Koh Phangan: The isle of Yin and Yang and the amazing Mr Moon.
Examining my bodily functions isn’t usually on my list of things to do on holiday. Explaining them to a man named Mr Moon isn’t exactly high on my radar, either. But, at the Sanctuary on the island of Koh Phangan off southern Thailand, I’m doing both these things and it’s all in the name of my health.
I have to say, a 3 ½ day fasting program seemed a lot more manageable when I was researching it on the internet back home in Australia while eating my way through an entire wheel of cheese and washing it down with a bottle of wine. But now that I’m here, without my alcohol induced enthusiasm to keep me company, it doesn’t seem quite so easy. Factor in my questionable decision to spend the night before I arrive partying on the nearby island of Koh Tao, and you’ve got pretty much the worst lead in to a detox program that you could get.
I arrive in Koh Phangan on the morning ferry and decide to take a motorbike instead of getting into a taxi. It’s a decision I regret instantly, as I hold on for dear life to the driver who has my backpack wedged between his legs as we roar up and down hills, leaning forwards or backwards depending on whether we need to slow down or speed up. We finally arrive at Haad Rin beach as the last of the full moon partyers stumble along the beach, clutching their buckets that were full of booze, and are now filled with sand and goodness knows what else. I swiftly negotiate with a boat captain to get me out of there and around to the Sanctuary, a couple of beaches over.
Heading into the bay for the first time is like being driven straight into an idyllic scene from The Beach (unfortunately, minus Leonardo DiCaprio). The white sand gives way to lush jungle, with rustic bungalows built into the hill side.
When I arrive at the fasting hut, sleep deprived and probably still smelling of alcohol, Mr Moon glances at me over the top of his glasses and gives me a look which I’m pretty sure is about as disapproving as Buddhists get. Things don’t improve when I tell him I haven’t prepared for my fast (unless drinking vodka out of a bucket counts) and he orders me onto a strict diet for two days before I begin my fast, eating nothing but raw veggies. Considering the delicious smells coming from the kitchen at the on-site restaurant, this seems a bit mean.
And then it gets a whole lot worse. Mr Moon proceeds to tell me all about the DIY colon cleansing that’s part of my fasting program. If I was feeling a little off colour before he starts talking, by the end I’m sure I’ve turned greener than the jungle which surrounds the Sanctuary.
I wake up on day one and dutifully put the bentonite clay and psyllium husk into a glass of water as I’ve been instructed. It’s kind of like trying to drink Clag glue and tastes about as delicious. A bit later, and with some hope, I head toward the fasting hut where I’m given the second drink of the day. This time the clay is in watermelon juice, which at least makes a small improvement in the taste, if not the consistency. I’m also given tablets containing freeze-dried vegetables, yummy!
In the afternoon, I make the trek up what seems like a crazy amount of stairs for someone so lacking in energy and actually make it through a yoga class. Then I spend the rest of the day passed out in a hammock, trying to think of everything but my stomach. At 4pm I meet Mr Moon in my private bathroom and he gets down to the business of explaining how I am (apparently) going to administer my very own colonic. I try VERY hard not to giggle every time he says certain words. And then he’s gone and I’m left alone with The Contraption. I won’t go into detail about what happens next, but let me just say, the coffee is not for drinking.
I am less than hopeful as I head toward the fasting hut for ‘dinner’. The waitress generously calls what’s put down in front of me ‘vegetable broth’. What it really is, is a bowl of hot water that may (or may not) have had a vegetable waved over the top of it at some point during the heating process. I try to improve it by loading it with Cayenne pepper and lime, but all this does is make it taste like a bowl of hot water with pepper and lime (that may or may not have had a vegetable waved over the top of it).
Afterwards, I join my new non-fasting friends in the restaurant and have to sit through them swapping foods and raving about how great everything is. I grumpily return to my hut.
Wake up, more clay, more psyllium husk and I’m getting grumpier by the minute. I manage to drag myself up the stairs to yoga in a bid to improve my mood (and hopefully the slight headache I have). I keep forgetting what I’m doing, but I have a nice restful svasana (corpse pose) at the end. Afterwards, I drag myself up the stairs to my hut, which to me feels like climbing Everest, and flop into my hammock.
I break up the afternoon by floating in the ocean and lying on the beach, which takes about as much energy as I can muster.
Later I play cards with my fellow fasters (I’m now avoiding the non-fasters and all their delicious food). The only problem hanging out with the fasters, is that they spend all their time talking about two things: colonics and food. Since I’m really not big on the colonic talk, I stick to food, discussing what I’ll have for my first meal once this is all over. I thank God I only chose the 3 ½ day program, as some of my fellow fasters are on 7 or even 10 day programs. It becomes a bit like serving a prison sentence, with people talking about how long they’re ‘in for’. The ‘lifers’ (10 dayers) earn the most cred, and I feel a bit like a lightweight with the shortest sentence.
I spend the evening taking photos as the sun goes down on another beautiful day in paradise (which I'm now glad I did since I was too tired and grumpy to appreciate it at the time!)
Day 3 1/2:
I’m pleased to report that by the end of my fast, I’ve actually got a bit of sparkle back, and I (almost) feel like I could go a few more days. I quickly discard that idea though and have a green papaya salad instead. Despite the talk of what our first meal would be, most of us stick to raw food for the first few days after the fast, although one rebel tucks straight into a bowl of fries (and quickly regrets it).
Overall, despite what felt like hardships at the time, the fasting experience is a positive one. Afterwards, my skin is glowing, I feel healthy and light, I have heaps of energy and even the whites of my eyes are totally clear.
A couple of days later in Bangkok, I toast my success with an espresso martini, although I’m not sure that I’m ever going to look at coffee the same way again!