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The Great Escape

By Hendrik Coetzee
Posted On Sep 23, 2016
The Great Escape

Chiva-Som spa and resort hits the mythic sweet spot, where stressed minds and bodies are set free.

Thick tendrils of banyan trees and the fragrant aroma of frangipani fill my senses as I sip a just-right cup of lemongrass tea, peaceful within the seven-acre, beach-rimmed confines of Chiva-Som International Health Resort. In the midst of my reflection, I think about the translation of the acclaimed spa’s name: “Haven of Life.” Might this five-day retreat here serve as the key to restore some semblance of peace in my own life? Certainly, the tropical beauty of Chiva-Som is promising—and far less stressful than my home city of London. Surrounded by lush, tropical flora, which the resort manages to keep looking both wild and manicured, guests are graciously greeted by just such a lovely cup of the spa’s signature tea, then whisked away on a golf buggy to one of the resorts 58 luxurious private rooms.

These are appointed with comfy couches strewn with colorful nubby-silk pillows, personalized incense permeating the air, and floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open to your own balcony overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.

“You will lose all the weight you need to if you stay here for a month,” exclaims the TRX instructor in response to my goal of trimming down. This was no idle boast: True to his word, by the end of my five days at the spa I lost 7 pounds. But Chiva-Som, situated in the coastal town of Hua Hin in southern Thailand, is not some glorified fat camp. With over 150 different treatments and sessions, it caters to a wide spectrum of health and beauty needs, including detoxification, stress-relief, and good old-fashioned weight-loss.

After an initial consultation, a holistic health and wellness advisor will take your height, weight, and blood pressure, then fine-tune your course of treatment and activities (both mental and physical) that are tailored to your specific issues. If that sounds like it’s bordering on the profound, that’s because it is: Lacking the adequate resources in our busy lives to make healthy changes, people come to Chiva-Som seeking true life intervention—and the resort has all the elements to achieve it, as long as you show up with an open mind. “In this way you may be open to more changes in your lifestyle that you were unaware that you needed,” says general manager Sheila McCann.

ntering Nirvana is easier with guides. The visiting consultants during my stay included Pat Thummanond, a craniosacral therapist, and Anamai Apaiso, a former Buddhist monk. Thummanond’s session, called Core Unwinding, attempts to resolve old physical and emotional issues by using a “synthesis of craniosacral therapy” that de-stresses the nervous system, as well as “visceral balancing,” a technique employed to diffuse emotions trapped in different organs. Finally, lymphatic drainage is used to assist in achieving a thorough detox. She uses her hand like a stethoscope, to hear the inner workings of your body to seek out “energy cysts,” which are said to affect other organs. To help discern where problems might be cropping up, Thummanond asks questions about your past physical traumas and current emotional issues, using the information to relieve your body and mind of the negative energies caused by them with the light touch of her hands. Apaiso’s session was, as you might expect, more philosophical, as he strives to teach simple techniques and purport wisdom on how to live a blissful and contented life, as well as handle the more challenging of life’s situations. He works with guests on their state of mind, feelings, and emotions, and offers wisdom on how to liberate themselves from negative control.

A guest can, as actress and Chiva-Som fan Elizabeth Hurley put it, “pamper yourself into oblivion,” too. With six different styles of massage to select from out of the 20 available, the only stress you’ll be left with is which to pick. The two most popular treatments are the Chiva-Som Signature Massage, during which the masseuse lavishes you in fragrant oils, and the Relaxing Foot Massage, which was so tranquilizing it put me to sleep. There’s also a Deep Tissue Massage for those with muscle tension, which is further relieved by Chiva-Som’s super stretch sessions (the most popular treatment at the resort), certain to make you feel like new again and keep muscles feeling flexible.

nd if, like me, you want to balance the rest and relaxation with a little waist-trimming, you can do that, too. Savvy staff members will give you a fitness test and body composition session, rating your flexibility and endurance via a variety of methods to see what state your body is in. After the analysis is complete, you’re presented with the findings and given a sharp dose of reality. Next, there’s a physical analysis session during which a consultant analyzes the shape and contours of your body, determining what areas need to be worked upon. (Not surprising for me, it is my inner core and lower body.) Personalized workouts are then created to target your trouble spots, but don’t worry—at Chiva-Som, they know that all work and no reward is a recipe for failure. In addition to fun classes like aqua aerobics, Zumba, tai chi, and advanced yoga, there’s ample time for relaxing in your in-room Jacuzzi, hitting the steam room, or lazing by the outdoor salt-water pool (or, if you prefer, there’s an indoor, fresh-water version).

The on-premises cuisine—available at the main beachfront restaurant, the Emerald Room; snack stations around the property; or delivered to the privacy of your own digs—is rife with fresh Thai spices and garlic paste that more than compensate for the banishment of salt and butter. But don’t worry, carnivores, pescatarians, and egg-eating vegetarians: Chiva-Som is not a vegan prison. That said, dairy is not on the menu. You won’t miss it when you fork into the vibrant flavors the spa cultivates from their own vegetables and spices, plucked right from the grounds. The rest is sourced locally via organic farms in the vicinity. Dishes like black sticky rice with mango, pomelo and prawn salad, or stir-fry lamb chops with oyster sauce are so flavor-packed, you’ll forgot that you’re eating “spa” cuisine. The dessert menu, too, has everything you might expect from a trendy restaurant back home—with far less fat than has been clogging your arteries. And there’s even a decent wine list for a sensible indulgence with the evening meal.

Chiva-Som was founded in 1993 as Asia’s first luxury health resort by Thailand’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Boonchu Rojanastien. According to McCann, Rojanastien wanted to open an authentic Thai spa after visiting a few in Europe that paled in comparison to what he knew to be stellar southeast Asian hospitality and treatment. With never more than 100 guests staying at a time, he created an environment that was not only healthy and relaxing, but intimate and low-key, nestled within the tropical vegetation with views of the beautiful and warm Indian Ocean. All the while there is a staff-to-guest ratio of 7 to 1. The cost for a seven-day stay in peak season ranges from $6,500 to $15,000 and includes your choice of a retreat, three daily meals, and stunning accommodations. The price tag is undoubtedly worth the transformation you will receive in such a relatively short period of time. I leave lighter in more ways than one; healthier, too. I definitely feel like a new person, and it’s just been five days. Turns out that the cliché is true: Sometimes we just need to get away from it all. And if Thai hospitality is involved, all the better.