On a boat trip © Ksenia N.
Anytime I go on a trip, I leave my expectations behind. I go with an open heart, and I come back filled with the joy of new adventures, new people and revelations.
In “Thailand: My Eat, Pray, Love Trip” post, I outlined the itinerary of my spontaneous trip, planned in between writing master’s thesis and packing my San Francisco studio for the big move to New York. I had already booked my carefully coordinated flights – all in all, six. My mind was busy with everyday errands, so much that I didn’t even realize that my dream of experiencing a beautiful island yoga retreat was about to come true. My reasons for choosing a retreat over a party-filled weekend, say, in Mexico or Miami were simple: finishing school and beginning a new, busier phase of my life, and searching for a way to release stress accumulated in the months of writing thesis and figuring out which people I want to have in my life and which I don’t. Classic yoga retreat material.
One windy December day in San Francisco, I presented my thesis – a business plan for a high-end discount online store with one of a kind virtual styling services (only to find out a few months later that discount industry leader Gilt Groupe implemented one of the concepts I used for my plan, something that hadn’t existed on the market before). 24 hours later, having left behind all my cares and worries, I was sitting on a plane on my way to Tokyo, then to Bangkok, then to Phuket. My Bangkok food adventures with Linda of My Hungry Monster deserve a separate post, so I will start with the “Pray” part of my amazing trip.
At Phuket airport, crowds of pale tourists were arriving and crowds of hungover tourists departing from the most popular party destination in Thailand. I took a taxi straight to Bang Rong Pier, where I hopped on a wooden tail-boat operated by a young fisherman with an iPod in his pocket and a look of deep, but somehow warm longing. The boat was red, the wind was refreshing, the view unbelievable: restless blue sky, tiny green islands and harbors filled with gracious white yachts. In that moment, I realized: THIS IS IT.
Boat trip to Koh Yao Noi © Ksenia N.
Review: Island Yoga (Koh Yao Noi, Thailand)
I found out about Koh Yao Noi Island Yoga retreat online (Thailand Yoga Retreats). It’s based on Koh Yao Noi, a small island that has only 5,000 inhabitants and was named one of Thailand’s last unspoilt islands by The Guardian. Koh Yao Noi is located in Phang Nga province, next to slightly more touristy Koh Yao Yai, with significantly larger and more heavily populated Phuket and Krabi on the either sides of Koh Yao brothers.
Koh Yao Noi is a perfect getaway in itself: besides beautiful flora and fresh food, small island is known for its friendly people who smile to every passer-by. A big part of the hospitality industry on Koh Yao Noi is run by local families, which makes the whole experience more personalized. And so it is at the Island Yoga base camp: run by the kind and sarcastic Mr. Bey and his family, it hosts yogis from all over world in the most hospitable way. You can choose your accommodation according to your likes and budget: for a raw experience that includes no hot water but offers all the basics, go for Budget Bungalow. If you’d rather warm showers and your own fridge in a renovated room, pick Deluxe Bungalow. If you can’t live without an AC, Deluxe Bungalow option is for you.
Deluxe Bungalow at Koh Yao Noi Island Yoga © Ksenia N.
If you’re looking for a truly luxe experience, look no further and go to The Paradise. The chic resort offers yoga classes taught by the same teachers as the retreat reviewed here, only in a more luxurious setting.
The Paradise Koh Yao Noi © Ksenia N.
I was blissfully happy in my budget bungalow, despite an occasional centipede crawling in my shower. I started my day by waking up to the sunset, doing a walking meditation to the beach, and then beginning the group asana practice. After morning yoga we had breakfast that consisted of delicious tropical fruits, porridge, toasts and eggs, and then used our free time to discover the island – usually by motorbikes, and sometimes by kayaks or local taxis. When I say “we”, I am talking about a group of very international, interesting and shining people that I met on the retreat: specifically a guy named Bong from Scotland and ladies Romy and Merle – from Australia and Netherlands. Although I expected a very solitary experience, it turned out to be very social and fun, but in a more mindful and peaceful way than your usual vacation with friends.
Yoga Studio at Island Yoga Koh Yao Noi © Ksenia N.
Our traditional place to eat lunch was Suntisook – a restaurant (and bungalows for those interested in other accommodation options) managed by young and extremely enjoyable Mr.E (they now have a Facebook page). I had never been keen on Thai curries or any spicy food, for that matter, until I had eaten at this small family-run restaurant. Massaman Curry, Coconut Shrimp, Pad Thai or anything made-to-order is mind-blowingly delicious at Suntisook. I have to admit that even though no austerity accompanied my yoga sessions, I still had the feeling of lightness in my body the whole time in Thailand. The secret is in fresh, local food and healthy portions (not your usual American size).
Island beauty during boat trip organized by Mr.E from Suntisook © Ksenia N.
Let’s get back to the yoga classes: they took place twice a day and were taught by Kristie and Tammy – two young and inspiring yoginis from US and Canada. Every other evening we did something special: one time we learned and practiced EFT (emotional freedom technique); the other time we practiced a one-hour heart meditation. One hour in lotus position without moving is not a joke! Yet according to yoga wisdom, when you let go of resistance, you discover the strength in yourself that you never thought you have. That’s what happened to me, when I did an unsupported headstand the next morning – for the first time.
SUMMARY: If you’re looking for a true getaway that includes yoga, meditations, like-minded people, beautiful sea and delicious and fresh Thai food – Koh Yao Noi Island Yoga retreat is for you. I would hurry up before the island gets overcrowded with tourists and loses its authenticity, along with (still) very low prices on everything compared to the more well-known islands. Read on to see Koh Yao Noi Island Retreat pricing…