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On Thursday evening, the Sanctuary hosted a special edition of its Thursday night Open Mic with a community reading of the just-published Full Moon over Koh Phangan: What Adventurers, Dancers, and Freaks Seek and Find on Thailand's Magic Island.
Author Brian Gruber read selections from the 25 interviews in the oral history, then was joined onstage by longtime manager Michael Doyle and longtime WhyNam proprietor Nathan Parker.
The book is available for 150 baht ($4.95) at https://amzn.to/3B75ssb or directly from the author (contact info below). An expanded version with chapters on each island region and favorite local attractions will be released later this year.
Here is an excerpt from the Sanctuary chapter featuring Michael. An excerpt from the WhyNam chapter featuring an interview with Nathan Parker will be published in the Phanganist in the weeks ahead.
It was like a family gathering as opposed to a meeting of the masses. And then, obviously, it evolved quickly in the '90s. The beach was pretty much full-on party, but it was still navigable. I stopped going at night-time, I'd just go in the morning. Catch the sunrise and then go to the Backyard club.
Now that was a party at the end of the universe. The one, in the late '90s, and in the noughties, where the locals went. Many of the dinosaurs, as I like to call us, for the most part stopped going to the Full Moon parties by the end of the '90s. But we'd all meet at the Backyard for the afterparty, which would start about nine in the morning the next day. It was part of the Paradise family.
K Sutti owns it and he is married to an Australian girl Nikki. A once-a-month afterparty and they used to do a Friday or Sunday night psychedelic trance party which, again, was out there. But the Backyard, for many years, that was the place to go.
How did you stumble across The Sanctuary? What position was it in at that time, and what motivated you to be interested?
I was studying Tai Chi at the school in Haad Rin, run by a guy called Jay who was Osho's head of security. He's actually featured in the TV documentary that came out.
Wild, Wild Country.
I was with some Israeli girls, Mali and Tal. One day, Mali said to me, “Tomorrow, we're going over to the opening party of this new cool place on Haad Tien called The Sanctuary. Do you want to come? Meet on Leela Beach at 10am.” So, I got to Leela at 10 and there's a crew there, 15-20 people. And they're brewing up a pot of mushroom tea. Okaaaay.
They imbibed and we all then walked over the mountain, up and over and down to Haad Yuan beach, which was absolutely empty. There was one little fisherman shack, a lady called Sunflower and her boyfriend Hagai living in this shack. Otherwise, empty.
It was the most magnificent thing I'd ever seen. And so, everyone strips off, dives into the sea, relaxes, and then about an hour before sunset, it was time to come over to The Sanctuary for the party.
We walk over the headland. I will always remember walking through the rocks at the side of The Sanctuary. It was like passing through the membrane. It was like a (sucking sound). And I knew in that moment that something had happened in my life, something changed. And I came, and I partied.
That's very cinematic imagery. Gill talked about Thai animist stories about spirits in the rock, that there were certain phenomena or certain things people believed about those rocks forming the perimeter.
Bear in mind that I hadn't been to The Sanctuary before. I was stepping through the doorstep and it was like an energy field, stepping into something, and there was a moment of wow, okay, that was weird. And then to walk down, and walk on the beach, and turn around, look at the restaurant and at the environment that had been created here.
In that moment, it was all just mystical, we stepped in just at sunset, just as the lights were coming on around the place. There was an astrologically-aligned pyramid on the beach with fluorescent stringing and a meditation platform on top of it. It had a psychedelic art gallery behind it with these really detailed paintings by. I believe, some German artists, and there were little grottos all around the beach, psychedelic bubbles really within the whole thing. Fantastic fire sculptures by this Scottish geezer. Mail says, "You gotta go check out the bathrooms," built into the rocks, and even the bathrooms are resonating magic.
You came into the restaurant with hammocks everywhere and there was just this vibe. I lost my little crew pretty quickly.
I spent a lot of the weekend with a guy called Acid Eric. I remember writing to my mom saying, "I've met Santa Claus, he's got Rastafarian dreadlocks, beard down to his waistline." Acid Eric was an amazing character. He regaled me with stories. He was a supplier in San Francisco, looking after Jim Morrison and The Doors. He talked about the night he had to “take care” of Janis Joplin to get her off the sofa so she could do a gig. Stories of border runs with a couple of hundred thousand U.S. dollars in his bag down to Mexico, total character, very friendly with the Grateful Dead. As the name might imply, he was a larger-than-life fringe character.
You talk about Eastern mysticism, Osho, yoga, meditation, and healing modalities, and hallucinogens. Was there something unique at that time, in this part of the island, where psychedelics and Eastern religion or mysticism interplayed, part of a common cosmology, or a common way of trying to approach the divine or oneself?
For some, there was a big interplay. My personal one was letting go of religion and spirituality, having been brought up in staunch Catholic Ireland, with six months as a novice priest. I didn't dive into Eastern spirituality; I was much more interested in letting go of things. I was starting to be self-empowered by the time I got to The Sanctuary; for me, letting go of things was that first eight months I spent up in Chaloklum.
A lot of the time I spent up there was revisiting my life experiences and pulling lessons out of them. And incorporating the lessons into who I was becoming and letting go of the burden, of lightening those bags. Life isn't about having loads of experiences, life is about having experiences and learning from them and finding a positive in them, even if they're bad experiences. Positive in that you've learned from the bad experience, and life got a lot lighter.
What I got out of the early years here was just a sense of wonder, at life and at the moment of life. Experimenting with the wonder of every moment, the fact that out there, we strive our whole lives for perfection, and yet, it's there, every single moment is perfect, so stop in the moment sometimes. In those years before I came to work here, that's what my journey was about. It wasn't about Buddha, it wasn't about Shiva or Jesus. It was about just the wonder of now.
Was there, is there, a unique guiding philosophy for those who were here at the time?
What's the common denominator is the question, really, isn't it? Not being controlled by society so much. Having the opportunity to set your own limits. One of the things I always liked about this island in the early days was that you discovered your limits. Some people stepped over the line and needed to be rescued in some form, and some didn't even make it off the island, but I always appreciated that I could find my own personal boundaries. They weren't set by society; they weren't set by anybody else. I could find them. I could find my own pathway in life, as opposed to being steered into one.
Why is it easier to do that here than in Ireland?
I've got a theory of osmosis, an osmotic theory on why people keep coming back to The Sanctuary. It's based on energy out in the world. You're corralled into processes; I don't want to use the word brainwashed, because that's not it. Society has to exist out there. And the only way it can exist is by making rules. And now, it's working on control through fear.
You're encouraged to only meet people by introduction; they might meet you in a bar, but they're going to meet you with suspicion, because fear has been instilled. And so, society out there is resonating on the lowest common denominator of energy.
You come here, and people have an opportunity to shed the hooks of society for a little while, and to catch up with themselves, and make decisions for themselves. And they're doing yoga, and they're eating healthy, and they're able to sit at random tables, and talk to people without fear and make new lifelong friends. So, within even a few hours of arriving, I can see people who have stepped from that low energy of society, their shoulders are dropping, it's like, phew. And I think that's what happens on the island in general. That the island, the energy resonates on this much higher level to mainstream cities and communities that are controlled by law, governance, religion, expectation, need. You come here and, just for a little while, you feel that sense of being unburdened.
Yesterday, I swam to the (floating Haad Tien) platform, there was a lovely British woman lying down. I just minded my own business on the hammock and she started talking. And we talked for 20 minutes. It was this feeling of unfettered openness. And I have that experience here all the time.
You were asking, what makes the island magical? I think that is part of it. They say this is because of the crystal and rocks. I don't know, I try not to analyze things too much. Those who look at the energy pathways on the planet say that there's a line that passes through Bali and it passes right over this island, right over this beach. Perhaps it does.
That's probably diminishing a bit on the island, as governments need to control things. Friends who had experienced Haad Rin and come back after eight or nine years think it's still here. Feeling that sense of self, it's pretty much uncontrolled.
How did you get involved in working with The Sanctuary?
From coming to the opening party. I'm a nurse, I would do contract work. Before I came here, I would go on holidays to different places; after I came here, that was it: “When can I get back again?”
And the year of the first party was when?
Ninety-one, I believe. I came to work here in '98. In the intervening period, I was probably visiting here two, three, four times a year, flying in from the Middle East or flying up from Australia. When I was working in Brunei, I'd be in Singapore doing some business and I’d fly into Samui, come over, spend two nights on the beach with friends, and go back to work again. But go back recharged. It’s a recharging station here.
So many people who come here leave on a high. For most of the world out there, they're living within the parameters of society, and they don't really know that there's a higher level of being. And those who were lucky enough to be directed here or to have some resonance with something and say, “I'm going to The Sanctuary,” they realized that, wow, there is a space where I can let go of my bullshit; there is a space where I can focus on me. There is a space where I can have an honest chat with the person in the mirror and see if they're happy with their life and see the changes they need to make. Then get to some resolution that they're going to go out and work on it.
And they go out charged, but then society whittles it away and the burdens pile back up again. And they know they can come back and recharge again, and they're the lucky ones because they know this process is possible. Whereas many people out there, they’re just, “It's how the world is.” They're trudging away. I don't mean this in a bad way. It's just how the world is. The world needs this during these times.