Thailand has long maintained a contradictory allure in the minds of different travelers. While it offers wild nights of hedonism, it is also imbued with a long history and ingrained culture of wellness and peace – home to myriad Buddhist temples and a world-famous tradition of massage. Perhaps it’s that very dualism that has informed its popularity as a destination. While the cities and party beaches pulse with action, world-class spa resorts complete offer indulgent treatments, catering to the needs of guests in need of relaxation and refreshment. More recently though, a trend to provide a more holistic health experience has been growing, with detox and yoga retreats and hotel spas evolving into full-blown wellness escapes – catering to body, mind and spirit. Patrick Gauthier, the director of sales for Amanpuri in Phuket has noticed the shift; he says, “The future of spas goes far beyond the massage bed, and this is something that we are actually beginning to see now. Guests want to experience more than just a massage or facial. They want to come away with a heightened sense of wellbeing.”
So, as those in search of active self-improvement that goes beyond a little pampering turn to Thailand, we investigate the traditions of wellness that make the Kingdom of Siam the getaway du jour, their benefits and the best places to enjoy them.
While some visitors venture to Thailand for mai tais and mojitos, a growing number of discerning holidaymakers are increasingly opting to instead spend their Thai vacation sipping healthy drink blends in a peaceful setting. Enrolling in a detox retreat ensures you are in a healthy, safe and controlled environment, well away from distractions and temptations. Essentially, a detox diet replaces your everyday regime with natural, healthy antioxidants like ginger, citrus fruits and berries, which advocates believe cleanse your body of the harmful toxins that build up as a result of modern life. Toxins we regularly come into contact with include environmental pollutants, chemicals, preservatives and pesticides, and reputedly cause aches, pains, sleep and skin problems and have supposedly even been linked to terminal health issues like cancers and heart disease. Proponents of holistic treatments believe the benefits of clearing those toxins out of our systems may include the prevention of chronic diseases and the development of a better-functioning immune system. Lots of people undertake cleansing diets to lose weight – as toxins are thought to inhibit the body’s ability to effectively burn fat – and to attain glowing, younger-looking skin. Besides the aesthetic advantages, many participants say they have increased reserves of energy and better concentration after a detox.
Though it seems like a relatively new phenomenon, detoxing is linked in some ways to much older Thai wellness techniques, in which the use of natural and herbal remedies have been administered in the form of tonics, teas, ointments and essential oils for centuries. The ancient ayurvedic concept of using natural substances to balance the four elements – water, earth, fire and air – in the body dates back to the third-century arrival in Thailand of Indian Buddhist monks.
It is perhaps no wonder then, that as the modern demand for healthy, organic and natural products grows, people are turning to alternative or holistic therapies in the countries that have historically advocated them, to enhance their wellness. Yoga is a fitting addition to a program that combines natural health and a cleansing diet. Indeed, besides strengthening the body and promoting flexibility, yoga is thought to have its own detoxifying benefits. Twisting poses are considered especially effective; as you twist, using your spine as a central trunk, your organs are effectively wrung out. In addition, traditional yoga has a strong meditative element, requiring participants to focus on the connection of their breath and their movements. This in turn promotes mental balance, clarity and a sense of peace. Often referred to as “passive yoga”, Thai massage applies a number of yogic techniques and principles and as such, may offer many of the same benefits, including relaxation, flexibility and improved circulation.
So, as Thailand’s resorts have begun to catch on to the modern-day idea of “wellness”, they have started to combine dietary, physical, mental and spiritual activities for a complete package. The on-site spas, meanwhile, are increasingly offering treatments with less emphasis on pampering, but which reach back to more traditional and authentic ancient therapies.Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary on the south coast of Koh Samui offers a range of programs covering everything from emotional rebalancing to combating stress and burnout. The facilities include two swimming pools, a Shakti fitness center, a herbal steam cavern and yoga pavilion – all centered around an ancient cave, which was once used by monks as a meditation retreat. Chiva Som in Hua Hin is considered something of a trailblazer in health and wellness tourism. Here you get a personalized consultation upon arrival, which determines your wellness needs, and from there the expert staff tailor your package. The food served in the resort’s restaurant is grown organically on site and the spa offers treatments from reiki and shiatsu to colonic hydrotherapy.
Aforementioned Amanpuri combines the traditional with the modern for a heavy focus on holistic wellness. There is a large freshwater swimming pool, tennis courts, a fitness center complete with power plate machines and a dedicated pilates studio. The spa has six Thai-style pavilions and each of the treatment rooms has its own private steam room and outdoor meditation sala. Besides the facilities, Amanpuri’s strength comes from fully-customized packages, where guests book to spend between three and 24 days in one of their four wellness immersions: Physical Fitness, Sustainable Weight-Loss, Digestive Cleanse and Mental Awareness. Patrick expands on the immersion concept: “All Aman wellness experiences have been designed to encourage a process of release, allowing participants to leave behind negative holding patterns and embrace a strong newness of spirit, whilst taking what they have learnt to give them fresh intentions and the knowledge to adopt a more meaningful and reflective way of living.”
Thailand’s bright lights still hold appeal for some, but increasingly, it is the country’s deep-rooted traditions and growing expertise in delivering comprehensive wellness experiences that draw those in search of a transformational vacation.