The Third Kind: Being Still in Phuket
For most of us, there are two kinds of vacations. The high-adventure, super active, push-your-personal-limits kind, and the lazy, indulgent, lay-on-the-beach-with-a-coconut-drink kind. With three jobs and a constant stream of information running through my head, taking a break from the urban wonderlands of Tokyo sounded like a brilliant idea. Maybe some yoga, a bit of healthy eating, and a lot of lying in sand—this was the plan when I booked my five-day retreat at Dharana in Chalong, Phuket. But even the best plans almost always change.
After three days of decadent food, shopping, and spa treatments in Bangkok, I hopped a late-night plane to Phuket and stayed overnight at the airport hotel. Dharana accepts guests between 1 and 6 p.m., so the driver picked me up the following morning and took me and another guest to the resort (Dharana is a small retreat, with the class size limited to nine at a time). We were greeted by Parn, one of the owners of the retreat, and she gave us the rundown of our stay, including a booklet on meditation practice and our daily schedule. Our arrival day was our “free day” to roam the small town, relax by the pool, and get settled in. The next morning we would begin our practice. I asked where the beach was. We were close to water, yes…but no beach—only a few waterfront restaurants. Parn said we’d take a trip to the beach in the morning to meditate…at 6 a.m. 6 a.m.? No beach? What did I sign up for? I took solace in the fact that the resort had pretty grounds and a gorgeous pool, and decided to keep an open mind. Not like I had much choice. Chalong is a small town, and despite being on an island known for its beaches and tourist spots, it became very clear I was close to none of them.
The next morning, we were picked up by Parn and our meditation teacher, Tobi. Tall, slim and dressed in white, Tobi didn’t say much as he drove us to the beach. If fact, he didn’t say a word. We got out of the car and walked across the rocky beach to a secluded point overlooking Chalong Bay. The morning sun rose as he began our session.
Tobi is quiet, light-spirited and deeply kind. He’s been studying meditation for over 12 years, and has been a teacher since 2009, after moving to Thailand from Switzerland. He’s trained in Thai Teravada Buddhism and began Dharana as a way of staying in practice and helping others create equanimity in their lives. His teachings aren’t pendantic, but there are a few simple rules for staying at the retreat. No drinking, no physical intimacy, stick to the schedule, try not to engage in idle chit-chat, stay off your phone if you can, give yourself the time and space to do the inner work, and see what happens. Tobi gives you the tools and creates the opportunity in a lovely space; what you do with all of it is totally up to you.
After our waterfront meditation and morning teachings, Tobi turned us loose on the beach. In anticipation, I wore a bikini under my yoga clothes. The water in Phuket is clear, warm, and—after meditating for an hour first thing in the morning—pure bliss. I’d never started a day like this before, and I was surprised at how refreshed and present I felt. It was a glorious start to whatever it was I was doing.
After breakfast, back at the resort, we were on our own to relax, hang out by the pool, meditate, and do as we like until lunch time. All of the food at Dharana is organic, vegetarian and super delicious Thai food. Each afternoon we had challenging yoga classes and Thai massages, followed by steams, saunas, open air showers and more meditation and lessons in the evening. The bodywork was intense; the yoga truly tested my physical limits, but the in-room massages and traditional herbal balms quickly dissolved any tension. This was serious body and mind time, and I have to say, I loved it. I needed it.
My last morning at the retreat is when it all really started to sink in. After four days of sitting, stretching, resting, and taking very good care of ourselves, we went to the top of the 400-meter mountain overlooking Chalong Bay to see the Big Buddha. The tinkle of prayer bells greeted us and monkeys scurried around as we sat in silence. After we finished our session, we visited the morning prayers at the adjacent Chalong Temple and were blessed by one of the monks. It was the perfect ending to the third kind of vacation: restorative, powerful, life-changing.
Getting there: Dharana Meditation Retreat is located in southern Phuket, about an hourlong drive from Phuket International Airport. From Tokyo, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways fly to Phuket via Bangkok, and Air Asia via Kuala Lumpur. From Bangkok, it’s about a one-hour flight to Phuket, with about 70 flights leaving Suvarnabhumi International Airport daily.
Reservations: For more information on Dharana’s package options, as well as resources on meditation, wellness and yoga in Phuket, check out the official website.