THE GENUINE MAGIC OF WONDERLAND
There’s relaxation; and then there’s the deep, transformative relaxation that takes you to a different level – and lingers with you long after you’ve returned home. And it’s this experience – this transformational relaxation – that Wonderland truly dishes up.
Having been on a half-a-dozen or so yoga holidays over the years, my trip to Wonderland stands head and shoulders – in perfect asana – above all else. What underpins this unique experience seems to be the alchemy of several factors coming together at Wonderland…
- The location: tucked away on the fringes of the jungle in Ko Phangan, the centre is surrounded by lush, green vegetation; fringes of mountain tops peak over the horizon. Frogs make crazy nocturnal noises. You feel like you’ve left the mayhem way behind. But you’re not deep enough in the jungle to see anything slithering around; and there’s a 7-Eleven ten minutes away. The beach itself is also within striking distance. It’s ‘jungle-lite’.
- The community: at the heart of the experience is a sense of being part of a community of generally like-minded people. There’s a closeness but not a claustrophobia (which you can get on smaller retreats). Being slightly tucked away – unlike some of the other yoga retreats down by the beach – means there aren’t random people dropping into classes or hanging around. Truly adding to the communal sense is that Wonderland is an actual community: it was founded a few years ago by a bunch of friends who, over time, collectively ‘dropped out’ of their 9-5 routine to live life on their terms and on their values. Intangibly, this ideal – this ethos – runs through the atmosphere; that sense of ‘this is for real’, not just a holiday centre. And, very tangibly, it means great attention is paid to detail – the gardens, the décor, the domed steam room – because it’s people’s home too.
- The food: reason alone to visit Wonderland. Each meal is a buffet of vegan Thai cuisine that adjectives can’t do justice to. A daily feast of delicious, flavorsome food. Curries, salads, soups – each a mastery of innovation or fusion. The common refrain – when mouths momentarily weren’t full – was how effortlessly being vegan could be with this sort of food. If adjectives can’t do the food justice, the plate count at each meal spoke volumes: most meals were a three- or four-plater. The red Thai curry may even have demanded a fifth bowl.
- The classes: across the day, a varied schedule of classes is offered in the main yoga shala (large airy room). Quality teachers from across the island – together with some of the members – provide an array of yoga, Pilates and meditation classes; something for the hardcore yogi to the more leisurely toe-toucher. Beyond the staple classes, there are more experimental or healing offerings – like Reiki, ‘rebirthing, or fireside therapeutic sessions – as well as an extensive selection of massages and treatments. The breadth and variety suited me – as well as the laid-back atmosphere of just being able to lie by the pool without judgement if you weren’t in the mood to bend.
- The people: some of the yoga holidays I’ve been to before have suffered from a sanctimoniousness in the air – where it’s about being seen to do yoga, rather than embodying the warmth and openness that’s meant to come from practise. I’m pleased to report none of that righteous nonsense made it into the jungle. To a person, everyone who passed through when I was there was down-to-earth, friendly and warm. Whether travelling solo or with company, it’s an effortless place to mix – and be as sociable as you’re in the mood for. I’ve genuinely kept in touch with people I met there.
Most holidays seem to wear off within a couple of days. But weeks after returning, I’m still getting ‘Wonderland flashbacks’ to that sense of calm – the stillness – that pervades there. And I’m frantically still searching London for a Thai restaurant that would be worthy of even one Wonderland plate.
Truly a place that embodies its name.
Tim Samuels is an award-winning documentary-maker and author.