Hotel Review: Ko Pha Ngan’s The Sanctuary
When I first visited The Sanctuary in 2004, it was a small, fairly rustic resort with a family feel to it. A detox center drew those who were looking to clean up or lose weight, while the organic, vegetarian-friendly restaurant and hang-out space catered to travelers who were after something a bit quieter than next-door’s Had Rin (home of the infamous Full Moon Party). In fact, The Sanctuary’s tagline used to be “… when you’re looking for something different.”
Six years later, The Sanctuary has more than doubled in size and quadrupled in price. That doesn’t mean it’s huge or expensive, but it’s no longer a quiet, rustic hideaway.
Today, The Sanctuary is a bustling place full of activities. The detox center has grown, with special dorm rooms and bungalows that cater to fasters. Luxury accommodation and cheap dorm rooms mean that travelers with any budget can enjoy staying there. Nightly activities, including a crowded open mic night as well as concerts and movies, add a social vibe.
Where is The Sanctuary: arrival and check-in
The Sanctuary is located on Had Thien, a very small beach just north of Had Rin. It’s best reached by long-tail boat from Had Rin (2011 prices were about 200 baht per person on a relatively full boat with calm water). Boats leave when there are enough passengers to make it worth the driver’s while. There’s also a very bumpy and muddy road to the beach, though folks have told me that it’s pretty bad if you have to sit in the back of the truck.
When you arrive at Hat Thien, it’s obvious which operation is The Sanctuary. Check-in is at the reception counter located just off of the restaurant in the large pavilion off the beach. Staff will carry your bags to you room, which is great if you’re staying waaaay back in the jungle.
As stated, rooms range from budget dorms to full-on family housing. Air-conditioning and private bathrooms are available in most of the options. Those who who are on a cleanse can choose from regular accommodation or special fasters’ rooms; the bungalows set up for fasters have special bathrooms for colonics, while the fasters dorms are female-only, roomy and comfortable, with air-con and privacy screens.
In a word: excellent. Also: expensive. But you get what you pay for, and in a good way. Organic greens, raw and healthy dishes, and a massive selection all combine to make eating at The Sanctuary one of the most pleasurable activities there. Everything is fresh and full of flavor; think giant salads, seafood with creative sauces and salsas, and delicious soups. Baked goods round out the healthy options.
The restaurant setting is equally excellent, with several levels built into and around giant boulders. It feels a bit like a tree house a la Swiss Family Robinson. The restaurant sits right next to the ocean, offering gorgeous and relaxing views.
Facilities and Amenities
The Sanctuary is a spa destination, though a bit more rustic than your average resort in Thailand. Anything from one to seven-day cleanses are offered, with an entire menu of activities to complement the cleanse (these are also open to regular guests): yoga, aerobics, massage, facials and waxing, a steam room, and more. Classes and workshops are also held, from shamanic healing to Ayurvedic consultations. The Tea Temple is where many of the classes are held, a peaceful (if mosquito-infested) pavilion in the jungle.
An internet cafe charges 3 baht per minute for an average Internet connection, and wireless is available for 2-4 baht per minute depending on how many minutes you purchase. It was quite slow, but perfectly adequate considering the location.
Both of my stays at The Sanctuary were excellent. In 2011 I was there for a seven-day cleanse and I found the staff helpful and accessible.
My only complaint is that The Sanctuary tries to be all things to all people, and ends up feeling a bit scattered. Is it a spa destination? A cool budget retreat? A family destination? A party place? It’s all of these, but these don’t all fit together perfectly. You end up with fasters annoyed with the parties, partiers annoyed with the children, penny pinchers eating at other restaurants on the beach, and other sort of disjointedness.
Still, that’s a small complaint and can easily be reversed to say that there’s a little something for everyone….
Note: I didn’t have my camera when I was there, so I don’t have any photos of the Sanctuary. Apologies!
[Photo credit: benhamin, Flickr]