A long wet winter with no respite from work or sniffling families, and endless gray days makes us all dull boys and girls. And so it was that I boarded a plane for the emerald isle of Koh Samui in Thailand, hoping to feel a million dollars afterwards. I would have settled for a million baht.
I had brought with me plenty of gym gear, loose dresses, novels, and most importantly, two fabulous girlfriends who were also in need of some down time.
We were bound for Kamalaya, an eco-conscious health retreat in the unspoilt south of the island. The resort spills down a steep hillside to the sea, its villas and paths winding their way down between coconut palms, rushing streams and huge granite boulders. The buildings are wound about with climbing vines, and the pebbled paths are lit by lanterns shrouded in hanging moss. The resort blends beautifully into its environment, and birdsong and the friendly little chirrup of geckos is everywhere.
Our seaview suites were large, spacious and airy, dominated by timber and natural materials. My private terrace, overlooking the sea far below, had a day bed, and a huge terrazzo bathtub, complete with niches in which to place tea lights. Indeed, guests’ personal sanctuaries invite rest and contemplation as much as the whole.
There are a plethora of common areas too, with a sandy beach (not for swimming as although picturesque, it’s rocky and tidal), pretty pool area, well stocked library, and of course, the wellness centre.
That is what we were here for, and what sets Kamalaya apart from other rustic-luxe South East Asian resorts. Whilst guests can partake of wellness “a la carte”, Kamalaya is reknowned for its programmes, which usually run for 3, 5, 7 or 10 days. Guests can choose from a range of Healthy Lifestyle, Detox, Stress and Burnout, Emotional Balance, Yoga, Longevity, and Meditation Programmes.
The truly great thing about Kamalaya is that there is no judgement from either staff or guests. There are all ages, nationalities, and body types there. There are singles, couples of all persuasions and groups of friends and it was easy if you were alone to strike up a conversation on the beach or at dinner, or simply have time to yourself. You can be as alternative as you like, or, as we were, simply there for massages and me-time.
We chose a 5 day Relax and Renew Programme which included no less than eleven treatments. The programme began with a Bio-Impedance survey conducted by a nurse, where a small printout which looked suspiciously like a supermarket docket was printed out, showing everything from your BMI to your cellular water retention. A naturopath (invariably glowing, lissome and beautiful) then gave advice tailored to your specific issues.
The following days at Kamalaya had a slow and lovely rhythm. Yoga and tai chi would take place in the morning, in a large open pavilion overlooking the resort. A leisurely breakfast would follow, and then the morning treatments would begin. We would meet at the spa terrace and change into our sarongs, engaging in excited chatter about whether we were having the Indian Head Massage, or the open air Thai Massage, a hand and foot massage, or a steam in the green-tiled grotto. Afterwards, we would sit quietly awhile on the terrace, oiled, dazed and blissful, whilst tiny butterflies flitted about us like confetti, before heading down to the beach cafe for lunch. We might then read on the beach, swim at the pool or chat back on our terraces before afternoon treatments began.
However it’s not all kneading and stretching. There is a daily schedule of activities for the more adventurous also, from temple tours to cooking classes to boat trips on Kamalaya’s teak ketch (complete with snorkelling gear, sundeck mattresses and on-board masseuses), and a programme of guest lectures dealing with therapies from Reiki to Palmistry. One memorable evening, we wrote wishes on tags and attached them to rice paper lanterns which floated off in a fiery phalanx deep into the night sky, eventually indistinguishable from the stars.
We looked forward to dinner every night, and it’s worth staying at least 5 nights so you can eat your way through the menu. There is very little wheat or dairy, but all the food is delicious – from crab and avocado salad to seared scallops with mushroom ragout. There are desserts too: fresh mango and black sticky rice took star billing for me.
Juices and smoothies have rigorous effects. I ignored the warning that my ginger and apple tonic would “revive a sluggish bowel”, and my sprint uphill from the beach café to the sanctuary of my bathroom was pretty impressive. I believe I overtook a buggy on the way although it was something of a blur.
Staff at the resort are outstanding – from the waitstaff to the therapists, all are delightfully friendly and interested. I have rarely felt more welcome, perhaps ever, at any resort.
Kamalaya’s formula is based on skilful therapists, unpretentious but beautiful surrounds, fresh and healthy food, and flexible programmes. So successful is it that 16 new luxury villas, a lap pool and state of the art fitness centre and Pilates reformer studio are under construction on a neighbouring block and due for completion early next year.
Does it actually work? At the end of the programme, I felt without doubt leaner and cleaner. My skin was clear and glowing. I’d slept better than I had in months. Niggling back pain from sitting too long at the computer had all but disappeared. And I’d read three books in five days, an unimaginable luxury. But one of the things I loved most about Kamalaya was the precious time my friends and I were able to spend together: talking of serious things, or sometimes almost crying with laughter, a reminder that friends can be the best therapy of all.