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Nakation Chronicles VIII: Dominican Republic, La Jenny, and Ile du Levant

At the writing, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 Social Distancing Crisis. Somehow, it’s seemed a bit glib to continue the typical trajectory of my blog, which is usually focused on nakation destinations around the globe – here at a time when going to the grocery store is considered an adventure. To that end, I thought it might be a good time to add to my Nakation Chronicle installments, intended to sequentially document our naturist journey over a period of thirty years of meandering about six continents. At very least, this feels cathartic to me, a devoted naturist consumed with wanderlust, as I sit here wondering when the world will, again, be open for naked meandering.

2010 was a particularly busy year between family events, business travel, and keeping tabs on our son who had an internship in China. So much time going places where we had to wear clothes.

That said, from the perspective of documenting our naturist journey, we have interesting tales to tell from that year, beginning with our one and only visit to Eden Bay Resort in the Dominican Republic. We were among the last (and only) visitors to this beautiful resort before it became Caliente Caribe – a subsidiary of Caliente Resort in Florida, another beautiful resort that threw their naturist mission under the bus to cater to the “adult playground scene.” My impression was that Caribe followed suit, only opening for selected periods to facilitate “parties of like-minded folks.” Last I knew, even that had ceased, as the place had fallen into disrepair. Bummer! It was a gorgeous venue.

We also traveled to France that summer with our young adult daughters, revisiting their childhood naturist fav, Domaine Naturiste La Jenny, located west of Bordeaux on the Cote d’Argent. From there, we made our way to Provence and took the ferry to Ile du Levant, staying in a modest hotel that shared that special Caliente vibe! (Guffaw!) Shame on us for not scouring the TripAdvisor reviews before we booked. Suffice it to say, that trip ended abruptly and early.

So there you are. Nakation Chronicles VIII. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to trace our story back to its humble, naked beginnings.

You may want to check out the previous Nakation Chronicles installments:

Nakation Chronicles I: The Pre-Digital Age

Nakation Chronicles II: France and Corsica

Nakation Chronicles III: St. Martin, Croatia, Corsica and France

Nakation Chronicles IV: Living Waters, St. Martin, Cap d’Agde, Ile du Levant, and France

Nakation Chronicles V: SXM, Spain, and La Jenny

Nakation Chronicles VI: Mexico, SXM, and Greece

Nakation Chronicles VII: SXM and Croatia

OUR NATURIST STORY: Rebels with a Cause

NAKED AND AFRAID: In a time of international crisis

I’ve just returned from a small naturist resort in Thailand where I had planned to hide out for a week to enjoy a bit of naked solitude while digging my way through a huge work project. (Watch for a future post about Harmony Naturist Resort… Coming soon!) The best laid plans were first undermined when my naturist sequester was overridden by the need to tend to all-things-crisis back home as my workplace fell victim to the omnipresent Coronavirus quarantine. In fact, were it not for the sudden pandemonium that followed the President’s announcement about closing all international borders this past Friday night, I would just now be on my way home. Now, it seems that getting on an airplane to go anywhere is a bleak prospect for the foreseeable future, let alone acknowledging the fact that social nudity typically implies that you’re going to be nude… in a social setting. Probably not the best idea when “social distancing” is about all we are hearing from every direction at the moment.

Naked in Thailand

Nick and Lins (Naked Wanderings) published a helpful blog post about a week ago (Will the Corona Virus Ruin You Nude Vacation?) in an effort to help dispel some the hysteria about this, now proclaimed, pandemic virus. They explain a bit about the virus itself, how to practice good hygiene, and perhaps most importantly, pointed out the fragile state of naturist tourism. It’s a good read and a rational perspective, I think.

God knows, I’m most certainly not a health care professional, so the following prose is not to imply anything more than a cautious dose of common sense. But I can imagine that people who haven’t really thought things through might say, “How could I even think about getting naked in a time when every person I see is a suspected Coronavirus carrier?” As we are being pummeled with messaging from every possible angle, while schools, churches, sports arenas, and even restaurants are closing down, it stands to reason that being near another human is dangerous enough – but near another naked human? Do you simply have a death wish?

Naked in France

As personal hygiene is a relentless topic in all discussions related to naturism, (“Don’t forget to sit on a towel!”) it seems worth noting that most matters related to hygiene and cleanliness for naturists have to do with bacterial issues – not viral infections. And for that matter, at least in the places we frequent, we have found naturists to be more conscientious about cleanliness and personal hygiene than your average human at a typical tourist attraction or public venue. I know, it’s counter intuitive. But just think about the German spa culture where swimsuits are forbidden mainly because they collect bacteria that is not easily rinsed away in the shower. And hot tub owners know that it’s much easier to keep the water balanced if you can keep textiles out of your spa. Humans wash easily. Clothing, not so much! Again, as Nick and Lins pointed out, if a fully clothed human sneezes three feet away from you, it won’t make much difference whether you’re clothed or not, unless you have your head wrapped in gauze that’s certified to be impenetrable by airborne microorganisms.

Naked in Brazil

But all that aside, as one who loves and lives to travel, I’ve been watching day by day as the hospitality industry is struggling for survival with increasing desperation from one hour to the next! My favorite argument regarding the global warming debacle (which, for the record, concerns me a great deal,) has always been the unintended consequences if you grounded even half of the scheduled flights around the world in the altruistic effort to slow down Co2 emissions, as doing so would not only decrease anticipated revenues to all those airlines, but to all the support industries as well. Hotels, restaurants, airline catering and cleaning operations, let alone all other things tourism and transportation. We got a taste of that after 9-11 when air-traffic was brought to a halt for a week or so, mainly for flights in and around the US. But now it seems apparent that this crisis is not going to end any time soon, which actually brings me to my point within the context of this naturist blog.

Aside from a few of the huge naturism centers in France and Croatia, most places catering to naturists are small boutique operations. Those of us who follow such things have been celebrating the rapid growth of naked tourism in Thailand, with three naturist resorts on Phuket, and five more scattered about the country from Chiang Mai in the north to the newest establishment near the border of Malaysia. (We had planned to visit Barefeet Heaven Hill next month, but now it appears we won’t be able to leave the United States, let alone get back home at the end of our journey!)

Naked in Hawaii

And it certainly doesn’t help that social nudity is about… SOCIAL… nudity. There are so many blogs and online discussions about whether a home nudist is really practicing social nudity, or whether they’re simply in a state of nakedness at home. At this writing, the directives are becoming more restrictive every day as to exactly what constitutes a crowd, along with best practices for enjoying your friends and loved ones at the distance of six feet or greater. This is not good news for any part of the tourism industry, but especially gloomy for naturist tourism as in most places, the season is short to begin with, and the remoteness of such places requires a willingness to travel a good distance to get there.

I have a clear recollection of those days following 9-11, when people were scared to death to get on an airplane even though calculating the odds of a Las Vegas card game bore out that you had a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than falling victim to an airborne terrorist attack. And yet, planes flew empty for months. And I also remember my most progressive friends posting on those pre-Facebook era online forums: “The best way to fight terrorism and boost the economy is to get on an airplane and take a vacation!”

Of course, this is different. Nobody really knows what it will take to contain the Coronavirus, whether it will subside as the weather warms up, or for that matter, whether anyone will be able to afford to take a vacation this summer as the ripple effect of the economic fallout is just starting to rear its ugly head.

Naked in St. Maarten

But in the name of advocating for the future of social nudity, and all the establishments that make that possible, I encourage my fellow (and would be) naturists to remain optimistic about the potential of summer travel, knowing that many naturist places simply don’t have the wherewithal to withstand more than a month or two of low occupancy. And most airlines are currently advertising ridiculously low fares with incredibly lenient cancellation policies. Thought you could never afford that nakation in France because it’s simply too expensive to get there? This might actually turn out to be your chance of a lifetime. (I saw round-trip mid-summer fares to Amsterdam this morning for less than $400!) And if it’s still untenable to fly by late spring, start looking into places that are within driving distance, seeking out naturist places that don’t require that you pass through an airport. While not impossible, it seems unlikely we’ll still be obsessing with social distancing three months from now, but by then, many of the places for social nudity may be long gone in the throes of bankruptcy.

By the way, my wife just read a Twitter post that includes a long list of “things to do to keep yourself healthy” during this crisis. (Attributed to Rupa Mayra.) One of those was get more sun on your bare skin to increase Vitamin D.

Now THAT sounds like a healthcare plan I can really get my bare buns behind!

NAKED in the NETHERLANDS: Bussloo Spa near Amsterdam

So here’s the thing…

Some things in life are intended to evoke pleasure and relaxation. Vacation for example! Or maybe a day trip to the spa. Or as naturists love to preach, “What’s more amazing than shedding your clothes and all the stress that goes with them by taking a nakation?”

Right with you there, naked friends, but I gotta say… even for a seasoned naturist, baring it all for the first time in a new environment can be anything but relaxing. What if I walk into the wrong changing room? Am I allowed to be naked here… or there? And what do all those red signs in a foreign language say?… Take off your flip flops? Put on your flip flops? Flip flops will get you expelled from the premises?

Amidst random, but persuasive, bouts of total relaxation, this would pretty much summarize my first (but certainly not my last) visit to Thermen Bussloo on the outskirts of Amsterdam. I first learned about the place from our naturist friend Addie (See: Dating for Naturists or Naked in a Rainstorm) who put this on my “you gotta see this place” bucket list after her stay in Amsterdam last summer. Knowing that Addie has a deep affinity for the Therme Erding chain in Germany, I assumed that if she said this place was spectacular, it must be spectacular. And naked! It was both!

I should note, at least for the sake of those unfamiliar with the European spa culture, that there is quite a wide variance in the opinion as what defines a proper and refined spa experience. Some reviewers are appalled by the “mega-spa” places like Therme Erding (You can read my opinions about Erding and a few other places here.) and much prefer the historic edifices where architecture and calmness override amenities and entertainment. To that end, it seems Thermen Bussloo lies somewhere on the middle of the spectrum, as there is no swim-up bar or evening entertainment (that I know of), but the amenities are plentiful and interesting. And is it just me, or are spa-goers in Holland simply more comfortable with naked? But more about that later.

A QUICK GUIDE TO ENCOURAGE A NEWBIE TO GET NAKED AT THERMEN BUSSLOO

First of all, I speak a little German, a bit more French, a few words of Spanish, but absolutely NO Dutch whatsoever! I can’t figure out the vowels or the consonants, whether reading it in a menu or listening to people speak it. Which is generally OK as most everyone from the Netherlands speaks nearly perfect English, including most of the employees at Bussloo Therme. So riddle me this? They only have maps, facility guides, and dining menus printed in Dutch. (There is a German version of the map, which saved the day for me!) All signage is in Dutch. All schedules are in Dutch. Thankfully, the Dutch words for “burger” and “club sandwich” happen to be burger and club sandwich. And of course, I’ve grown accustomed to using that cool app on my iPhone where you hover over text you can’t understand and it translates it into English right there on your phone. That would work here, if you were allowed to use your phone anyplace outside of reception. That makes sense. Lots of naked people around. Put your phones away! From what I could tell, there was 100% compliance with the no device rule, quite unlike some other places we’ve visited, so I would say “don’t even think about it.”

All that said, my friend Addie remarked, “I liked Bussloo since there didn’t seem to be so many implicit rules, especially about where or where you could or could not be naked.” Totally agree on that point, which we have observed at other Dutch spas like Elysium near Rotterdam and Sauna von Egmond in Haarlem. As opposed to Vabali in Düsseldorf or Berlin where there is a (somewhat) clear (but implicit) expectation that once you step out of the water, you’re going to immediately wrap yourself in a towel or bathrobe, this seems not to be the case in Holland. Even in the dead of winter when the weather was near freezing outside, the locals at Bussloo seemed quite happy to wander about the grounds completely naked. Addie tells me that in the summer, the sweet spot is one of the numerous wooden lounge-chairs out in the gardens, where the wait staff will serve food and beverages right to your seat, and as many as not are completely naked. (Clients, not servers, that is.) That makes sense to me.

I might mention that it’s something of a complicated task to blog about Europe’s naked spa culture, as for obvious reasons, I can’t provide my own images from the experience, (And we all know – Images make the blog post!) but everything you can find on line is delightfully crafted to avoid censorship. On that point, I saw exactly ZERO humans wrapping themselves in towels while sweating in the saunas, and as mentioned above, not much concern about covering up while moving about the facility, except in the lounge and the restaurant where there was a clear expectation that you will wear a robe.

A few more tips for your first visit to Bussloo? Here you go…

  • They issued me a bracelet at check-in, along with a towel and bathrobe (upon my request) but didn’t even bother to swipe a credit card or take a deposit. “You pay on your way out!” Like most of these establishments, I was able to use the wristband to unlock my locker and pay for anything I needed during my stay. I wondered what would prevent me from just getting dressed and walking out the door at the end of my stay, until they handed me a very specific coin at check-out that would open the gate to the parking lot so I could get out with my car. Clever! Not sure what they do to keep public transportation people honest, but it must not be a problem.
  • On that topic, I was only in Amsterdam for a day on a long airport layover. When I worked out the navigation on buses and trains, it was going to be more than two hours from the airport to Bussloo in each direction, so I gave up on that and rented a car. Well worth it as I had little margin to deal with a missed connection. If you’re actually staying a few days in Amsterdam, you can purchase a system-wide transportation ticket for about twenty euros that will get you there and back on trains and buses.
  • Once you check in, the changing area is coed (with gender specific toilets). I arrived early, and it was essentially me and a few (partially naked) women. That made me a bit wary as I wasn’t sure if I was in the proper changing room, but it turned out I was in the right place. Later in the day, the changing room was quite crowded with an expected gender mix, all completely oblivious to the various stages of nudity around them.
  • Again… all signage is in Dutch, including those warning signs I mentioned that I think were trying to tell me not to slip on the ice or the slippery floor. It’s one of the few places I’ve ever been, including Japan, where at least the most critical signage was not multi-lingual. Not complaining – just thought you should know.
  • Unlike most German spas, you are NOT allowed to bring in your day-pack or any other small bag with your day’s provisions. In fact, they give you a smallish semi-transparent plastic bag at check-in for the things you want to keep with you. This always make me nervous when I have a rented towel, a rented bathrobe, and a plastic bag that looks exactly like everybody else’s stuff. You simply have to pay close attention as to where you leave your stuff as you wander about the facility or you’ll never find it again. (I once had to purchase a robe that I misplaced/was taken by mistake at a German spa. Not a good end to the evening.) Bring an empty water bottle with you, as there are plenty of places to fill it during the day, but that’s not so helpful if you didn’t actually bring one.
  • On the less pragmatic side, you want to make sure you have allotted enough time to really enjoy the place. The crown attractions seem to be the Hammam pool, the Geyser Sauna, and the salt-water cenote, where you float on your back with ears submerged while Zen music resonates through the water. Absolutely magical! I was also fond of the rest area in the Kelohouse with warmed tiled loungers. Perfect for an early afternoon nap. (Tested and approved!)
  • It’s worth noting that there is a hotel connected to the spa. It looks lovely, but I was only there for a day visit. It’s a solid hour by car from central Amsterdam, so it’s not a place to stay if you’re up for sight-seeing, but it looked like they have a clear flight-path set up that would allow you to enjoy the spa without ever putting on real clothing for the duration of your stay. I’m eager to test that theory out.

Final verdict? Addie was right! If you’re looking for a naked escape that is essentially weather-proof from the variable climate of northern Europe, Thermen Bussloo should be on your short list. In fact, I’ve added it to my port of entry destination list – as I think the best way to start any European vacation is with a day of snoozing, soaking, and sweating at the spa. Berlin and Munich have always been good options given their proximity to Vabali and Therme Erding, respectively. I’m most certainly adding Amsterdam and Bussloo to the list.

Images for this post were found by Google search and are believed to be in the public domain. If you find an image that requires attribution, or should be removed, please advise accordingly and I will do so at once.

The Garden of Eden Under the African Sun: Sun Eden Naturist Resort

Ever since discovering the intoxicating summer climate of the South of France, which precipitated the insatiable desire to enjoy so many naturist opportunities there, I’ve had an obsession with finding alternate locations in the southern hemisphere where summer occupies the months when Europe and North America are frosty at best, if not outright freezing.  How is it that with so much landmass crowded around the equator, where it’s perpetually 85 degrees Fahrenheit 365 days a year, that most of those continents are occupied by countries and cultures subject to some flavor of religious and philosophical doctrine that essentially makes public nudity all but impossible, if not a severely punishable offense? What’s a devout naturist to do? Even if you live in a region where saunas are common, you can’t stay in there sweating it out for six months!

To that end, I’m happy to report that after years of diligent and exhaustive research, we may well have identified a place where a laid back nakation in January is actually a viable thing, though it does require a bit of work to get there.

Sun Eden Naturist Resort near Pretoria is one of three places we’ve visited in South Africa where naked is the norm. I actually made a brief reconnaissance visit to this place in the midst of other travel about a year ago, (You can read about that here.) simply to see if this would be a suitable place for a more substantial naturist stay. (Translate: Will my wife be keen on this place?) For a sense of context, the first impression is not completely unlike visiting some of the “legacy nudist camps” in the US – those like Rock Lodge Club in New Jersey, Lupin in California, or even Lake Como in Florida. In fact, if you show up on a Wednesday afternoon (as we did) you will quickly discover this is largely a weekend retreat for locals from Pretoria and Johannesburg who have discovered the additive and addictive qualities of the naturist life, making a hasty retreat from city life each Friday evening for weekends with their naturist companions.

However, a couple things set this place apart from some of its US counterparts, beginning with the pool of rental accommodations that have been made available to local and international travelers like ourselves. Last year, I rented a tiny “chalet” – a very basic little house similar to the modest accommodations one might find at most American naturist places. That was fine for a brief stay, but fell a bit short in the amenities division. While walking the property a year ago, I had the good fortune of meeting Lofty and Amanda, two long-time owners who rent out their “Summer Place” for quite a reasonable price. Turns out that Lofty has held many important roles in South African naturist circles, runs a local naturist tourism business called Joxilox Tours, and to our good fortune, their rental has been folded in as one branch of that operation.

This year, we booked the Summer Place for several nights, coinciding with what appears to be a regularly recurring event – the Friday Evening Naturist Game Drive. Knowing that there is actually a substantial game reserve just a few kilometers away from Sun Eden, we weren’t quite sure what this game drive might entail, so we pulled on our shorts and shirts and found our way to the beloved, well-worn safari jeep where we would meet our driver and tour guide, Bert.

A truly affable guy with many interesting stories to tell, his first directive was to explain the dress code for our imminent explorations – NAKED! Our route would remain within the confines of Sun Eden, which turns out to be a significant expanse of land that stretches out over the South African Bushveld, perhaps over 200 acres or so. As it turns out, Bert used this opportunity to give that typically awkward “nudist camp orientation” that is so painfully uncomfortable at most American naturist places. In this case, we learned a bit about Kathy and Wally – the founders of Sun Eden – the twenty-five year evolution of the place, a bit about the ecology of building a self-sustaining naturist resort in the remote African bush, and of greatest intrigue, an introduction to the wildlife that resides there, including a significant herd of impalas and similar cousins from the antelope family, referred to by the locals under the umbrella term of bokkies, that were a constant source of entertainment during out stay.

There had been significant social events planned for the weekend before and the weekend after our visit, so even at the height of our time there, the crowd was small, and decidedly middle-agey, though during both my stays there have been families with young children on the grounds. Bert tells me that recent years have seen significant trends with more international visitors, especially from northern Europe, along with the ever-increasing presence of young urban professionals who seek to escape city life to explore this “new idea” of clothes free recreation. That seems hopeful.

Revisiting the lead-in to this post, I would reiterate that my passion for finding that perfect nakation destination when the days in North America are chilly and short, it seems that Sun Eden is a major contender for the adventurous naturist. Especially now that Club Orient in St. Maarten is out of the game, a visit to Hidden Beach in Mexico has a price-point similar to buying a car, and options in South America are scarce, lacking amenities, and frequently requiring a tolerance for unpredictable weather.

Days at Sun Eden were typically warm and dry, with relatively low humidity and pleasantly cool evenings. We did encounter a brief rainy spell during our stay with torrential downpours, but a few hours later the skies cleared and the vast African horizon fell back into place, infinite and alluring.

Perhaps it was the pleasantries of meeting and socializing with a few of the regulars this time, or simply finding our sea-legs a bit more confidently with South African travel during this, our third visit to the region. I’ve finally grown accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, (even with a stick shift!) and with a bit of advice from the locals, it seemed easy and safe to make our way from the Johannesburg airport out to this naturist respite in the bushveld. What’s more, we had the opportunity to survey a few more of the options for lodging on the grounds, ranging from simple studio apartments to expansive homes where the bokkies are likely to provide live entertainment as you sit next to the braii (BBQ) with a glass of South African wine on your naturist terrace embracing the sunset. From a more pragmatic perspective, there’s no question – it takes some doing to get there, but the dollar and euro are both quite strong against the South African Rand these days, so once you’re on the ground, you will enjoy good value for your money, whether renting a place to stay or venturing into Pretoria for a nice meal. Perhaps half of what you might expect to pay in Europe or the US.

Will this become our South of France surrogate as we scramble to avoid northeast winters yet unforeseen? We’ll see. There are other contenders that we are quite smitten with including a charming little inn in Uruguay and some of the spiffy new places in Thailand, (Check out my previous musings about Oriental Beach and Peace Blue). But I’m pretty sure we’ll be back to Sun Eden. After all, somebody’s gotta be there during the week to look after the bokkies.

A New Naturist Haven in Thailand

Authors Note: This may be my longest travel report I’ve written to date. You may just want to read the first half, which is typical of my rants and raves about naturist travel. The second half gets a bit more pragmatic, in the spirit of “the best vacations are the ones where you don’t use up all your energy worrying about logistics.” Hopefully, this guide to reaching this lovely resort will bring future travelers a bit of piece of mind along the journey.

Ten years ago, who could have imagined it? A naturist resort in Thailand located right on the beach. Actually, a guy named Paulo imagined it, as he had already established himself as a pioneer of Asian naturism when he opened the original Oriental Village resort amidst the rice fields outside of Chiang Mai. We sat chatting with him several years ago when he told us he was looking for the “perfect seaside location” for the ultimate experience in Thai naturism.

The good news is that he found it! Located on the sleepy island of Ko Koa Khoa, you would be hard pressed to find a location more remote than this one, which as one might imagine, is both a positive attribute, and something of a challenge, not the least of which is getting there! A mere 90 kilometers north of the Phuket International Airport, it would be a quick and easy drive where it not for one minor deterrent… It’s on an island… without bridge access… and quirky ferry service that seems a bit disorganized and confusing, even to the locals.

I’ll wrap back around to all that in a bit after offering up a few more accolades for this remarkable new naturist resort, as in the last place, I’m very eager for them to enjoy outrageous success, as there are few comparable options for nakedness in December, and the rapid expansion of naturist options in Thailand has been has been long awaited by those who mourn the short summers of Europe.

The first thing that strikes you is the shear size of the place, most immediately as you walk in the door of your villa – expansive spaces with large glass doors, marble floors, a luxurious living/dining area, and a bedroom larger than most New York City apartments. I had hoped I might learn a bit about the history of the place, as it was clearly built as a village of luxury villas, which seems to be the main commodity on this sleepy little island. As things turned out, lingering conversations in English were not readily on tap during my stay; at least not with the staff – but more about that later.

The villas

The villas are lined up along a wide cement road, something like you might expect in a Midwest or Long Island suburban neighborhood, leading to the heart of the resort centered around a gorgeous pool, an open air restaurant, and several other facilities including a smallish spa, a workout room and a communal library. From there, you can walk directly out to the beach where there are several loungers and palapas, and even a couple massage tables should you choose to take your spa treatment out on the beach within earshot of the sea. I chose to take breakfast each morning in one of the small poolside cabanas, taking note of the fact that they actually had a real coffee machine as opposed to the Nescafé option that seems to be the preferred and only option throughout most of Asia. The minimal orientation provided upon arrival made it clear that nudity is permitted on the beach directly in front of the resort… only! Though as it turns out, long naked walks on the beach are most definitely possible with a bit of thoughtfulness and discretion.

Having visited naturist places in Pattaya and near Rawai on Phuket, I was eager to see just how remote Oriental Beach Village really is. Verdict: It’s really remote! Walking the beach to sleuth out the best waterfront bar, or running around to corner to the Family Mart or 7-Eleven is most certainly not part of the experience here. I did make the 25-minute trek to a local mini-mart I found on Google maps, only to find a friendly woman who runs the place whose vocabulary was pretty much limited to “We no have.” What they did have was a few staples for Asian cooking, a modest selection of soda, bottled water, and Chang beer.

Me and the beach. That’s about it.

My next door neighbors were staying for the better part of a month. Despite the fact that Oriental Beach prepares a mean Pad Thai, several other Thai dishes, and a decent selection of western menu items, my new friends were already growing weary of the limited menu, which led to culinary exploration of other resorts accessible by foot down the beach. They seemed pleased with what they found there, which puts that activity on my list for a subsequent and longer stay. One could conceivably “cook in,” given the kitchens in each villa, though the lack of dishes, utensils, or even a single wine glass makes that pretty much a non-starter, and you’re not likely to find the provisions you would need at that little mini-mart. Which brings us to the most challenging part of opening a full-service naturist resort in Southeast Asia – In all likelihood, most of the clientele will be westerners from the northern hemisphere looking for a winter nakation, the majority of whom will likely expect to communicate in English. But… finding employees to run a place of this size and complexity who speak more than a few words of English is most apparently a huge challenge. (But I can’t really confirm that, because… you guessed it… the language barrier precluded that conversation.)

Even communication during the online booking process was surprisingly confusing and vague, beginning with the first hurdle of trying to make a deposit through their webpage. Keep in mind that I’m a blogger and maintain several websites and blog pages while dealing with international currency exchange on a regular basis, but somehow I couldn’t seem to navigate the “make a payment” option on their official website. I would eventually submit a deposit through PayPal, which elicited a somewhat cryptic confirmation message that left me wondering if I had booked the right days, or year, or place. All a little concerning when it comes to coordinating international flights into and out of Phuket – exactly 24 hours in an airplane from my home!

Now what? … says the meandering naturist.

A Guide to Getting to Oriental Beach

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about, though from the moment I walked out of the airport, I was never quite sure what was going on. And thus, for the benefit of future travelers, I offer this bulleted account of my transfer and arrival so you might have some idea of what to expect, which for a travel control freak like me would have facilitated a significantly more relaxing arrival:

  • Having written to Peter, the mysterious booking contact during the reservation process, I had asked for confirmation that a driver would be waiting for me at the airport. He responded with concision. “Confirmed.” OK, then!
  • There are many exit doors from the International Arrivals terminal in Phuket, and once you go out, you can’t go back in. (Guards are posted near metal detectors to keep non-ticketed humans out of the arrivals concourse.) On previous visits arranged by other resorts, I had always been instructed to exit through a specific door to meet my driver. Lacking such exactitude in this booking, I simply continued out through the first door beyond customs – Door 3, I believe – where a huge throng of people crowded around the barricades with all forms of signage indicating specific resorts and people’s names. To my relief, about halfway down the runway was a sign with my name and the words Oriental Village on it. Woo-hoo, we’re in business!
  • The young woman behind the sign was apparently working several arrivals for a local car service. With limited English, she indicated that since my flight was early (which it was) my driver wouldn’t be here for another fifteen minutes and to go “sit over there” in an outdoor seating area. It was closer to 25 minutes, but they did come fetch me in time, grabbing my small rollie suitcase and walking away as a non-verbal sign for “We’re leaving now.” That would become a valuable, if not singular, mode of communication over the next few hours.
Air conditioned transportation!
  • They say that professional drivers who tailgate and drive aggressively are among the most skilled, and arguably, the safest given the intensity with which they drive. I’m still alive to say that this proved accurate, though I found it more comforting to look out the side window as we whizzed up behind buses and semi trucks with just centimeters to spare as we zipped to the right or the left. All the more reason to stare at my iPhone with the route on Google maps, while my brain remained fixated on that ferry crossing. Was he racing to make a particular ferry departure? How much farther was the resort once we had made it to the island? How does the driver figure the crossing time into his fare? Will I be asked to pony up money for the boat? I mentioned I’m a travel control freak, yes?
  • As the kilometers ticked down on my map app, we came to a little village near the memorial to the 2004 Tsunami, made our way down a labyrinth of side streets, and rolled to a stop on a concrete pier where a car ferry sat, loading ramp down, half loaded for departure. “This is it for me,” said the driver, “Someone meets you on the other side.” With that, he got out, removed my bag from the trunk, and left it sitting on the steps where several locals seemed to just be hanging out. “Back in five minutes,” he said to me as I stood with my bag on the pier, just before he jumped in his taxi and disappeared into the village – forever.
  • Lacking a better plan, I sat on the concrete step, watching for some sense that the car ferry was about to leave. Should I grab my bag and walk on board? Do I need to buy a ticket? Could I identify anything that even looked like a ticket office? Then magically, after five or ten minutes, a guy in a blue shirt walked up, grabbed my bag and started walking toward a weathered longboat. There’s that cue! I followed, boarding the 10 passenger (and three motorbike) vessel while the car ferry sat listlessly nearby. That answers that question.
Not your boat, man!
  • Once on the longboat, it was a ten-minute crossing to the other side, where the guy in the blue shirt grabbed my bag again, this time leaving it on another pier in the blazing sun. Before I could express my concern about the future of my chocolate stash, another guy in an orange shirt bearing the words Oriental Beach Resort grabbed my bag and tossed it in the back of a nearby pick-up truck; a luxurious variety of such with a canopy and bench seats in the back. The truck bore the same logo as the dude’s shirt. We must be getting close.
  • The fifteen minute ride in the open air truck bed was actually refreshing as we drove through farmland and jungle until ultimately working our way down a series of ever-narrowing roads, the last of which was simply a dirt track. Then voila! We had arrived! A big metal gate slid open and the orange shirt guy grabbed my bag, which I would follow, again, to my villa – B1, the second house on the right.
  • I think the girl who checked me in was named Julie. She offered warm salutations in English, but to my weary ears, was quite difficult to understand. After the typical formalities with my passport and credit card, she gave minimal directives about where I could be naked on the beach, (“Just there!”) and a reminder to leave my shoes inside the door, supposedly to keep them safe from the local shoe-stealing dogs. Orientation ended there. I would later find (but never use) the door key perched in the activation portal for the electricity and AC. If there were additional printed materials about amenities, services, and regulations for the place, I never found them. Turns out my next door neighbors were The Hotel Guys, who make something of a livelihood of traveling the world and reviewing hotels. They were most helpful in helping me get the lay of the land, for which I was most grateful.
  • Given the sheer expanse of the place, the staffing needs are considerable, ranging from gardeners, to house-keeping, to restaurant and bar personnel. Where did they find that many locals on this small, remote island with adequate English skills? Well… they didn’t. Which seemed uniformly upsetting to several other guests including the Asians and Europeans. I’ve always felt a bit sheepish (read: embarrassed) about my dependency on English when I travel, as like most Americans, that’s the only language where I am truly facile. It had never quite occurred to me the extent to which world travelers of other tongues have come to rely on English as the common denominator as well.

Lingering reflections…

Were I to return, I think I would translate a few key phrases on the computer and print them out. Particularly those like, “I’d like to confirm the precise time of my shuttle back to the airport,” or “Could someone check out the toilet in my room?” In time, Nui, the local resort manager made an appearance and her English is quite excellent, and Paulo of Chiang Mai fame made a showing shortly before my departure, though as was the case up north, I didn’t find him particularly forthcoming in making small-talk and such. Not sure that’s a language thing – that’s just Paolo.

Menus could be navigated by pointing and charades, but ordering a glass of red wine turned out to be somewhat daunting, not to mention inordinately expensive. (Perhaps $5 for a 3 oz pour?!) In fact, on that point, I should mention that there is a 7-Eleven store near the outdoor arrivals area at the Phuket airport with a limited selection of wine, beer, and spirits. I suspect it would be significantly cheaper, and certainly more efficient, to stock up there before meeting your ride than trying to communicate the particularities of ordering from the wine list of exactly one varietal of red, and one varietal of white. I know… first world problems.

Trying my best to be Zen

Would I go back? Yep! In a heartbeat. It’s beautiful place with unmatched amenities on the naturist market, particularly if your intention is to unplug, read, and relax! And the 60-minute massage under the palm trees near the beach was absolute nirvana at the mere cost of $25! (The moral: Drink less wine and have more massages.)

Would I come back for a two day visit? I don’t think so. It’s simply too difficult to get there, and quite isolated once you are there. Seems there are several options for getting out and around the island if you’re there for a longer stay, but those things simply happen when they happen, which may not correspond with when you would most like them to happen. The Malaysian couple that complained about the language barrier actually arrived with their own car, with their own story of navigating that car ferry I left sitting at the port, which apparently only sails every couple of hours and only when the tide is in! I could imagine that being a bit panic inducing if you’re trying to catch a departing flight the same day.

Should you have special dietary restrictions, or you’ve grown accustomed to consuming large amounts of water, it would be worth coordinating a stop at a real grocery store with your driver en route from the airport. And I’m certain there were places on the island with more provisions than could be found at the nearby mini-mart, but getting back to the mainland for heavy-duty shopping could easily turn out to be an all day affair.

Typhoon hour at the naturist resort

So there it is… probably way too much information for the casual blog reader, but at the same time, maybe not quite enough for someone who plans to visit this little naked oasis on the Andaman Sea. For me, there are two kinds of travel. Exploration expeditions where you mainly expend energy trying to figure out where you are and what’s going on, and chill-out naked and relax vacations, when the main objective is to de-stress. Oriental Beach Village Naturist Resort is an excellent place to imbibe in the latter, if you can sort out the exploration-expedition part of the equation sooner than later.

Like I said up front, I really want this place to be outrageously successful. Hopefully my meandering travelogue will help potential guests know what to expect so they can assimilate their own nakation decompression process and more quickly than I did.

And oh, did I mention I’m a control freak when I travel?

Reflections on a Naturist Life: La Jenny, France 2019

After an absence of five years, we finally made it back to La Jenny this summer, the place I’ve often cited as the best naturist place in the world. [See previous post here] As it goes with the best of anything, such classifications are highly subjective, and even in this case, we’ve wavered a good bit on that assessment over the years, depending on the weather during our most recent visit. A rainy week at La Jenny doth not a fabulous nakation make.

You can read the long version of our naturist saga here, which highlights our first visit to La Jenny in 1997 as a pivotal event in our naked lives. That first time, we only stayed for four nights, but we were immediately smitten with the place, and with the concept of French family naturism in general. (Check out this recent post by Nick and Lins about family naturism in France. Compelling, at least!) We returned for two weeks in 1999 with our pre-adolescent kids, at which point it became a perennial project to figure out how we could manage the airline tickets for a family of five to get back for subsequent nakations. By this time, we had tried several naturist places in America with our children in tow, but they were quickly moving into the “This is really awkward and dumb” state of mind about going on vacation with parents, let alone taking your clothes off. La Jenny was an immediate game changer, and our summers there still live among our most cherished family memories – nudity notwithstanding.

We would return to La Jenny at least a dozen times over the ensuing years, sometimes with kids, then as they were out on their own, sometimes as a couple. In 2014, we even “coerced” some of our naturist friends from home to join us a weeklong visit, but alas, it was one of those iffy weather weeks which left the lasting impression, “This place would be perfect if the sun shone a bit more.” After that, summers got busy with other things to do and  places to be, and La Jenny fell off our travel itinerary… until this year.

La Jenny, 1999

Though our adult children don’t really consider themselves naturists, they don’t bat an eye at getting naked for a family vacation, especially if it turns out to be an all-inclusive sort of deal where they get room, board, and a free plane ticket. Two of the three took the bait this summer, so we found ourselves – naked – on the porch of our chalet near the La Jenny golf course, playing Uno into the wee hours of the morning again. It felt reminiscent to be back in this charming naturist village, sitting near the pool, watching an entirely new generation of naturist families, providing evidence – in the flesh – that family naturism is a booming business in France. 

As a blogger and avid advocate of family naturism, it has occurred to me on many occasion that our naturist travelogue probably seems someplace between irrelevant and unreachable to many a would-be American naturist. I suspect that many feel just like we did back in 1997, saddled with three small children and barely enough money to buy shoes and lunch makings for the coming school week. “Nakation in France? Never gonna happen.” [There’s a whole separate story that goes here about my friend David who taught me how to earn airline miles with a credit card, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole right now.] And I also remember the “Ah-Ha” moment when we realized that a short week in a Disney park carries roughly the same price tag as three weeks in Europe, if we could figure out how to get everybody from this continent to that one. 

La Jenny, 2003

But as I read so many blog posts, tweets, and reddit musings from frustrated husbands and fathers who simply can’t find a way to sell naturism to their spouses and families, I can’t help but think, “That’s because you simply can’t find a place in close proximity to where you live to replicate the everyday normal naturist experience in France… or Croatia…or Spain.” Family naturism will never feel normal when you’re in an environment where it simply isn’t… NORMAL!” Where the people you see at the pool and the beach and at the restaurant that evening are the same people you would encounter at Disneyland, or Six Flags, or even at the local grocery store or restaurant. 

La Jenny, 2005

I’ve ranted a good bit in these pages over the years about the “nudist colony” feel of naturist places in the US. Indeed, there are a few places in North America that have broken that boundary, but making a quick weekend jaunt to Toronto or Palm Springs may even be more cost prohibitive than going to Europe. And then there are the family naturism casualties in the US, like Caliente in Florida, which finally gave up on their business plan for family naturism when they realized that catering to those seeking a sexual adventure became a necessity for keeping the cash flow in the positive. Or Desert Sun (formerly Desert Shadows) in Palm Springs, which first opened as a family naturist destination, where many units sold under the banner of “my grandkids can come visit me here,” only later to have children banned from the premises altogether as the potential of aiding and abetting a child predator outweighed the prospects of attracting clients who would pay for a family nakation. We Americans like to think we’re really progressive, but when it comes to intergenerational nudity, we simply can’t seem to figure it out.

La Jenny, 2007

Like Nick and Lins say in their piece, the French have totally figured out the formula for making family nakation acceptable, even to those who would rather vacation with their clothes on. (Imagine that! Telling your friends you went with your family on naked vacation without worrying about getting reported to Child Protective Services!?) France has also learned to embrace mainstream and social media in a way that doesn’t just sexualize or poke fun at social nudity, but portrays it as a viable recreational option for everyday people who simply want to de-stress, snooze by the pool, and walk on the beach, then come home without tan lines. 

La Jenny 2013

So now it’s 2019. As I rode my bike (naked) down to the village for croissants and a baguette from the market (also naked), before spending the rest of the day (naked) with my wife, friends, and adult children, I couldn’t help but get a bit nostalgic about that first visit to naturist France some 20+ years ago. I remember thinking, as we were in our thirties back then, “Why did it take us so long to discover this magical place? And how will I ever go on another vacation, anyplace, where clothing is required by the pool or on the beach? Why is that even a thing?”

So I guess that’s the point. Despite the best efforts of the most ardent proponents of social nudity in the US of A, it seems unlikely we’ll ever catch up with our European friends when it comes to creating a place where family naturism not only seems normal, but is in demand! Are there safe places to get naked with your family in the United States to enjoy social nudity with your family? A few, scattered across the country. Do any of them measure up, even to the mid grade places in France? Well… not from what we’ve seen, and we’ve been looking for a long time.

So if you’ve made it this far in these wandering musings from a meandering naturist, and you’re still living in the confines of naked and alone at home, I simply encourage you to find a cheap plane ticket, do a bit of careful research, then go get naked in France. It doesn’t have to be La Jenny; there are over 300 options in France alone. But if you get it right, you might end up wrecked… and naked… for life! 

Naturist Ada Bojana: The (Once) Naturist Queen of the Adriatic Coast

For those of us who bother to worry about such things, there are wildly mixed reports about the future of naturism in Europe. One day, you read that young French people are lining up in droves to get naked, but the very next page lays out the demise of naturist tourism in Croatia as all the “old leathery Germans” are dying off. Never mind the thriving spa industry in The Netherlands and Germany where thousands of 20 and 30-somethings are having naked date nights every weekend. But that scarcely ameliorates the rampant complaints on Trip Advisor that hardly anybody was naked at the big naturist center in France last week.

Really, it’s all very confusing!

I can see you Albania! So close, but yet SO far!

So confusing, in fact, that I finally had to go see one such place for myself in preparation for that awkward moment at a cocktail party when somebody asks, “So aren’t you one of those nudie types? And didn’t you say you’ve been to Montenegro? Is there a good place to get naked there?”

“Well, I think Ada Bojana is still open. You might wanna check that out.” I say with tentative trepidation, “Though I can’t really say for sure, since, well…  I’ve never been there.” 

Which was true, until a few weeks ago when I purposely diverted my flight itinerary to avail myself for a bit of nakation research in an area that has become known as the French Riviera of the Adriatic. Ada Bojana is actually a triangular island that splits the mouth of the river that separates Montenegro from Albania, or if you know your post WWII history, the southern reaches of former Yugoslavia. 

My view while enjoying a naked beer at the Ada Bojana Beach Bar

As best I understand it, Yugoslavia garnered much of its naturist fame during the Tito dictatorship that, bizarrely enough, provided a framework for stability until the dictator’s death in 1980. (Tito’s death was the beginning of the end for Yugoslavia as tensions grew between various factions that eventually led to genocide and the many atrocities of the Balkan War in the early 1990s. It’s worth reading up on all that if you decide to visit the region, as the topic is still very much relevant to the people who live there.) But ironically enough, it seems the communist regime of former Yugoslavia was amazingly good for naturism. With the northern beaches of Croatia a mere six-hour drive from rainy Bavaria, and decades of a depressed economy under a communist regime that kept the cost of tourism ridiculously low. So many naked Germans flocked to the Adriatic coast that, even today, German remains an unofficial second language of the region. 

Endless rocky shorelines on the deep blue Adriatic created the perfect formula for the rapid growth of the mega-naturist centers Koversada and Valalta near Rovinj, numerous others scattered down the Dalmatian Islands, and finally, the naturist Queen of the south – Ada Bojana; a perfect sandy beach landlocked between historic Ulcinj and the mysterious borders of Albania. I can only surmise what the place was like in its heyday, but even what remains today – a complex of several hundred apartments, an adjacent camping area, and three kilometers of sandy beach – represents one of the most expansive naturist properties in Europe. 

Several years ago, we made a naturist trek across Europe beginning in Spain and ending in Greece. Ada Bojana had been on that itinerary until I finally got cold feet after reading so many poor reviews on Trip Advisor about this place stuck in the communist era, along with rumors that the entire plot of land was for sale to the first developer with enough cash and a little entrepreneurial imagination. Regrettably, we didn’t even bother to give the place a day visit. 

Six years later, it seems the developers never showed up, the existing management made a few modest upgrades, and a few more mildly positive reviews have accumulated on line, including that of Nick and Lins from Naked Wanderings, who (rightfully!) raved about the beach bar and the expansive naturist beach.

Promo shot, but I swear, you can get naked here.

I flew into Podgoriça where I rented a car for the 90-minute drive through the mountains down to the sea, well worth the entire trip simply for the scenery alone. But as you make your way south of Ulcinj, the mountains fall away into broad open marshlands, past a few modest hotels, and across the bridge onto the little island Bojana. Walking into the reception area, it felt very much like the hotels of Zagreb and Budapest I had visited as a college kid in 1985, before the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was early June, and the place wasn’t crowded, and thus I think they upgraded my 60€ room to an apartment right on the sea with a small terrace overlooking rows of loungers – ALL intended for naked sunbathers, like ME!

The linens were clean and starched, and clearly the bathroom fixtures had been updated within recent years, but even with the terrace doors wide open, it was impossible to get rid of the pervasive aroma from decades of cigarette smoke. I would later ask about non-smoking rooms as I was checking out of the hotel, when the man in the white shirt and black tie behind the counter looked at me as if I were proposing some bizarre revelatory idea for the first time ever. “Oh no…. we don’t have that kind of room.”

Naked blogger hard at work in his Soviet era apartment.

Making my way to the beach bar, there were only three or four other people there on this weekday evening in early June, but the kitchen was open, and the server was pleasant enough to communicate in our best GerFranglish. Calamari and beer seemed like a good bet. It took a couple visits on subsequent days to figure out the laid-back policy of dress or undress as you wish while enjoying a beverage as you’re overlooking the sea, another particularly well-deserved rave from Nick and Lins. No shirt? No shorts? No problem.

One of my main objectives during my short stay was to test out the walkability of the three-kilometer naturist beach. The most immediate realization was that the management of the naturist resort does an excellent job of keeping their sector of the beach clean and groomed, as once outside the resort, the accumulation of plastic bottles and assorted trash was immediate and overwhelming, in some cases, sculpted into art installations of sorts. But indeed, the beach was sandy, and a chance encounter with a herd of cattle while beach-combing was a first for me. Not only was naturism not a problem, but I was practically the only person out walking that day, with the exception of one or two others, also fully nude. 

Um… You cows are blocking the beach, and my sandy ass and I need to get through!

When a cluster of small fishing boats appeared on the horizon I thought I must be approaching the outlet of the river, and thus, the Albanian border, only to realize upon closer inspection that maybe those weren’t fishermen in those boats. In fact, a good swimmer could easily wade out into the mouth of the river and make their way across the stream onto mainland Albania in a matter of minutes, and it seemed evident that the occupants of the yellow boats were quite concerned I might attempt to do just that. The jetty formed a quiet little bay that was similarly littered with refuse, and while the rugged Albanian mountains in the close distance looked inviting, the feeling of being naked and watched – by border-guards in small motor boats – was at least a little spooky.

Making my way back to the resort area, signage demarked an area closed to public access (only by signage, not by barrier) where simple cabins for maybe one or two- hundred more naturists were slowly falling into ruin. It made me wonder about those years during the Balkan Wars when devoted naturists are said to have maneuvered around the areas of intense fighting to make the annual pilgrimage to these hallowed naked stomping grounds, and the parts of the region that never quite recovered from all that.

I bet these were pretty decent apartments, back in the day. 😦

Today, textile civilization is slowly closing in around Ada Bojana, providing some excellent dining options within an easy walk of the naturist lodging, but a burlap fence has also been placed near the end of the beach with a beach bar for those who insist on wearing swimwear. Will the textiles eventually capture the entire resort? Are there simply not enough naked Germans left to go around? Can’t you find your own private island someplace where you can drink cheap beer in a swimsuit?

I’ll keep an eye on Ada Bojana. If you can handle a couple imaginative flight connections, it’s a stunning place for vacation even with your clothes on! And given the success and proliferation of naturist places in France, it’s hard to believe people wouldn’t pay two or three times as much for naturist accommodations here, simply for the privilege of just a few more amenities and the option of a no-smoking room. Thankfully, it seems change happens slowly in Montenegro, which may be the very reason this magical little corner of Europe hasn’t been swallowed up by holiday business tycoons… wearing beach pants and nylon swim trunks. 

These signs still exist. “Buy perfume, Shop at Lidl, and oh get naked!” WOO HOO

Hang in there Ada Bojana! You are a most worthy naturist destination. You just need a little TLC, and a few more naturist tourism dollars that many of us would part with in a heartbeat for a fresh room and a naked beer on the shimmering Adriatic!