A yoga retreat has been on my list of things to do ever since I first thought of stopping by South-East Asia on my way to Australia. As going to one in Indonesia didn’t work out where I would’ve wanted to do it in Canggu, I had two things that I knew I wanted to include in my itinerary when in Thailand: diving and yoga.
I was looking up retreats online, and Island Yoga quickly caught my eye. Most retreats seemed super expensive, and my number one criteria was price. I wanted to find something affordable. Located on Koh Yao Noi, one of two relatively unknown islands located between Phuket and Krabi on the Andaman Coast, Island Yoga seemed like the perfect match. Up until meeting Lara, who’d been recommended to visit the island by one of her friends who lives in Thailand, no one I’d talked to had never even heard of Koh Yao Noi. As for me, I barely knew where it was located, but the reviews seemed good so I went ahead and booked it.
We’d had a few good nights out right before leaving Koh Tao, so I was super tired on Thursday night when we got on the boat to Surat Thani. Compared to the iron boat that the other guys were on, the one with air conditioning that had been sold out, our wooden boat seemed nicely sweaty and stale. Good for me that I was super tired, because I slept all the way from Koh Tao to Surat Thani, nine hours straight. From Surat Thani we had to take a bus to Krabi, where I got in to a way too expensive taxi to get to the pier in order to catch a boat to Koh Yao Noi.
I arrived on the island around noon. Having visited no other place but Koh Tao in the south of Thailand, the scenery was very new to me. Rocks rising high in to the air in the middle of the ocean, here, there, everywhere, one more stately than the other; the sky and the ocean melting together with patches of lush green vegetation here and there… It was beautiful. In fact, it was just like one of those postcards that you’d seen so many of but never believed to be true.
Although I had no clue of what to expect from the retreat, I had a feeling I was going to like the island. My plan was to spend four days without wifi; actually without my phone, too. I was looking forward to disconnecting from the “real” world, but there was a slight change of plans as Lara, my dive buddy, was diagnosed with decompression sickness and ended up having to go to the hospital.
I’d been hoping to finish my writing about Koh Tao before starting the retreat to get it out of my system and off my mind so that I’d be able to fully focus on there and then, but it quickly became clear to me that that wasn’t going to happen. I was writing as if the keyboard was on fire all the while trying to help Lara out, and well, it’s safe to say that I was everything but focused. My thoughts were all over the place.
I went to my first yoga class and found myself very distracted by everything that was going on. My head was spinning, and I realized that I should’ve known better than to book the retreat right after the diving course. Had I been smart I would’ve taken a few days off in between the two to have time to process all of what had happened, and also just to get a few days’ break. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t, so things were the way they were and my only option was to embrace it.
That was easier said than done. I was feeling somehow numb and out of zone, and was therefore happy to start out with an afternoon class as they were meant to be softer and slower than the morning classes. After that I signed up for a kayaking tour the next day, and went for dinner to a nearby Thai place with a German girl who stayed in the same room as I.
Saturday morning was similar to Friday in a sense that I just couldn’t focus on anything. My thoughts were all over the place. Was I even trying? I’m not sure, or was it just the perfectionist in me feeling insufficient although I was in fact doing quite okay, especially considering the circumstances? I’m not sure, but it was tough.
We had breakfast at the resort, and then got picked up to take a boat to wherever we’d go kayaking. It looked like it was going to rain, and so it did, but it didn’t really matter. It was a really nice group of people, and we had an absolutely lovely day.
The kayaking tour was beautiful. We started out at Thalane pier and first paddled to a tiny little beach hidden behind the rocks, continuing through a passage in the rocks only to arrive at a lush lagoon that was absolutely magical. For a while we had to paddle against the current, but then the landscape changed and all of a sudden we were floating along a narrow passage that was surrounded by trees growing from the water. Adding up to a total of 10 km it was a good workout.
Back at the pier we got back on the boat to go to some island in the middle of nowhere to have lunch and chill on the beach for a bit. Later, on the way back to Koh Yao Noi, we stopped at some rocks that the guys wanted to climb. They were massively excited. We almost thought that we would not be able to make it back on time for the afternoon class, but we did.
The retreat was not the kind of ’zen’ experience that I’d been expecting. In fact, it was far from. In the evening we went to a nearby Thai place to have dinner with quite a big group of people from the retreat. It took a while for everyone to get their food (here it’s not really a thing to eat together, at the same time, rather the opposite; the food is brought in whenever it’s ready). Once everyone had finished eating, some left, while a few of us stayed. We were debating whether to stay or go, but made the compromise of buying a box of beer to go continue the evening at the resort. It was a fun night, I had a lot of fun, which was not the case at 7 am when my alarm went off. I got myself up and going, though, so it was good, I was happy.
The rest of Sunday was spent doing nothing much. I had thought of renting a scooter to go explore the island but was way too tired to do that, so I didn’t. We had lunch at a hilltop restaurant overlooking the beach – Thai food, again – and went to class, which, to our luck , was super soft and slow. We ended up going to another Thai place for dinner and I could not believe it, but it was my third day of nothing but Thai food. It must’ve been my all time record!
I woke up on Monday feeling super sore and tired, and a bit sad too as I realized it was my last full day on the island. I’d already extended my stay with one night, which was the most I could do as I didn’t have a visa and had to leave the country no later than November 2. I’d promised to meet up with Lara before leaving, she was in Phuket, so my plan was to take the ferry to Phuket on Tuesday and then fly from there to Penang on Wednesday.
I decided to skip yoga and instead try to get some writing done. We’d organized a private boat trip for the day with a few of the people we’d gone kayaking with, so we had breakfast and got on the boat. We went swimming, snorkeling and rock climbing, the latter being the point of the whole trip, especially for the guys.
We got back in time for yoga, and for the first time since I’d started attending classes at the beginning of the year, the downward facing dog actually felt quite okay. I was amazed. I could feel my shoulders finally starting to open up, finally. The results of three days of active stretching were evident.
Starting to feel like I was finally getting into it, the yoga itself, yes, but even more so the whole retreat thing, the mindset, I felt far from ready to be leaving the following day. I had not even seen the island yet, so I could easily have stayed for another couple of days (if not more). Explore the island, go to the beach, find a nice café, read a book, eat, sleep… Enjoy and do absolutely nothing.
On Monday evening we finally managed to get ourselves to go for dinner to an Italian place that I’d had on my mind ever since I first got to the island (what’s up with me and Italian food in Thailand?!). I got my pizza, and it was super delicious. It was the last day of my one-month vegetarian challenge, so I’d chosen one with broccoli, gorgonzola, tomatoes, and red onion. Yum!
My last yoga class on Tuesday morning was a hardcore core workout rather than yoga. The power had gone out at night, so there was no electricity in the yoga shala, which meant the fans were not working. I was sweating like a pig (sounds nice, I know!), sweating so much that my mat was all slippery and my core was on fire, not just from the practice itself but from trying to not slide off the mat. I was exhausted, but in a good way.
Wanting to avoid having to take a taxi from the pier to Patong, I had to take the ferry over to Phuket at 2 pm to catch the last bus of the day. I packed my stuff, said goodbye to the others, and had one last meal at the resort, which, on a sidenote, is the place where I’ve had my favorite Thai meal so far: fried vegetables and cashew nuts with tofu, yummy! It was November 1, but I was still vegetarian.
On my way to the pier on the other side of the island I was sitting in the back of the truck watching the landscape change from jungle to rice fields to village, listening to music and contemplating life. This was the first place that I’d leave feeling far from ready to do so. So far I’d had the freedom to stay in places I visited for as long as I wanted, but this time I really had to leave. I had no choice but to, and I did not like it. I might have to come back another time… maybe.
All in all, the retreat was a lot different than I’d been expecting, but not in a bad way. I met some great people (not all of them were on Facebook, nor did they all have Whatsapp, I was amazed!) and practiced a lot of yoga, which, at the end of the day, wasn’t at all as heavy as I’d feared (back home I’d used to go to maybe one class every two weeks, so this was definitely progress!).
I can tell that I’ve made a lot of progress, both physically and mentally, which is nice to see. I definitely want to stick to my practice. If you ever decide to do a retreat, though, make sure you stay there long enough. 3-4 days is nothing, nothing, so book at least a week or ten days. Also, try to clear your mind from all the things that are going on in your everyday life before you go, because it takes its time to get into the right mindset.