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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
So… this is a continuation of a series of posts I started last winter, or… if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, last summer! Quite amazingly, I had the opportunity to make my way to six continents in five weeks, hitting every naturist place I could manage along the way. (You can find my previous posts here about Naked Africa and Naked Thailand.)
For you travel geeks out there, I should explain that I often use the month of January to bulk up my mileage account in an effort the keep my airline status, which makes everything quite a lot more comfortable for more perfunctory travel over the rest the year. In this case, I was able to extend a couple business trips into pleasure excursions as well, which afforded me the opportunity to check out a few new naturist places.
To that end, it was only recently that I became aware of Refugio Naturista near Playa Chihuahua, about 90 kilometers north of Montevideo in Uruguay. Uruguay? Who goes to Uruguay? To get naked? REALLY?
Turns out that this may be the most promising naturist destination in South America. There are certainly some nice naturist beaches in Brazil, and I’m told there are one or two in Argentina and Chile as well, but for years I’ve been looking for something that would rival the best naturist beaches in Europe. A family vibe with long sunny days in a place where naturism is not restricted to a two-hundred meter section of seclusion.
And imagine if there was a nice place to stay nearby where nudity was permitted. We found the rather spartan accommodations at Praia do Pinho in Brazil a few years ago, but up until now, that was about the best we could do. How is it that the family-run Refugio Naturista had escaped our consciousness when they’ve been in business for nearly twenty years? So much time lost!
Marcela and Ricardo run the place with their young daughter (at least until she goes off to university) and welcome you as if you were visiting their home. In fact, they live just a few houses down the road, next to a small string of apartment units that they have apparently acquired quite recently in an effort to increase their capacity for naturist lodging. That’s where we stayed, which required wrapping in a pareo for the three minute walk to the main lodge where meals are served and a rather large iguana comes looking for table scraps the same way your dog might do so at home. Don’t be alarmed! He seemed way more interested in my bread crumbs than my toes!
I speak almost no Spanish. Marcela has enough English to help you deal with the necessities of living, (even enough to handle the nuances of a gluten free diet!) while Ricardo needs very few words to demonstrate his genuine kindness. This is clearly a labor of love as they have created a laid-back atmosphere where clothing is optional and stress is forbidden. We happened to be there for BBQ night, when Ricardo cooked up a huge pile of meat on the open fire pit while we played the game of “How many words do we have in common with the other guests from Bolivia, Argentina, and Europe.” As is typical, the game got a bit better around the second glass of wine.
It’s really difficult to know when you’re pissing off the locals, or in this case, just how much clothing you need to wear on the way to the naturist beach just a few couple hundred meters away. Here’s again, an immodest attempt with a pareo seemed to do the trick. A gust of wind comes up to reveal a buttock or a breast? Meh – No problemo!
At the end of the road, a huge sign announces you’ve arrived at Playa Chihuahua (Again! How is it I had never ever heard of this place until about a year ago!?) where a small boardwalk takes you over the dunes and onto an expansive beach where a significant majority of the people are naked. Nudity is not required, but obviously, most preferred, making it an excellent option for a newbie naturist or reluctant spouse who simply isn’t sure yet. Lifeguards are perched in their little house on stilts, a massage tent awaits for those seeking self-indulgence, and the little Explora Beach Bar proved to have a policy of “No shirt? No pants? What would you like for lunch?”
As one who loves a long naked walk on the beach, it turns out this requires a bit of careful planning, as a significant estuary denotes the western border of the naturist beach, unless the tide is out and you can simply wade across to the other side where an isolated beach awaits. We attempted this twice, the first time realizing we didn’t have enough time to walk as far as we wanted, the next time unsure if the tide was going in or going out. A lapse of judgement on that front could send you walking for miles – naked – up and around through the neighboring beach town. Research matters! I regret that we had not planned a bit more carefully, as the long, sandy white beach was truly idyllic for nude trekking, and most people we encountered there during our brief exploration were naked as well. Next time.
Other things I did not know about Uruguay? Apparently it claims one of the most stable economies in South America, which was well evidenced in some of the newer establishments, such as beautiful wineries that are springing up in the coastal hills. We did make the drive into Montevideo one evening, seemingly close, but not so much during rush hour, only to find that it lacked the panache of places like Rio and Buenos Aires. Once we realized that even the parking garages in the theater/restaurant district closed at 6:00 pm, we got spooked, bought a sandwich at a gas station, and high-tailed it back to our naked refuge near the sea. Perhaps we inadvertently missed the charm of Uruguay’s principal city, but come to think of it, I’ve never seen a travel brochure that says, “Have the time of your life in Montevideo!” Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and stay naked at the beach bar.
Would we go back? The actual question is simply – When? From where we live near NYC, it requires a bit of doing (including an airport change in Buenos Aires) to fly into Punto del Este (just a few minutes drive from Refugio Naturista and Playa Chihuahua,) but I think that’s the way to go! Sometimes convenience overrides saving money, and in fact, we could have done well without a car had it not been for our impromptu winery exploration.
In any event, you want this place on your bucket list. We only ask that you don’t book the last room at the same time we’re hoping to go! 😃
Back in 2014, shortly after I started this blog, I began a series of posts called “One-Hundred Naked Places.” The idea was to document the places we had visited, including the ones we weren’t so keen on, in an effort to provide an admittedly biased resource for others who are looking for great places to get naked. The bias part is simply admitting that the very thing we’re not looking for may well be the thing somebody else is looking for.
I’ve listed those original posts at the end of this post, and I’m gradually working through them again as we’ve done a lot of traveling since 2014, and I never quite got to the end of the series. BUT NOW… we have interactive Google Maps, which can be updated as we go along.
Now you can click through to our personalized Google map of “Places we’ve Been Naked,” which will provide you with a link to the most recent information and photos on the web, and our brief commentary in the list view regarding our visit there. As noted on the map, I can’t quite figure out why all the pins don’t automatically appear on the map, but as soon as you click on the link from the list, it will pin it on the map.
By now, I have over a hundred blog posts since 2013, so if you’re looking for information about a particular place, or would like to know about our experiences there, use the form below to inquire. It’s always fun to chat with people who are looking to plan their next “nakation!”
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING WE’VE ALREADY BLOGGED ABOUT?
Alternatively, if you would like to suggest a place we need to add to our list, or have some other question regarding our naturist travels, we invite you to fill out the form below…
Hope this is useful, and that others can benefit from our thirty years (Oy!!) of naturist travel experience. Bon voyage!
In the meantime, here are the links to those previous posts:
Think about it. Europe is great in the summer. You might even get a few chances at naked autumn or spring in the South of France, Spain, or Italy. And if you’re really adventurous, you can find your way to the Canary Islands, which are essentially due west of the Sahara Desert.
But Africa!? A continent that straddles the equator. And until all the westerners showed up, they thought naked was the way to go. (“Thank you kind and thoughtful missionaries who taught us to pray and wear clothes – except for the wearing clothes part!“) Until then… temperate climates much of the year. No bizarre religious convictions to make one ashamed of her breasts. From what I can gather, a loin cloth seemed like the perfect attire for any formal occasion back in the day.
Truth be told, once Western Europe finished cutting Africa into neatly packaged countries, it seems a bit ironic that about the only place one might consider going for social nudity is at the southern tip of the continent – South Africa. Ironic because this is a huge expanse of land where the Dutch (We LOVE public nudity!) and the Brits (Ahem… please don’t offend the Queen.) decided to fight it out with the indigenous people to lay claim to the natural resources that rest just beneath the soil there. Most know what came of all that, the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and perhaps even a bit about the chaos in the wake of what one friend refers to as “centuries of Social Engineering gone awry.” In layman’s terms, read any post about visiting Johannesburg on Trip Advisor, and it will likely lead out with the words “Be careful!” Good advice.
As it turns out, there are several naturist places dotted about the country of South Africa – seemingly the only country on the continent that recognizes social nudity in any organized sort of way. I/we have visited two. My wife and I spent a week at Harmony Nature Farm back in 2013 (Literally, the week that Nelson Mandela died), then I recently made a quick trip that accommodated a weekend visit to Sun Eden Resort just east of Pretoria, then a return visit to Harmony Nature Farm to visit some of the friends we had made there years ago.
In the middle of summer – January on this part of the planet – the weather was literally postcard perfect for a naturist outing. Days were warm and sunny with low humidity, and evenings remained naked friendly without being oppressively hot! I rented a car at the Johannesburg airport, plugged Sun Eden Family Naturist Resort into Google Maps on my phone (couldn’t find it on Apple Maps), then sped off on the well maintained motorway to the north, past Pretoria and off to the designated exit. So far, so good!
What I didn’t expect, however, was once having left the motorway, I took a hard right into the African bush, only 18 kilometers to go according to Mr. Google, which created the illusion I would be at my destination in a matter of minutes. That idea vaporized just a few hundred meters later where the asphalt ended, and the well maintained, but bumpy, dirt road started chopping away at the suspension system of my little rented car. Signage? None. Other humans? Occasionally a Toyota Forerunner would speed by. Civilization? A few remnants of something that might have once been a market or restaurant, and a gate now and again that seemed to lead to someone’s cattle ranch tucked just over that rise in the distance.
But sure enough, after about fifteen kilometers of trying to avoid the potholes that would blow out my tires, there was a right turn, then a short distance later, a sign appeared on a small road named “First Street,” (Indeed it was!) which took me to the gate of Sun Eden Resort.
Having not been to a naturist camp or resort in Great Britain, I can only speculate this would be quite similar. A nice pool complex with a bar and a little store, several trailers (caravans) and small houses scattered about, many of which could be rented, and a few large attractive homes that would dwarf some of the McMansions I’m accustomed to in the eastern United States. Spread out over a couple hundred acres, nothing seemed crowded, and even walking the fenced perimeter road seemed completely viable given the few signs of life outside of the resort – other than impalas and other wandering creatures of the landscape. (I was warned to watch out for the snakes, which I did, but I never ended up meeting one.)
While one could certainly rent a cottage or home here for the entire “summer,” this is most definitely a weekend destination. I didn’t arrive until Saturday around noon, by which time there was plenty of conviviality around the pool and the bar. For those who frequent some of the more traditional nudist places in the US, the entry process felt very familiar, the long-timers running the front desk who provided a thorough introduction to the honor system in the camp store while making sure I knew the rules about sitting on a towel. “Got it!”
The weekend crowd was quite mixed though, with one or two families with small children, a good number of 30/40-somethings, and a few more folks in my current demographic of 50 and above. I earnestly enjoyed the music and banter in the bar on Saturday night where the bartender was pouring some purply shots that tasted a little like medicine I had to take as a child. “NO! One is enough! Really! Thank you.”
The store had a nice selection of meats (but essentially nothing green, I might mention) and all the supplies one needs like charcoal and fire-starters, which made for two very pleasant “braai meals” outside my little cottage. Turns out my meal plan was particularly fortuitous as come 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, the party vaporized into their cars and disappeared down that long dirt road back into their clothed existence. Walking around that evening, I found a few “residents” who would remain in the silent serenity of the expansive grounds, but of those who remained, many had a tendency to get dressed. I used the opportunity to wander around for a while to snap a few photos, with a stop-off to chat with the owner of one of those nicer homes. He also runs a naturist travel agency based out of South Africa. He rents his place, and it was lovely. I suspect that will turn up in a future blog post, as I would be delighted to stay there.
On Monday morning, I packed up, settled my bill in the market, and headed off to see Piet and Piet (father and son) at Harmony Nature Farm. You can read a little more about our previous visit here in an earlier post, though I suspect I could write a whole book about this incredibly gorgeous stretch of land pressed against the African bluffs, once again scattered with caravans and – shall we say – less luxurious rental homes. We stayed a week in one of these little rustic cottages on our previous visit where the highlight included zebras begging at our door for food each morning, and being awoken early one morning when a baboon jumped from a tree onto the tin roof of our house. Startling, to say the least.
Once again, this is a weekend destination, and it seemed that I was the only guest on the grounds during this Monday lunchtime, though there were a few other residents meandering about, some clothed, some not.
It was good to see Piet and Piet again, the father/son duo who are “somehow making ends meet.” Piet senior had told me the story during my last visit of his European naturist experiences when he was young, and how he was eager to recreate such a place in South Africa. Compared to Sun Eden, the place is looking a bit tired, but when sitting at the Sunset Bar perched on a steep hill overlooking the rest of the continent, or when walking the grounds under a bright blue sky in and out of the shadows of the towering bluffs, it reminded me how amazingly beautiful this part of the world really is, and how amazingly special it is to be able to enjoy that in a clothes-free environment.
It is worth noting that both of the naturist places are located within a short distance of nature reserves where one can make a day-long safari with a remarkably high chance of seeing at least four of the Big Five. Didn’t bother with that this time, but it occurs to me that when we return to South Africa, which we undoubtedly will, I think I would spend a long weekend at Harmony Nature Farm, perhaps venture out during the week (Maybe even to neighboring Zambia to see Victoria Falls) then return for another long weekend at Sun Eden. Neither location is able to provide the amenities of one of the super resorts in France or Croatia, but then again, the list of “nakation in January” spots is pretty limited. I can deal with a dose of rustic and a dash of quirky, knowing my driveway at home is coated in snow and ice, while here I have to wonder if I should bring along a t-shirt in case it gets chilly after the sun goes down.
Ever since discovering naturist Europe – especially France – I’ve been hell-bent on finding something of an equivalent in the Southern Hemisphere. You know, when our cold, northeast winters are offset by their sun-drenched summers. We have now amassed a few options that meet that criteria, including Brazil, Uruguay, and South Africa, but it seems Thailand is quickly pulling into the lead as the single country in Asia that is at the ready to give the discerning naturist a few excellent choices.
I have written quite a bit about my previous visits to naturist venues near Chiang Mai and Phuket, with a particular fondness for the new PeaceBlue Resort near Rawai Beach. But this time I thought I’d head the other direction, flying into Bangkok’s international airport then driving about 90 minutes to the sprawling seaside metropolis, Pattaya. If there is an Asian equivalent to the Jersey Shore, this would most certainly be it, with towering apartment buildings and beaches packed with umbrellas and loungers, all for the privilege of splashing around in the murky waters where snorkeling would seem futile – if not a little disgusting – at best.
My base camp this time would be at the relatively new naturist resort – Phuan Naturist Village – located on the edge of a small village about 25 minutes (by car) outside the center of Pattaya. For those who have visited Oriental Village near Chiang Mai, you would find this somewhat similar given its proximity to a couple small stores and some other basic amenities, but you’re not likely to walk into the village for dinner in the evening – unless you’re really accustomed to hardcore “be like a local” travel.
To that end, Phuan has a restaurant on grounds that’s open pretty much all day every day, including the highly coveted luxury (at least to me) of fresh brewed coffee. (What is it with the rest of the world with their incredibly high tolerance for Nescafé. That is not coffee!) Otherwise, their menu is a bit limited, but enough choices to warrant staying in to eat naked.
In combing through their website, I had a difficult time figuring out the lodging configurations, which are most definitely a two tier affair. I stayed in one of the simple bungalows for the equivalent of about $45 USD per night. A small cabin with low ceilings and a shower that simply consisted of a sprayer head anchored to the wall below a small water heater – You know, the one that washes down the entire bathroom, draining to the lowest point in the corner of the room? But otherwise, the AC was excellent and the bed was comfortable enough. Certainly adequate for one person; perhaps a bit cozy for two.
The alternative looked to be a significant upgrade, beginning at about three times the price. The villas are referring to several modern two bedroom houses scattered about the property. You can rent the entire villa, or you can choose to “share” a villa, which means you and your housemates will each have your own bedroom, but share all the common spaces such as the bathroom, kitchen, and living room. I could certainly imagine doing that when traveling with good friends, but I guess it’s not uncommon for total strangers to rent “a shared villa” – at which point, I guess they would become good friends rather quickly. Seemed they were running near capacity during my stay, with an interesting mix of guests of both Asian and Caucasian heritage, including several northern Europeans, and perhaps two Russian couples traveling together as well. Clearly, their international marketing campaign is working.
Since I was only there for a long weekend, and quite enjoying the excellent Wifi connection to get some work done from the poolside open-air cabana, I debated about actually making the trek into the crowded and reportedly over-stimulating mecca of Pattaya, though it seemed a bit absurd to go to one of the world’s famous beach towns, and not go to the beach. And… I really wanted to duck in and see Chan Naturist Resort, somewhat famous in naturist circles for being the first such establishment in Thailand. I had written ahead to inquire about day use, and indeed, they offer a day-use fee of about $15 that gives you access to a locker, restaurant and pool. Having read mixed reviews of the rather confined feel of the place behind 10-foot walls along a city side street, I was pleased to find the place crowded and convivial, with a clientèle a bit older on the average than that of Phuan Village, but also quite international. (Meaning mainly European again, I think.)
I especially enjoyed the restaurant, with a significantly more extensive menu than Phuan, particularly given the ambiance of the small alcove (seen in the photo above) next to the pool. With all the rage for naked dining opportunities trending at the moment, I would actually say this is a naked dining destination, and best of all, if you go the “too spicy” route, you can jump in the pool once your meal is over. I didn’t bother to check out a room, but the property appeared comfortable, clean, and modern. In short – I would stay there in a heartbeat.
I think Bruce, the co-proprietor of Phuan Naturist Village hit the nail on the head. (The place is actually run by his wife and her sisters, but their previous place of residence was New Mexico, so her American English as extraordinary.) Bruce noted that if you’re looking for a place with solitude and the opportunity to read and snooze by the pool all day, it’s hard to beat the peaceful and serene atmosphere of Phuan Naturist Village. Agreed! But if nightlife is a priority to you, and a big part of your travel experience is seeking out the best local eatery with the highest rating on Yelp, then Chan Resort if your place. Should I have an opportunity to return, I would fancy a few days at each resort, as each has a unique ambiance, and if you’re hell-bent on spending your days on the beach – with a swimsuit, I should add – you’ll get there a lot faster from Chan Resort than from Phuan Village. (Though neither is in walking distance.)
As a post-script, it’s worth noting that the Thailand Naturist Association organizes a boat excursion to a secluded island with a make-do naturist beach on the last Sunday of each Month. Unfortunately, my stay didn’t coincide with this event, but it seems it would be worth planning one’s itinerary around that. Few things in life sound better than getting naked on an island in Thailand when it’s icy and below freezing at home.
I’m not only a naturist, I’m also a mileage runner. That means that sometimes I fly places simply for the miles or, more importantly, the status with the airline. Sometimes, I’m able to pair that with my work as a musician and university professor, sometimes it simply syncs up with the need to check in on family located out and about the US of A, and sometimes, I can figure out a way to coalesce my love of flying and travel with my fixation on getting naked. This would be one of those times. (You can also follow my blog about mileage running here.)
My January schedule is such that I have to be in certain places at certain times, but beyond that, I can do most of what I need to do from my cyber-office, which in this case, happens to be a MacBook and a iPhone with an international data plan. For me, this particular itinerary will be something of the ULTIMATE MILEAGE RUN, consisting of several segments that will take me to Munich, Bangkok, back to NYC, on to France (where I have business to do) then to South Africa (which ironically enough, greatly reduced the airfare to France!) then on to Buenos Aires and Uruguay, where my wife will meet me for a few days of naturist beach combing in a new (to us) naturist hotel just a few blocks from a famous nude beach. There’s a strong possibility that I’ll tag on a fourth leg of this sojourn with a quick turnaround to Sydney on a ticket that was ridiculously cheap, which would put me on the ground just long enough for a trip to the nude beach near the zoo, thus making a six continent naked mileage run. We’ll see how I hold up.
But this is a naturist blog! I can’t post my own photos yet as I haven’t yet been to all these places, but I’m borrowing a few pics from the web to outline the naturist elements of this round-the-world endeavor.
My first stop is at the expansive Therme Erding, a place that loves to advertise as the world’s largest spa. Some think it’s a bit overdone, but for me, a day of soaking, sweating, and sleeping in this Disneyland for grown-ups is about as good as it gets.
From there, I intend to check out two naturist places in Thailand; namely the Phuan Naturist Village, then the Chan Naturist Hotel, both in Pattaya. I’m particularly excited about the former, as it is one of the newest naturist ventures in Thailand, and they claim to have the biggest nude swimming pool in Southeast Asia.
France is typically a great place to get naked, but in January, not so much. But I’m going to stretch out a layover in Frankfurt where I can easily hop a train up to Cologne to check out the spa scene there. I’m particularly excited to visit the Neptune Therme downtown, and the sister spa to Erding just a short distance away in Euskirchen. I think I can hit them both in the same day, then back in time to catch my early morning flight to Marseille the next day.
A deviation to South Africa was literally a cost saving measure! By adding in a round-trip hop to Johannesburg, the ticket to Europe dropped by over 40%, including the trip to Africa. Go figure. This will be my second naturist outing in South Africa, but my first visit to Sun Eden Resort, which features a number of small houses to be rented. Most definitely new territory to add to my travelogue.
Finally, I’ll make my way from South Africa, bouncing through Zurich, to Buenos Aires, where I will meet my wife before we find our way to the domestic airport where we can catch a flight to the Hotel Refugio Naturista in Uruguay. It looks like a fairly simple and quiet place, but we like both of those things, and look forward to spending a good bit of time on Uruguay’s most famous naturist beach.
As for Australia, we’ve already done our naturist exploration of Australia’s east coast, (You can find those blog posts beginning with this one) so at best, I can hope to find a nude beach there – most likely Cobbler’s Beach, which we found to be quite agreeable the day we were there a couple years ago. Thus, my first and last stops consist of places I’ve been naked before, but I should pick up a half-dozen new nakation spots along the way. More good fodder for blogging, to be sure.
I’ll try to blog along the way. You may also want to follow me on Instagram at @naturistdan or the Mileage Runner version @mileagerundan. Hope to see you there!