Top Wellness Retreats in Thailand: Chiva Som

Chiva Som Resort in Hua Hin
Chiva Som Resort in Hua Hin

Kelly Allen leaves the outside world and technology behind for an invigorating stay at one of the world’s top wellness retreats in Thailand: Chiva Som.

This trip has me landing in Bangkok, on my way to Chiva-Som in Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand. I’m met at the airport by a Chiva-Som limousine – a sleek black Mercedes with cold water, healthy snacks and WiFi to pass the time on my three-hour drive south. On entering the gates of Chiva-Som, I leave the outside world behind. “Haven of Life”, is the meaning of the name Chiva-Som and spending time here is all about creating your personal path to health and wellness.

After being shown to my room, a beautiful garden pavilion with a verandah, I have my initial consultation with Mae, my wellness advisor, to determine which program will best benefit me.  I have a regular fitness routine at home and decide maybe it’s time to up the ante as I’m getting older and don’t seem to be getting the results that I used to. With this in mind, I decide to do the “optimal performance program”, which will set me up with a new fitness regime and because it also includes some physiotherapy, will provide me with some insight into the pain I have been experiencing in my foot. I also add some treatments from the Eternal Youth program so that it’s not all hard work, and to be honest, anything that suggests “Eternal Youth” is just too tempting to pass up. 

If you have never experienced a wellness retreat before, don’t entertain any visions of lounging by the pool drinking mai-tais. Though you can do as much or little as you like, if you want to get the most out of your time here I suggest embracing all of the opportunities on offer, saving pool time for another holiday. Chiva-Som also has a strict privacy policy, so no electronics outside of your room including cameras, phones, laptops and even e-readers. My days are a mixture of yoga, fitness classes, interesting lectures, massage, skin treatments as well as physiotherapy (the ultrasound does wonders to help the pain in my foot) and of course, the delicious, healthy meals.

Leelawadee Suite from the Inside at Chiva Som Resort

There are fitness classes throughout the day; some such as Thai kickboxing are in an open pavilion (a high energy workout and lots of fun) while others like TRX are in an air-conditioned gym. One class that I have never seen before that ended up being my favourite is called Power Drum. Using a pair of drumsticks and three Swiss balls positioned around your body, you try to repeat the same drumming rhythm as the instructor. Forget about Sudoku and crossword puzzles, my brain was exhausted and I had also worked up quite a sweat by the end of the class. After you get over feeling very silly, you realise it’s ridiculously fun and a challenge both physically and mentally.

In the evening, you’re invited to sit in on lectures by visiting practitioners. My favourite was on Oriental stress management delivered by Anamai Apaiso, who has been a Buddhist monk for 10 years. He had some great advice for us on how to keep the mind happy – I think he must know what he’s talking about as he radiated happiness.

There are several massages included in the program, from traditional Thai to a stress therapy massage that involves warm paraffin wax on your arms and is followed by a body massage. I loved the invigorating massage – it’s rough and involves lots of pounding, but I felt amazing and energised when it was finished.

There are two dining options, the Emerald Room with an international menu and A Taste of Siam nestled between the pool and the beach, which serves Thai food with a healthy twist.

On Saturday night, there is a barbecue held outside with locally prepared fish, lobster, prawns, salads, sashimi, scallops and succulent grilled meats. Traditional dancers demonstrate Thai dances throughout history. I sit at the Talkers Table (specifically set up for people who want to meet and greet other guests) and meet people from all over the world – America to Europe to Dubai. I also meet return guests; some are Chiva-Som junkies and have visited many times. One man from Bangkok comes to Chiva-Som on a regular basis. He says he has learned a lot over the years and we end up chatting about meditation.

Leelawadee Suite from the Outside at Chiva Som Resort
Leelawadee Suite from the Outside at Chiva Som Resort

After dinner, a few of us walk 10 minutes down the road to a wonderful night market. Cicada Market is held on the weekends and is full of trendy young designers selling handmade clothing, jewellery, handbags and artwork. I stay later than the others and walk back by myself after 11pm feeling perfectly safe.

Chiva-Som is well known for its Medi-Spa Niranlada with its advanced technology and experienced medical team. Dr. Niwat Polnikorn, who was trained in the US and has been a dermatologist since 1982, heads Niranlada. It offers the latest anti-ageing treatments and has a well-trained and caring staff. After a very confronting, up-close look at my face using a 3D computerised facial analysis, I decide to try the Revlight laser treatment. This treatment will get rid of the pigmentation on my cheeks from too many years in the sun. A nurse puts a numbing cream on my face and another massages my hands and feet while we wait for it to take effect. After about 25 minutes, they start the procedure. There is no pain at all, just a little bit of an electrical sensation. Fifteen minutes later, I walk out looking like someone has splashed mud on my face (the spots go darker before they peel off), which I was a bit self-conscious about, but six days later all of the spots have flaked off and the pigmentation is gone. I’m very happy with the results.

As my visit to Chiva-Som comes to an end, I’m surprised by how much change you can accomplish in just five days. I have been able to put a new exercise routine into place, my plantar fasciitis in my heel is much less painful thanks to the skilled physiotherapists, I’m full of energy because of the healthy diet and my face has a youthful glow. I have met some great people and have enjoyed learning new skills to get me through the times when the treadmill of life goes too fast.

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