Where we’re at: I’m time-traveling back to finally recap 2020, including this Wander Women Retreat in Koh Tao in March. This post is Part III of III. Find Part I here and Part II here.
We’re re-launching this retreat in 2023 as a Learn To Dive Retreat! While originally scheduled for 2022, the omicron outbreak forced us to postpone until next year — and we know it will be worth the wait! We also, thanks to your feedback, have added the option for divers who are already certified but need to refresh their skills to do the PADI ReActivate course in place of their PADI Open Water. Join us!
All good things come to an end. It’s a cliché saying for some, a meditation on non-attachment for others.
It was, undeniably, the final stretch of our retreat. Our last day of diving, our last full day of adventures, our last day period. They really start to fly at the end there. And in this case, with the coronavirus outbreak nipping at our heels, it was the end of not just a magical trip but a way of life and an ease of connection most of us never even knew we took for granted.
Which makes looking back on these memories extra nostalgic for me.
Our final day of diving on this retreat is always a show stopper. While mother nature always has the final say, our usual game plan is to go to Sail Rock, widely considered the most famous dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, and then Shark Island, my personal favorite dive site from my years of calling Koh Tao my home.
And on this particular year, we were blessed with the sweetest goodbye — a curious, beautiful turtle who joined us for a swim.
It was one of my best turtle encounters ever. And while again, the visibility was unseasonably low, as you can see from the smiles on these faces, the vibes were super high.
One of the best parts about heading to these slightly more out-of-the-way dive sites? Plenty of time to celebrate back on-board!
We always bring a cooler filled with our favorite drinks (and ya know, um, lunch) for the boat ride home on the last day of diving. After all, it’s a party! Warm sunshine, cold drinks, the sound of a great playlist on the speakers and water lapping on the boat and lots of giggles and great conversations in every direction — moments like these are basically why I started Wander Women Retreats.
The party didn’t stop there. We headed to one of Shannon and I’s longtime haunts, Maya Beach Club, for another class by our girl Ariel — this time, with SUP Tao! This time, the weather was smiling down upon us — we had glassy waters, and the softest pink sunset a group of gals could dream of.
Many of you know I’m a longtime SUP Yoga fan, and it still tickles me to see others get to experience it for the first time! It really is a cool sensation to bring this new element of balance challenge into your practice, and reminds me that for me, yoga is as much about connecting myself back to the natural world as it is about discovering myself.
Little did I know that not long after, my yoga practice would happen behind a screen, for quite some time.
With the sun waving its final goodbye, it was time for one of our final nights on Koh Tao.
We brought everyone for dinner at Whitening, one of my forever island favorites. While the location has changed, rumor has it it’s one of longest-standing restaurants on the island. I know it was there on my first trip in 2009! With great cocktails, a stylish — you guessed it — white interior, it’s a rare find along the beachfront, where views are great but food is often mediocre.
And then bam — it was day seven. Non-divers may not know that there’s a recommended 24-hour period between your last dive and getting on a plane. So, we call this our decompression day — and we make an island tour out of it!
We started our journey in the south of the island, at the charming garden-like Big Tree Cafe in Chalok Ban Kao.
Fueled up, we made our way to the base of John Suwan Viewpoint, my favorite on the island, and started our short ascent.
The juice is worth the squeeze! After scrambling up the top rocks, we took turns taking future profile photos for each other and marveling at the magical view. Plus a sweaty family photo, of course.
How cute is my Right Hand Wander Woman, Shannon?!
As sharp as the short ascent is, the way down is worth it — you can walk yourself directly to Freedom Beach, a sweet little stretch of sand lined with Casuarina trees, rare to Thailand.
As you can see, we know the best way to cool down from a hike — and to make new friends!
While we probably could have stayed all day, other beaches were calling. In fact, the next one was right down the road — or rather, the mysterious over-water walkway.
After getting picked up from that beach, it was time for lunch. The ladies at the Koh Tao Cooking Classes put on a Thai cooking demo for us, showing us the secrets to the delicious dishes we’d been going wild for all week — and sharing their recipes.
And then the good part — we ate!
Next up is a quick stop but one I love to include. I have to confess I lived on Koh Tao for years before I visited the Koh Tao Temple.
When I was finally invited there by a friend who runs a tour company, I loved it. Donning respectful scarves and dropping a donation for the monks, we take advantage of this visit to share a little bit about Thailand’s powerful Buddhist traditions with our guests.
Little did I know just weeks later I’d be here with hundreds of other stranded travelers, applying for an amnesty visa to stay in Thailand while COVID ravaged the globe.
You didn’t think we’d miss yoga, did ya? Time for Shannon and I’s signature class — boozy sip n stretch! I can tell you we’ve put many hours of research into all aspects of this one, and boy have they paid off.
What can I say? Life’s a party, and this class is a celebration of all of it. Friendship, movement, and good times.
We basically try to work this one into all of our retreats now. Can you blame us?
In a blink, we were off to our closing dinner. While we’d been escorted all week by Koh Tao’s finest shuttle fleet — also known as the bed of the pickup trucks — it was quite a treat to get picked up in the posh oversized golf cart of Barracuda at Darawan.
We love coming here! Not only does it feel like a vacation just stepping out on this expansive deck, it’s also run by our friend Ed, who is one of the island’s best employers.
Little did I know that weeks later, I’d be voluntering at and donating to food drives organized by Ed to help the Burmese community devastated by the lack of tourism from COVID. (Matched, touchingly, by an incredibly generous donation from one of our guests).
I got emotional taking our team photos, and I’m getting emotional again posting them. This was quite simply the best dive team ever!
I can be pretty hard on myself, but in moments like this I have to pause to be proud of what I’ve created — a retreat company hosting trips for female divers and creating employment opportunities for the best women in the business, creating underwater ambassadors as we go.
I hope this is just the beginning.
And gosh, wow, just the best guests ever on this trip, too. Three were repeat guests, three have already booked to come back, and one has since joined the team! So I’m not exaggerating when I say we really are a little retreat family (and some of these girls ended the night getting the matching tattoos to prove it, in their pajamas no less, ha ha.)
Little did I know, little did I know. I couldn’t, none of us could have, imagined all the ways our lives were going to change in those days that sometimes felt like years in the middle of March 2020.
We faced a lot of criticism, in those challenging and confusing days, for moving forward with our retreat. I think that is part of what stopped me, for so long, from sharing it. But, once my guests were in the air and on their way to Thailand I knew my job was to give them as safe, peaceful, and meaningful of an experience as I could — as always. And despite challenges beyond my absolute wildest imagination, Shannon and I did that, and I am proud of us for doing so.
I mean really, I’m proud of everybody. Just for getting through, however they had to. However they still do! And I can’t think of a better place, or a better group of people to be with, while our universe shifted. Which is why I stayed.
More on that next.
Thailand, I can’t wait to be back. Thanks for always bringing me home <3
I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed reading your blog till you started writing again! Welcome back!
Laura, this warmed my heart to read — again! Thank you!
Thanks a lot for a beautiful and inspiring blog! You should be nominated for a marketing prize for that domain name (AlexInWanderland). It is BRILLIANT 🙂
Haha, thank you! Still the best decision I ever made!