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BIG NEWS! Bookings are open for Wander Women Koh Tao 2020! Read all about our inaugural edition below! You can find Part II here.

It started with a dream.

I’ve been pretty deeply in love with Koh Tao since I first washed ashore there in 2009. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, which I did right here on this blog. Later, I started welcoming and hosting friends from around the world; playing tour guide on my little island. But I yearned for more; I wanted to keep showing off my personal version of paradise.

Wander Women Travel Retreats

The island itself it had touched my life and changed me for the better, and as my years of entrepreneurship ticked on, I just knew that I had something special in the incredibly supportive sisterhood here on Koh Tao. And then there were the passions that had bloomed on these shores: Yoga had taught me the importance of caring for myself, diving had taught me the importance of caring about the planet. What if I could share a piece of all of that with women from around the world?

And thus, in 2018, I took a big leap and launched Wander Women Koh Tao: A Dive + Yoga Retreat. It was, hands down, the biggest risk I’ve taken in my career. Yet I knew it had the potential to have the biggest reward. This retreat came straight from my heart, with nine years of Koh Tao history and a lifetime of love for travel and community behind it.

Thailand Retreat Villa

Wander Women Travel Retreats

I didn’t outsource to a tour company or plop the whole thing at a resort or retreat center. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of those choices! I just felt called, in this case, to build this retreat from the ground up, letting not a single detail go unexamined.

So far, a hallmark of Wander Women Retreats is that we all stay together under one roof… or two neighboring ones, in this case, since Koh Tao doesn’t really have one villa big enough for all of us! Why a villa? Because I’m still thirteen at heart and having sleepovers with all my girlfriends is one of my favorite things.

Thailand Yoga Retreat

Wander Women Koh Tao Thailand Retreat

Thailand Retreat Villa

Thailand Retreat Villa

While there were more palatial villa options with more sweeping views, I opted for a home base that was easy walking distance from Sairee, so our future guests felt like they had freedom of movement without the pressure to rent a motorbike.

Yet with two pools, a yoga deck, an outdoor projector screen, and lush indoor outdoor bathrooms, who would want to leave? My team and I worked hard before the retreat kick off to add all kinds of Wander Women touches, from hand-crafted welcome signs (y’all know I never turn down the chance to wield a glue gun, right?) to fresh flowers to locally-sourced organic toiletries from female-owned May & Co. to the dopest welcome bags Koh Tao had ever seen — at least in my totally unbiased opinion.

Thailand Retreat Villa
Thailand Retreat Villa

Champagne Pool Float

Thailand Retreat Villa Bathroom

Thailand Retreat Villa Bathroom
Thailand Retreat Villa Bathroom

Thailand Retreat Villa Pool

Thailand Retreat Villa Bathroom

Our generous retreat sponsors hooked our Wander Women up. I’m so grateful to PADI for being not just my retreat sponsor but also being true cheerleaders and giving me endless support and love while I got this baby dream off mine off the ground.

Our goal of being as eco-friendly and low-impact as possible was realized through stainless steel PADI water bottles, PADI bamboo utensil sets (my favorite!) and PADI and Wander Women totes — plus I threw in some beloved stainless steel straws. Keeping us looking fresh were PADI sunglasses and hair-ties, plus #PADIwomen stickers.

I couldn’t help but throw in a quote-sprinkled welcome booklet with the retreat’s itinerary, everyone’s social handles and other essential info; a sparkly pen and stamped Wander Women notebook for all the fresh diving knowledge everyone was about to absorb (any excuse to craft, really); and my all-time favorite simple diving accessory, a carabiner to clip your mask or camera or whatever your little heart desires right to your BCD.

Wander Women PADI Diving Retreat Gift Bag

Last but most certainly not least, we doubled down on that commitment to being eco-friendly by providing the girls with a travel pack of Stream2Sea’s reef and ocean safe products. I’m a huge fan of this brand’s  wide and comprehensive line of products and their true commitment to sustainability, and so we also stocked our private dive boat with full size versions of all their products.

From tinted reef safe sunscreen to offset the white color that affects mineral sunscreens to leave-in conditioner perfect for popping on after a dive to body lotionlip balm, and a relief gel for those prone to burns and stings, they’ve really thought of it all.

If you’d like to try out Stream2Sea products, use wanderland for 10% off!

Sea2Stream Diving Retreat Sponsor

It felt like Christmas Eve waiting for everyone to arrive! A few of the girls rocked up early to complete a Scuba Review in the villa pool, with one of the girls even completing her PADI Open Water at Ban’s Diving in order to join the retreat — how cool is that?

Finally, the big day had arrived, and my team spent the day welcoming girls at the pier and settling them into their villa rooms before our official kick off on the yoga deck that afternoon. Having done the journey down to Koh Tao about ten million times over the years, I knew that everyone was likely to be wiped, so we planned a low key night of post-travel welcome yoga taught by me, a getting-to-know-you Thai dinner at the villa cooked by our private chef, and finally, relaxing Thai massages at my favorite spot down the street. (Literally, I’ve thrown a Christmas party there, so the sight of me rolling in with ten girls needing kneaded was nothing new.)

Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreat, Koh Tao, Thailand

What a joy it was to finally get to know everyone in person after months of chatting in our Facebook group! Aside from one adorable mother daughter pair, everyone had flown to Thailand solo — and ready to make a dozen new best friends, of course. We had guests flying in from the US, Canada and Japan; an age range spanning decades; and a wide range of backgrounds from English teacher to special events coordinators to artists.

One thing everyone had in common? A love of adventure and the ocean.

Villa Dinner at Wander Women Retreats

Thai Massages at Dive and Yoga Retreat

But about that dinner though! I absolutely loved collaborating on planning the meals and menus for this retreat. Koh Tao has an incredible number of talented chefs and I loved sharing my friends’ stellar restaurants as well as some gorgeous in-villa meals.

Dinner at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Dessert at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

We started every day of the retreat nice and simple with breakfast delivered to the villa — a smoothie bowl from Living Juices, Koh Tao’s original green juicer, smoothie bowl provider, and maker of all things fresh and nutritious. With seven different smoothie bowls to choose from, several of the girls made it their mission to try them all throughout the week — it’s important to have goals, ya know?

Living Juices Smoothie Bowls at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Janine, the owner of Living Juices, was a big part of the first full day of our retreat. Because after inhaling our delicious smoothie bowls, we all headed off on a hike up the hill to a private oceanview vinyasa class at her house! We toasted after with virgin mango mimosas and some continued on to Fraggle Viewpoint while the rest had a rest before diving.

Basically, retreat planning was creating different iterations of my perfect day, every day for a week. Dream job!

Yoga at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Yoga at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Yoga at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Post-Yoga Virgin Mimosas at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand
Yoga at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

The hiking crew and I made the sweaty ascent to the top of Fraggle Rock, one of my favorite viewpoints over Sairee, picking up a few pups along the way. From the top, I was able to point out the pier where our dive boat would take off from in one direction, and the roof of our villa in the other.

Hiking at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Back at the villa, our chef had whipped up another swoon-worthy meal. This time, a light post-workout lunch of carrot soup and fresh baguette plus sliced veggie salads.

Lunch at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Lunch at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

And then we were off to our first dives of the retreat!

My goals with the diving on this retreat were simple. Leave only bubbles, take only smiles. Dive my favorite dive sites on Koh Tao on a private dive boat that allowed us to chose our own schedule, with a team made up of badass PADI babes… who just so happen to be my BFFs. Great music on the speakers, and a cooler full of post-dive treats.

Seriously, what more could a girl ask for?

Dive Briefing at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Private Dive Boat at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

We kicked off the retreat with some local dive sites to assess everyone’s comfort level underwater and introduce the crew to diving in Koh Tao. We chose the shallow sites of Mango Bay and Japanese Gardens, which showed off Koh Tao’s chilled out conditions of warm water and easy currents, plus colorful reefs of coral and fish.

I loved spending our boat rides and surface intervals soaking up the sun and hearing about the girls’ previous underwater adventures.

Scuba diving at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Scuba diving at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Scuba diving at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Scuba diving at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Back on land, we told the girls to get ready for dinner at one of my favorite beachfront restaurants — but we didn’t tell them there was a surprise along the way. A big priority of mine for this retreat was introducing everyone to Koh Tao’s epic roster of female entrepreneurs, especially those focused on eco-friendly business practices.

And so my friend Jess at FlipFlop and Treacle generously shut down her Sairee shop for us to have a private shopping event with some of her local retailers! While Jess was out of town on a research trip for her new line of salvaged-material wetsuits, she recorded a welcome video talking about the roots of her self-made swimwear line and the efforts they take to contribute positively to the environment. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen me rock her bikinis many a time. (She also generously extended the girls a discount code — the same one that can be found in the Wanderland Guide to Koh Tao, if you’re also headed this way!)

The girls also heard from Christina, who was not only our mother hen retreat manager, but also the founder of Glocialite, a socially responsible manufacturer of artisan backpacks and clutches — all products are handmade in Thailand and a portion of the proceeds are donated to a local orphanage as well as to local artisans to help educate and train them with employable skill sets. How incredible is that?

Private shopping night at Flip Flop and Treacle at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Private shopping night at Flip Flop and Treacle at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Finally, we were joined by my dear, dear friend Amy of Amy Jennifer Jewellery, who creates handmade silver jewelry using traditional silversmithing techniques in eco-friendly packaging, the antithesis of fast fashion. I’ve collaborated with on a Wanderland Waves collection and I was honored to commission her to create a special Koh Tao charm as a gift for each of my retreat guests to remember our trip by.

Surrounded by shopping bags, we toasted to the perfect day with dinner at Fizz Beachlounge, one of my favorite ocean-facing restaurants on the island.

Wanderland Waves • Silver Jewelery Handmade in Koh Tao, Thailand

The next morning, it was photography day! After taking an incredible PADI Digital Underwater Photography course with my friend Paddy, head of imaging at PADI Five Star IDC center Sairee Cottage, I knew that a photo workshop had to be incorporated into the retreat. Paddy has an insane amount of photography knowledge in his brain, so asking him to distill it down to a morning session wasn’t easy — but he managed.

We stopped en route to the pier for lunch at Vegetabowl, another one of my favorite Koh Tao restaurants. Owner and head greens goddess Lauren whipped up some insane salads for us, and I ordered a fresh batch of her homemade vegan cookies to bring on the dive boat with us that afternoon.

Diving at Chumpon Pinnacle at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

And then we were off! I’d arranged camera rentals for the girls who wanted and needed them, and dang did we have some exciting subjects for the day. We were headed to Chumphon, truly Koh Tao’s most impressive pinnacle. The best part? While almost all dive shops head there first thing in the morning, we were going in the early afternoon, giving us the dive site almost totally to ourselves.

The amount of fish here is just incredible. Even after all these years, it still astounds me.

Diving at Chumpon Pinnacle at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand
Diving at Chumpon Pinnacle at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

I opened the retreat to all levels of divers, and we really did run the full gamut: from a freshly certified Open Water diver to a PADI Instructor, my friend Rika who I’d been diving with once before on Roatan. Needless to say, those who work in the industry can be hard to impress, but I could see through Rika’s mask that Chumphon had done the trick — and I did a little underwater cheer as a result.

Diving at Chumpon Pinnacle at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Our next dive was at Red Rock, where our experienced divers got to experience swimming through Nang Yuan Cave — actually a long swim-through with several natural light sources. It’s gorgeous, and this was unexpectedly one of my favorite dives from the trip.

Female instructors at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Diving at Red Rocks at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

PADI Wander Women Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Back on land, we rushed back to Sairee Beach for a date with the sunset. Partnering with local businesses is an important part of Wander Women Retreats, and I couldn’t wait to team up with SUP Tao for a sunset yoga class by my friend Ariel. When we got to the beach, the sky looked cloudy, the waves were rough, and I briefly wondered if we should skip the class.

The girls, however, were enthusiastic to try, and so try we did. After a brief warmup on the beach, everyone paddled out to the boards.

SUP Yoga at SUP Tao, Wander Women Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

SUP Yoga at SUP Tao, Wander Women Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

And what do you know? The rocking boards and cloudy sky made for a laughter-filled class punctuated by a just plain gorgeous sunset. So many later listed this as their retreat highlight!

After a drink on the beach, we all headed back to the villa for a much deserved dinner by our private chef.

SUP Yoga at SUP Tao, Wander Women Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

SUP Yoga at SUP Tao, Wander Women Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

SUP Yoga at SUP Tao, Wander Women Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

The next day was the one I affectionately referred to as “choose your own adventure day.” I knew from the get-go that continuing education courses would be a part of Wander Women Koh Tao. I truly believe that as divers, we should consider ourselves lifetime students.

And so the girls had to make the choice between PADI’s Dive Against Debris course at Master Divers Koh Tao, and PADI’s Basic Freediver course at Crystal Dive Koh Tao. Master Divers is an incredibly eco-focused dive school, and Crystal Dive is the place for freediving, and both are five star PADI IDC centers — we couldn’t have picked better partners. Having not taken either course yet myself, I too was squirming with the choice. 

PADI Dive Against Debris at Master Divers, Koh Tao, Thailand

It’s probably not a huge surprise that in the end, my eco-loving self went for the Project Aware option, which I’ll be reviewing here on Alex in Wanderland separately. I’m a card collector — I confess! We dropped off the girls who chose to do their PADI Basic Freediver at Crystal Dive, and separation anxiety kicked in immediately for all of us — okay, maybe it was just me. I loved this video from their day, which made me feel like I was right there with them!

Meanwhile, my crew and I spent the day with Master Divers, learning about the Dive Against Debris method, doing a cleanup dive, and visiting an artificial reef. We all met up for lunch and to swap stories at Coconut Monkey in Mae Haad, another health-focused restaurant on Koh Tao run by female entrepreneurs. You can check here for my review of the Dive Against Debris speciality.

Inversions Workshop at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

The whole crew reconvened that evening for a super special yoga session: an inversions workshop with upside down expert Cynthia of Ocean Sound Yoga. I’ve been practicing with Cynthia for years, and knew that my retreat just wouldn’t be complete without her.

Cynthia is an anatomy ninja and led us through the safe processes for getting into handstands, headstands, and forearms stands — and spotting each other! It was such a fun experience, and we couldn’t have asked for a better setting than the ocean-front treehouse we’d rented.

Inversions Workshop at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

Inversions Workshop at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand
Inversions Workshop at Wander Women Dive and Yoga Retreats, Koh Tao, Thailand

After a busy day, everyone was eager for a relaxed evening — and I’d rented out the Koh Tao Cinema in order to have just that. Over a comfort food dinner served inside the cute theater (there are couches, guys!) I screened a mini Wanderland Film Festival of Chasing Coral, an award-winning documentary, as well as short films on underwater fluorescence and diving with nitrox, which would come into play over the second half of the retreat.

Wander Women Travel Retreats

Stay tuned for Part II of the Wander Women recap!

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10 Comments...
  • Rick
    July 21 2019

    WOW – that looks like an extraordinary trip! I don’t think any ‘tour company’ could pull this off. Only your intimate knowledge of Koh Tao could make this happen. Bravo alex –

    Rick

    • Alex
      July 23 2019

      Rick, that is such a kind comment! Thank you so much for saying so 🙂

  • Rachel Reynolds
    July 22 2019

    The food alone is enough to make me want to go! It looked like an absolutely AMAZING trip. You must have had some of the BEST insight to your little island. I’m sure everyone benefited from that. Can’t wait to read moreeeee.

    • Alex
      July 23 2019

      Part II dropped today! Woot woot!

  • Kat
    July 23 2019

    This looks incredible, particularly the SUP yoga session. Also daaaamn the food looks incredible. However, no shade intended but personally I think I’d have felt extremely awkward about being surprised with a private shopping event hosted by your friends on the way to dinner and very much like I was being pressured into buying something. I would feel much more comfortable with a heads-up for something like that.

    • Alex
      July 23 2019

      Hey Kat! I appreciate the feedback, always! However I think we did it in a very fun, no pressure way — we had champagne and me and Amy’s gifts waiting for everyone, so it was more like them getting things for free than feeling like they had to buy 🙂 Some girls shopped, some girls sipped champagne and chatted. And of course, after spending the week with Christina in particular they loved getting to see her business. One of the main pieces of feedback we got in our follow ups was that the girls LOVED seeing all the female owned businesses on Koh Tao — we were super excited to show off the entrepreneurial side of the island!

      • Kat
        July 23 2019

        Thank you for taking my feedback so well; I’m a longtime reader (7 years) who always admires your gracious responses to posts which aren’t 100% positive)! I really appreciate you taking the time to explain that my interpretation wasn’t quite correct and that my concern was unfounded. I dream of one day enjoying a retreat with you!

        • Alex
          July 23 2019

          Haha believe me I get it — I worked high end retail all through college… high pressure sales situations are my nightmare 😂 Please come join us someday!

  • Julia Nix
    August 11 2019

    You did it. Kudos! Not easy, and I can imagine sleepless nights for you, partly being excited and scared at the same time. It’s a big responsibility to organize this.

    • Alex
      August 13 2019

      Oh, there were sleepless nights aplenty! But I’m so proud we pulled it off — woo hoo! And can’t believe we are doing it all again in 2020. I can’t wait!

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