July 7 – July 13, 2016
For my birthday this past year, I treated myself to a yoga retreat in Koh Samui, Thailand (book-ended by stays in Taiwan – separate post forthcoming). And it was glorious!
I had tried to book this retreat twice already, since before moving back to the US from China in early 2014, each time failing to plan far enough in advance to book the days I wanted. Finally, a cousin’s wedding in Taiwan July 4th weekend, provided the perfect opportunity to tack on a trip to Thailand and spend a full 2 weeks in Asia.
In total, I was at the retreat for a week (6 nights) – which came out to 6 full days of: 4-5 hours of yoga class a day, plus climbing the equivalent of 20-30 flights of stairs everyday to reach the different facilities spread up and down the cliffside that the retreat is built into. Some days I also attempted the 45-minute morning meditation sessions, during which I mostly just struggled to stay awake (while sitting!)
Outside of yoga class, I spent the rest of my time lounging by the private “infinity pool”, reading, and getting oceanside massages (yes!).
From the amount of yoga, daily stair-climbing, and probably slight lack of calories (retreat package only included 2 meals/day) – by day 4 I was physically exhausted, but completely re-energized mentally. Part of the re-energization, was most likely just due to the fact that I was taking 2 entire weeks off of work and was completely checked-out. I had never taken such a long vacation while employed and I highly recommend it!
As for the retreat itself, the facilities were clean and perfectly adequate. The staff was very friendly and meals were delicious. The yoga classes is where I have the most feedback.
1) The flow (all levels and intermediate), what they call “alignment”, and what they call “complete” classes were fairly indistinguishable. After taking several of each of these classes for several consecutive days, they seemed pretty much the same. Despite being taught by different instructors, the flow and range of poses did not really vary from one class to another.
2) The classes were ok for those with some yoga experience, but didn’t really push those who may want to take their practice to the next level. I was exhausted because of the amount of yoga I was doing, but not because of the intensity or difficulty of any individual class. Unfortunately, I did not leave the retreat feeling like my practice improved. I with there could have been advanced classes that offered specific work on inversions, arm balances, binds, etc.
I would recommend Vikasa to those who are beginner to slightly experienced in yoga and as an add-on to a larger Thailand or Southeast Asia trip if traveling from afar. For those within Asia – this could be a good option for a 3-4 day getaway. I would not recommend Vikasa to those who are more experienced and are looking for focused yoga instruction.
More specific notes on the following below:
Yoga classes are taught every day and I think the retreat is year-round. You can book an all-inclusive package (which is what I did) or book rooms separately. Rooms range from “yoga caves” that share bathroom facilities to private ocean front rooms. Booking my stay was relatively easy. You can search for availability and book online via their website (http://vikasayoga.com/). However, when I booked (and at the time of this post), you end up paying in full via PayPal, which given my paranoia, made me a little uneasy as I don’t believe there is any recourse if something goes wrong (i.e. the retreat ends up being fake). I was only comfortable completing the booking because another friend actually went to the retreat before and had recommended it to me (so it was confirmed the retreat actually exists!).
I ended up booking a partial ocean view room for maximum relaxation and protection from mosquitoes (was pretty sure a beach bungalow was not going to cut it). The private balcony (from which to admire the partial ocean view) was a nice surprise.
The website does a pretty good job at depicting what the accommodations and retreat grounds look like, but what the website doesn’t prepare you for is that the facilities are laid out up and down a cliff side. The cafe and front desk are at “street level” at the top and you will need to walk down 5-10 flights of stairs to your room (depending on the type of room you booked) and then a couple of more flights down to the pool and to the yoga sala where the classes are taught. For me, this provided a bonus workout – I calculated about 30 flights of stairs each day.
Food! The all-inclusive package included brunch/lunch and dinner buffets (2 meals/day). While the food probably wasn’t “authentic” Thai – it was all delicious and ranged from eggs, oatmeal, and lots of fruit for brunch to veggies, curries, and tofu/seafood dishes for dinner. Another bonus – the view from the cafe was incredible!
While the retreat is located on the ocean, there is no real beach access on the premises. The cliff side just drops straight into the ocean, with large boulders marking where land meets sea. There was only one pocket of “beach” that was really made up of pebbles and a water’s edge that is too rocky to swim or wade in, but offered a nice hideout spot.
All the yoga classes were taught in a gorgeous yoga sala that overlooked the ocean. The tropical ocean breeze combined with spectacular sunsets provided an amazing setting for the yoga classes. Fans and the provided mosquito repellent helped keep mosquitoes from feasting on us during our downward dogs.
As mentioned above, the yoga classes, taken individually were fine, but taken as a set over an entire day and across multiple days lacked variety and challenge. A snapshot of the class schedule below.
Outside of the yoga classes, I took advantage of the small infinity pool, mainly used for dipping rather than swimming.
And of course the massages – I ended up getting 3 different massages (but similar to the yoga classes, seemed pretty much the same) during my 6 days there. While massages on the premises were definitely more expensive than a in town (and even in Bangkok I later discovered), they were still significantly cheaper than massages in the US and they were easy to squeeze in between classes and meals.
The retreat also offered day tours and activities (snorkeling trips, temple tours, etc.) at an additional cost, but I decided that since I had paid for the yoga package, I didn’t want to take time away from the retreat.
The only other thing I did was I explored a nearby beach – Silver Beach. Silver beach was a small beach in a protected cove with a very shallow shore – perfect for families and kids. The beach was a bit touristy as it was lined with bars, but when I visited, it was still peaceful enough.
Overall – fabulous experience. Perfect for single travelers. I’m looking forward to trying more yoga retreats in the near future!