We’ve all heard it—the insistent tone, the surging enthusiasm, “Oh, you’re going to the beachside town of Hua Hin in Thailand? You have simply got to visit Chiva-Som.” This international health resort and destination spa that opened in 1995 has a reputation that precedes it—as the place to go for a holistically healthy getaway. The emphasis here has long been as much about the mind and spirit, as it is about the body.
After years of being accompanied by a mobile phone, it comes as blessed relief to find myself signing a form on arrival that requests separation from devices (only permitted in the privacy of one’s room). Smoking isn’t permitted either (except at a smoking table), and talking in quiet tones encouraged—all gentle initiators to embark on a path more mindful. A haiku of water bodies and tropical gardens, interposed with elements of Thai architecture, meet my gaze.
Even if one is an accomplished spa-hopper, it’s hard not to be staggered by the permutations of evolving treatments and specifically-targeted retreats on offer here. The Cell Vitality Retreat, for instance, has been created to support guests in remission or recovery from cancer. The revitalising of cellular health encourages treatments ranging from acupuncture sessions to dietary programmes that help restore appetite.
I appreciate the open-ended freedom of leafing through the spa guidebook, with its seemingly endless litany of therapies, exploring what treatments to add on to my programme sheet. But I appreciate as much the guidance from my personal wellness adviser, Nantika. She examines my health report (several pages long —requiring medical history, emotional journey, et al.—which you fill out when you get here) with forensic care. Of course, most programmes here (Taste of Chiva- Som, Art of Detox, Sustainable Slimming) have a roughly preordained path, but the benefit of fine-tuning one’s schedule, and the clarification and modification of treatment choices to suit an overarching health goal, with the help of one’s adviser, cannot be overstated.
Like much else here, it springs from personal attention and not stock response. Nantika examines my fitness goals. She books me in—physiotherapy session. Check. Thai massage. Check. Super Stretch. Check. Check. I protest mildly, “Do I really need the physiotherapy
There is no injury that I am aware of.” I learn then that it is more than rehabilitation from physical injury. The session turns out useful in assessing musculoskeletal imbalances and planning simple exercises to correct these. Super Stretch, the next session, requires that my body parts be tugged at on a mat. I feel like a naughty child deserving of admonishment. At the end, however, rather than being chastened, I feel limber, energised to do more.
A few minutes later, lying suitably disrobed and undergoing Chi Nei Tsang—Thailand’s distinctive abdominal massage—I’m made once more aware that being open to experimentation is frequently the only way to discover new Eden’s. Chi Nei Tsang works on the navel and surrounding abdominal areas. As the therapist sets about relaxing my solar plexus, she explains how massaging the area is effective in relieving many digestive problems.
To make the most of your time here, be it a three-day getaway or a 15-day retreat, it’s a good idea to be ravenous for everything—check-ups and classes. The more of these classes you can fit into your schedule (most are free, unless mentioned otherwise), the more ideas you carry back home to integrate into your health routine.
Here, in the yoga pavilion, bodies that resemble hieroglyphics in an ancient text, twisting about. There, in the bathing pavilion, aqua aerobics, as a way of limbering up in water.
But to talk of Chiva-Som and neglect to mention the ethos that underlines the cuisine is a little like talking about Rome and bypassing the Vatican. The emphasis at meal times is far from a 'no fat', 'no calorie' weight-loss plan, but is based instead on sustainable wellness through a nutrient-dense cuisine. I find myself encouraged to chew slowly and savour flavours. Each dish on the varied buffet (as well as the à la carte offerings) comes accompanied with a host of details attached (calorie counts and brief descriptions)—which speaks of the need for increased awareness around what we put into our body. The small portions served (when you order à la carte) are indicative of a precaution to not overeat. While vegetables (most grown at the kitchen garden) are clearly the stars of the dining experience, fish, fowl and meat are in abundance.
Early next morning, as I wake with the birds and get ready to leave, I realise that I’m taking away more than a deprogramming from the scramble of urban living. What the experience has generated, is a realisation of how vital my body can actually feel. Now I just need to carry some of the learning back into everyday life.
Location: 73/4 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
Accommodation: 54 rooms including ocean room, ocean deluxe, ocean premium, and Thai, among others
Tariff: From THB 37,000
Contact: +66-32536536; chiva-som.com