, remains in attendance.

Covid-19 presents new challenges

The spread of coronavirus began to spread around the world in March 2020, Sanctuary was in the middle of another good season. Although international news prompted many visitors to evacuate, and the people who were supposed to come were canceling their reservations, a dozen or more visitors to the Sanctuary remained until the end of the month.

As Doyle recalls, “We had to make a lot of quick decisions, threatening the closure of the border and the people who stayed in the house. Considering the safety and comfort of our guests, as well as what was good for us as a business, we invited everyone to stay in the restaurant one evening. let’s talk.

“We are told that by the time the island is closed, they may not be allowed to go to sea, and that food may be lean. In the end, everyone left except the family to whom we gave the best prices as long as they failed.”

With Dalby and a small group of people – many Sanctuary staff decided to return to their home during Thailand’s closure from mid-March to mid-May – the facility continued to function.

The restaurant offered a summary of the residents of Hat Thian for a long time, taking only when they were closed, and then eating. Dalby bought a small generator to run on fuel, using electricity for a few hours each day.

While most restaurants in Koh Phangan and surrounding areas of Thailand were completely closed from mid-March to June or later, the Sanctuary maintained its uninterrupted record for even one day since its first opening.

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Sanctuary health programs include yoga, self-examination and self-control.

reverently the Holy Place

“In many ways, the current crisis brings me back to the early days,” says Doyle. “I remember when I first arrived in 1991, the Sanctuary had only one Kubota generator, which lit up in the morning to start making a smoothie blender at the restaurant, and then for a few hours in the evening.”

With a handful of home guests working for him, Dalby focused on ways to provide sanctuary for people trapped anywhere in the world.

With the help of a photographer who went to the Sanctuary shortly after closing, Dalby set up a video studio in one of the bungalows available for yoga classes to be conducted via Facebook and other online services.

As more equipment became available, and the public studio became more advanced, Dalby connected with Vimeo Livestream Studio online to record teachers, facilitators and other professionals living outside of Thailand giving advice on meditation, mobility, housekeeping, Pilates and yoga for example in the studio.

Sanctuary now has its own video footage and video footage as well as a dedicated page, Sanctuary Wellness Live.

“With new arrivals to Thailand from other countries still a minority, Vimeo’s studio makes The Sanctuary open to all,” says Dalby.

Currently on the “beach,” tourists, both Thais and tourists in Thailand, enjoy daily yoga classes, spa facilities, meditation, nutrition and detox programs (if requested), including beauty spots. which, to almost isolated – about 20 years ago.

Sanctuary, 6 153/14 Ban Tai, Koh Phangan District, Surat Thani 84280; +66 (0) 77 954 073

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