When it comes to health and wellness, Thailand remains at the forefront of pure bliss, writes Kelly Jane Gabriel.
Thailand has to be one of the top locations in the world for health and wellness experiences. I’ve visited more than a dozen times and am yet to find another country that provides the highest level of luxury and hospitality combined with a multitude of treatments from top-tier therapists at very reasonable prices. But with so many resorts to choose from, how do you determine what is right for you? Are you looking to detox, be pampered, lose weight, enhance your yoga practice, or all of the above?
I’m staying in Phuket at the newly rebranded Amatara Wellness Resort retreat in Cape Panwa. Formerly The Regent, Amatara Wellness Resort recently launched a range of wellness programs and a stunning Thai hammam. If you are new to hammam, think traditional Turkish and Moroccan bathing rituals combined with the luxury of Thai spa therapies.
There are several options to consider when choosing a wellness program, but after hearing rumours of just how good the food is, I decide to pass on a detox that restricts what I can eat and instead indulge in a spa retreat. During my five-day stay I am treated to daily massages, scrubs, body wraps, a manicure and pedicure, a cooking class and the Thai hammam experience. For those who wish to raise the heart rate, never fear, there are also several fitness classes offered throughout the day, scheduled nicely between treatment times.
I arrive in the evening following an easy direct flight from Sydney. I am met at the airport by an Amatara representative sporting a beaming smile, and am taken to an awaiting van for the 45-minute drive. The luxury transfer has an iPad, WiFi, several movie options and cold drinks. Already I feel completely at ease.
The check-in process is efficient and I am soon whisked away by buggy to my room, although the word room is an understatement. I am staying in a 150-square-metre Ocean View Pool Villa. With vaulted ceilings, marble floors, dark timber and sliding glass doors that lead to a private pool and patio, this villa is very impressive. The bathroom is huge and features an oversized free-standing circular tub. The complimentary mini bar is stocked with healthy snacks, coconut water and even a few alcoholic beverages. There is also a generous eight items of clothing laundered per day and a 24-hour butler service.
On my first day I am twisted like a pretzel during the morning yoga class. The instructor, Uttam, is from Rishikesh in India, known as the yoga capital of the world. Let’s just say the yoga is a lot stronger than the class I take in Sydney. It’s challenging, but I love it and I know that I am in the safest of hands.
After attending practice every morning, by the end of the week I have confidently achieved the headstand on my own – I know yoga is not supposed to be about ego, but deep down I’m feeling pretty good.
After yoga I wander to the spa and meet Yana, my wellness consultant. After a few necessary health checks we discuss what I would like to gain from my time at the retreat. Following my consultation I meet with the physiotherapist who masterfully assesses my posture and alignment, teaches me some exercises and shows me some stretches I can use to alleviate the tightness in my shoulders.
I have decided I want to experience as much of the retreat’s diverse offerings as possible so Yana kindly helps to organise my daily treatments so I can fit yoga, meditation, Muay Thai boxing, fitness ball movement classes, and a bike tour in during my stay.
The bike ride is a highlight and a great way to immerse yourself among the locals going about their daily life. My guide and I ride for about two hours through several villages. We explore the local markets, stop to watch a band of wild monkeys causing trouble overhead, and pass by some men who have set up a small cockfighting venue on the side of the road. There is a bike lane the entire way and the bikes are good quality, which makes for easy riding.
The resort has a private beach overlooking the calm, clear waters of the Andaman Sea, which makes for the perfect place to relax in the afternoon. You can borrow a kayak, try your luck at stand-up paddle boarding, or simply relax on one of the extremely comfortable sunbeds.
With three restaurants on site you are guaranteed to find what you’re in the mood for, whether it’s traditional Thai at The Restaurant, organic free-range grilled beef, fish, pork, chicken, or seafood at The Grill, or healthy cuisine at The Retreat. Executive chef Justine Bazuik has worked in renowned restaurants around the world including Dubai, Australia, and Singapore. Part of my personal objective was to try to stay healthy so I ate most of my meals at The Retreat. Thankfully, the portion sizes were generous and I never once felt deprived. Breakfast was usually house-made probiotic rich yogurt with local honey and organic fruit, and buckwheat soba noodles with a smoky chicken broth and Asian vegetables. There were several healthy juice and smoothie options on the menu and, of course, being in Thailand I also enjoyed coconut water straight from the source – nature’s best hydrator.
I will happily keep searching the globe for the best wellness retreats, but for now I think Thailand holds the winning spot.
Lunch was chargrilled octopus on a bed of quinoa with the best gazpacho soup I have ever tasted (so good I eagerly ordered it everyday). Dinners are equally as delicious; Tasmanian salmon with buckwheat noodles, or if you’re indulging, you can’t beat the Wagyu striploin with truffle French fries at The Grill. I’m no steak expert but I know enough to realise this cut of beef was seriously special.
The high point of the retreat for me was the Thai hammam. A recent addition, this huge underground area is drop-dead gorgeous and features tiles imported from Italy, pink sea salt bricks sourced from high in the Himalayas, gold and crystal chandeliers, and enormous slabs of European marble. Built by Bulgarian craftsmen, the three king-sized heated marble tables are like nothing I have ever experienced. The 165-minute treatment includes a sauna, steam, Moroccan black soap skin scrub with an authentic hammam kessa glove (intense but not painful), shampoo and conditioning treatment, thermal mud therapy, hot and cold showers, Himalayan salt cave therapy and a relaxing massage to top it off. Honestly, my skin looked and felt incredible and I was in such a deep state of bliss that I ended up cancelling the whole afternoon’s activities, instead opting to settle in on the library couch before enjoying a delicious high tea.
I will happily keep searching the globe for the best wellness retreats, but for now I think Thailand holds the winning spot, and Amatara Wellness Resort is certainly making a name for itself.