NOBODY (that has tried it) can deny the pleasure of basking naked in the sun, or skinny dipping on a deserted beach. Yet many people today still recoil at the idea of a nudist holiday, associating it with lewd old men or mistaking it for the 'adult-only' swingers' scene.
'Our members come from all walks of life, all levels of education and financial levels,' says Barbara Hadley, a committee member of the International Naturist Federation (INF), founded in 1953. 'We are a family-oriented organisation.' Hadley co-owns a nudist resort in Florida. 'My husband's parents opened Cypress Cove Nudist Resort and Spa in 1964, and today our son Ted is the general manager.'
At a meeting of naturists you could be having a conversation with a person that is a brain surgeon, a clerk or a street sweep; and never know, says Bruce Kendall, a Naturist Association of Thailand (NAT) organiser, advertising and design veteran, and naturist for more than 30 years. 'What makes this interesting is you have a conversation with another human without the trappings of status that a clothed society puts on us.'
Most 'first-timers' balk at the prospect of baring themselves in front of strangers, but naturists insist that once they try it, they discover that it's far more relaxing than a regular holiday. 'When you shed your clothes you let you go of your stress,' says Carolyn Hawkins, public-relations coordinator for the American Association for Nude Recreation.
According to the NAT, naturism is an untapped but growing market in Thailand, and the fastest-growing recreational market in America, where there are 'clothing-optional' resorts, dinners, beaches, flights, clubs, and cruises. 'Family-friendly naturist holidays are just beginning in Southeast Asia,' says Kendall. 'The United States and Europe have had this type of holiday for decades.'
Gregers Moller, a 56-year-old journalist and publisher, founded the NAT with his wife three years ago. 'Initially we met with a small group. We had dinners in my backyard and made a few outings to deserted beaches and other places,' he says. 'Now we are 300, and meet monthly in Bangkok, and have been told that a private resort owner is about to build a resort specifically for naturists in the Pattaya area.'
'We directly ask new members if they are looking for swinging partners,' says Moller. 'If so, we recommend clubs where they can go, and then we don't hear from them again. This is important because while the social element is there, the foundation of naturism remains the unique sense of freedom and awareness of being alive that comes with not wearing clothes. The naked body is not an invitation to sexual activity.'
Despite the legal and cultural barriers to naturism in Asia, groups such as the Nudism Society of Malaysia (NSM) have formed supportive - albeit niche - communities, and the NAT holds private events at naturist-friendly resorts or remote beach locations. A spokesperson for NSM says that while Asia has very few official naturist destinations, resorts such as the ones on Pulau Perhentian Kecil are quite tolerant. Kendall says that there are many beaches in Thailand that lend themselves to naturist use, on islands such as Koh Chang, Koh Mak, Koh Larn, north Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan. 'Naturists will hardly find a better resort in Asia then the Golden Buddha Resort on Koh Prathong,' says Moller. 'While this is definitely not a naturist resort and they would scream if you walked into the restaurant naked, it is a very spaciously laid out and exclusive resort with plenty of natural ground between the villas.'
Located on the lush hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, luxury bed and breakfast Musavale Lodge is one of Australia's many naturist-friendly options. Run by ex-caterers to celebrities, Joe and Chris Russell, it operates as a clothing optional B&B during the summer months. The lodge boasts rolling orchards and stunning views of Mount Eerwah, which can be seen from spacious verandas overlooking a salt-water pool.
Europe is full of naturist holiday options, although it's probably sensible to stick to the warmer seasons and destinations. Vassaliki Naturist Club, Greece's newest naturist resort, sits on Kefalonia, one of the sun-drenched islands along the sparkling west coast. Guests can gaze at the luxurious natural surroundings from one of eleven apartments surrounded by palm and pine trees, relax at the pool bar, and dine alfresco in the balmy Mediterranean air. The resort even organises naturist sailing days and power-boat excursions in the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea.
'Is not nakedness indecent?' asks American writer Walt Whitman. 'No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent.' June 6 is World Naturist Day, so what better time to drop those inhibitions along with those pants?