Tucked away near the southern tip of Koh Samui, Thailand, is a holistic wellness retreat that, for a few years, has been bagging awards left, right and centre. Its’ latest victory is Conde Nast’s trophy for ‘Best Destination Spa 2016’ and it doesn’t take a genius to see why everyone’s in a hot sweat over Kamalaya.
For anyone who ever sighed, sunk into their chair and thought, “I really need a break”, Kamalaya’s a sure bet to relax all those tired muscles. For stressed out executives, aggravated artists, harassed housewives, Kamalaya is a haven for those in need of a maximum chill out. Many make the long-haul trip from far distant places to find solitude and relief from the ravages of the rat race. With a smorgasbord of therapies and treatments to indulge the mind, body and soul, it’s the go-to place for transformation and inner evolution. Sound too good to be true? Maybe for some, but as a two-time visitor (and likely many more) I can swear by its healing properties.
On arrival and check-in, even the most uptight of guests starts to unwind, thanks to a cool ginger tea, while seated on sofas overlooking striking sea views. A mellow and slightly New Age soundtrack floats out from behind a corner somewhere and the ambiance slowly sinks in. Accommodation comes in a range of affordability, but across the board the understated architecture seems to blend seamlessly with the environment. This is part of the plan, to generate a sense of oneness with all things. The open air bathrooms integrate a sense of the outdoors into the daily experience, even if the cacophony of croaking frogs can phase visitors initially.
What Kamalaya is famous for, however, are the wellness programs – spiritual, physical and mental. Most guests get stuck in right away. After a nurse records vitals, a naturopath looks over the data and helps plan a course of action. The programs on offer are many: detox, weight loss or yoga, to name a few and at that they vary in length from 4 days (in my case) to a full two weeks. I’ve met people who’ve turned a week long stay into a month. That’s one of the problems at Kamalaya, if money and time are no object, it’s tempting to give up on the outside world entirely and hang out until the coffers run low or work simply can’t grant that extra week of unpaid leave.
My plan was geared around transition, i.e. dealing with the challenges of change. I jetted out to experience four days of mentoring, highly therapeutic abdominal massage and, my favourite, releasing therapy. ‘Releasing therapy’ I hear you ask? That’s sitting with a clairvoyant healer who taps into this life and past lives to clear negative echoes that might be blocking spiritual, mental and physical progress. It’s all connected, you see. There are those who might feel it’s all a bit, as one lady commented to me, ’out there’ but at Kamalaya it’s easy to let one’s guard down and embrace ideas beyond the comfort zone. That’s the whole point. Aside from the personal programs, there are plenty of activities in which to indulge. Group yoga at the breezy mountain top pavilion kick starts the day better than a macchiato while a spot of evening meditation helps calm the mind enough to process all the miraculous healing that’s going on.
Wellness isn’t anything without good food and Kamalaya has a plethora of sumptuous and delectable offerings. It may seem a paradox, healthy and tasty, but Chef Edmond Kwan proves that simply harnessing the power of nature and whipping it into a few good smoothies, can get your skin from sallow to glowing in no time. I’ll admit however, that I’m yet to be sold on the buckwheat pancakes. Personally speaking, the best part of dining at Kamalaya is the environment in which meals are taken – whether a quiet lunch alone under a gazebo with a garden view and nothing but a book for company, or, if you’re feeling perkier, a seat at the ‘community’ table over dinner. From here you’ll meet world travellers on physical, mental and emotional journeys who will fill your mind with stories of wonder and discovery. After swapping contact details at the end of the night, becoming part of a Kamalaya ‘WhatsApp’ family happens faster than you can say “text you later”.
Kamalaya is not for ‘cocktails on the beach’ junkies looking for a party scene in Koh Samui. It is the exact opposite. It’s also not for kids even though there is no rule against children staying. There are plenty of rules over what anyone under the age of 16 can actually do, so count this resort out if family fun with young kids is what you’re after. For a bit of serious ‘me’ time however, Kamalaya offers a peaceful escape and if you’re not into the Kamalaya community, you could always resort to the Arjan cave. This meditation spot is the foundation of Kamalaya, a cave in which Buddhist monks have meditated for centuries. It doesn’t come much closer to Zen than that.
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