Nov 10 2011

Ko Kradan’s Wally Sanger

Published by at 1:59 pm under Andaman Sea islands

Update: In February 2015, Wally Sanger died of natural causes at Paradise Lost on Ko Kradan. He will be missed. Condolences to his family and anyone who had the great pleasure of knowing him.

Ever notice how avid world travellers — and especially sailors — seem to see the world a little differently than most? They don’t lock up their home and go on vacation, they part with their possessions and set forth on a journey. They don’t see the world as a big, scary, insurmountable planet but a perfectly accessible playground. They don’t have a plan and an itinerary; they have a thirst and a vision.

At Paradise Lost Resort on the tiny and idyllic island of Ko Kradan off Thailand’s southwest coast, I spent a few hours chatting with one such visionary world traveller: 71-year-old Wally Sanger.

Wally, in his element at Paradise Lost

Wally, in his element at Paradise Lost.

Originally from Hawaii, Wally grew up sailing from island to island while encountering diverse people, so he felt right at home when he first came to Southeast Asia in the 1960s. It wasn’t until 1980 at the age of 40, however, that he set out for good to sail the world, and more than 30 years later he’s yet to return to Hawaii or anywhere else in his native United States.

“I’ve been to just about every state, country, territory and island in the Pacific,” he recalls. After spending significant time in and around Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, he began to sail competitively, participating in races in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand. Wally then reached a crossroads. “Too much time on the open seas and you become your own worst enemy,” he says. So, about a dozen years ago, he began to poke around in Thailand’s Andaman Sea for some dry land.

Ko Kradan: peace, quiet, paradise.

But not too dry. Ko Kradan is just a sliver of an island, now inhabited by only a few resort owners, park rangers and wild dogs. There are no roads, just one of Thailand’s finest white sands beaches, and when Wally first arrived there was just one small resort occupying part of the beach. It was here he decided to drop anchor for good and begin clearing the small plot of land for Paradise Lost out of Kradan’s thick interior jungle. The process took no less than two years.

I ask whether people thought he was crazy. With a gruff chuckle he replies, “They still do. Hell, I still do.” Whatever people think, his resort now books up almost entirely during Thailand’s high season, with countless travellers returning year after year for Paradise Lost’s chilled out atmosphere, tastefully rustic bungalows and outstanding restaurant. More than that, perhaps, they come for Wally himself.

The accommodation reflects the owner: simple, rustic, full of character.

Our casual interview comes to a pause when a group of local Thais stop by to drop off some supplies for the resort. “Paw sawasdee krap (hello papa),” they say to Wally with palms together. With a grin I ask, “They call you papa, eh?” “Now, now,” he answers, “all Thais call older men ‘papa.’ It’s not special for me. It’s just the customary term that’s used, nothing more.” True as that may be, the respect these locals have for Wally is evident in their eyes and demeanor. Given his humble and kind disposition, it’s no surprise he’s treated like something of a gypsy saint.

Wally’s not the sort to force his views on anyone, but I do manage to reel in a few bits of his seasoned sailor’s wisdom. On nations and governments he reflects, “The more simple and grassroots a society the better… You don’t see children crying much and you don’t see emaciated people… Families take care of each other. The people just take care of their own.” He encourages people from all over the world to get out and travel, pointing out that, “You’ll learn a whole lot more by travelling than you ever will in a classroom.”

And in response to my request for some final words to live by, he first replies, “No, nothing like that… We just try to teach the kids to take care of each other.” He pauses. A subtle grin emerges from beneath his scratchy white beard and he says sharply, “It’s better to be a ‘has been’ than a ‘never will be.’ ”

It’s a tough job but …

Indeed, Wally has been around, and he’s seen what most can only dream of. He’s a reminder of what travel is all about: exploring the world and discovering one’s place within it. Don’t have to take my word for it, though. Next time you’re in Thailand head out to Ko Kradan and hang at Paradise Lost for a while. As long as Wally’s around, you’ll be met with a very warm welcome.

14 responses so far

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14 Responses to “Ko Kradan’s Wally Sanger” ...

  1. Swampgumon 14 Nov 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Lovely stuff.
    Planning my first adventure at the moment, it’s nice to come across things like this to offer some positive perspectives.

  2. rickybluenoteon 16 Nov 2011 at 5:54 am

    nice article mr luekens

  3. Robert Scotton 11 Apr 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Very true! Wally is a great guy and even though we only sailed once with him and visited quite a few ‘hidden’ islands around there Koh Kradan is HIS island and he deserves what he gets – ie respect and friendship from locals and visitors!

    Look forwarw to visiting soon Wally. Bob & Pla x

  4. Robert Scotton 11 Apr 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Sawadee pee mai on this Thai New Year Wally! From Nakhon Nowhere!

  5. Kelly Grismeron 17 May 2013 at 4:28 am

    Wally How ya doin ya old sea dog… Was sitting here having a cold one & getting a bit nostalgic & bored & decided to punch up yur name figuring that an old computer expert such as your self would be somewhere. 71 but still looking 50!!! Land locked yur self but surrounded by water 50/50! What happened with your old S & S ? I’m still in Cebu, was doing some intell work for a while for the ole U.S.of A. in & out of P.I. all over Middle East & Asia but if you want to keep on drinking cold beer better ya don’t do it too long. Went to work for a while for Marine Technique / Aboitiz group ship building & repair / operations manager but that also became very dangerous to my health. Me & La Lang now have a very beautiful 7yr old daughter which at 60 she’s also sometimes dangerous to my health, but I really love the little one, she’s very much papas girl. Great looking resort you have just yur style white sand,blue water,cold beer & gourmet food, what more could a man of yur stature & style ask for….. Looks like you found yur blue hole & happy diving. Pls TAKE CARE ALWAYS…. this has already been a 2 beer email. look forward to yur reply. Kelly , La Lang & Baby Shannon….

  6. Kelly Grismeron 17 May 2013 at 4:42 am

    Wally contact me or

  7. Lenaon 26 May 2013 at 5:47 am

    Have been to Ko Kradan and Wally’s Paradise Lost. So special. We miss that place so much, all the dogs.. Anna especially. Still remember her name. Thank you for posting this. Wally’s the man.

  8. Bill Riggson 16 Oct 2014 at 7:26 pm


    It’s been a few decades, but we had some great times putting together my yacht Tranquility Base and sailing together throughout Micronesia. Glad to know you’re “settled” and doing well. Email me so I can bring you up to date on everyone. You can get me at Love ya’ Bill & Kay

  9. Barrie Carsonon 17 Oct 2014 at 1:54 am

    Hi Wally,

    So thrilled to see your face & hear how well you are doing. I come to Thailand often so don’t be surprised if I keep in touch. Do you have an email? Are you still in contact with Terry?

    Thanks to Bill, this really made my day!!

    Take care, as always,


  10. Victor Stapelon 17 Oct 2014 at 4:14 am

    Dear Wally

    You haven’t changed much! The news went around the world like a whirlwind.
    Amazing to read about you so many years later. You may recall me (the fashion Designer living two floors below in the same building with a common friend on a lovely beach called Ting Kau. The BEST BEACH in Hong Kong and not you live on even a much more prettier one.
    Much water or many seas have flown under the many bridges and oceans we have crossed. I have lived in Hong Kong twenty years then ten in South Africa and now eight in Vancouver Canada with my Chinese husband of thirteen years.
    Would LOVE to come and visit you one day in Thailand where I haven’t been in many years. Go well Wally it would be great to get in touch with you. I still cherish these pics taken on your sailboat taking a certain lovely lady out (who told me about this blog today from her China base) we had wondered many years where Wally had dissipated to.
    Much love Sailor
    Ahoy and Aloha Mahalo
    (we spend our best Holiday seen years ago in your original Hawaii in Maui on little Makkena beach)

  11. Victor Stapelon 17 Oct 2014 at 4:16 am

    Forgot to say you can get in touch with me through my website (on the bottom of it) or my photo website

  12. tumblr.comon 17 Oct 2014 at 7:54 am

    Ko Kradan’s Wally Sanger | The Thailand blog

  13. Alan Smithon 06 Mar 2015 at 6:12 am

    So sad to hear of Wally’s passing. Without peer, as the most unforgettable character I ever met.

    Remembering great times as a Windstar crew member on Bougainville.

  14. Stuart Lesteron 14 Mar 2015 at 6:21 pm

    RIP, Wally. Many fond memories of you and Windstar.