Soul food for the senses
By Hana Borrowman
Over the past few years Koh Samui has cornered the market in holistic hospitality, with a tropical style abundance of 'exclusive' health retreats, pampering oases and spa-style resorts blossoming fragrantly forth. But beyond the champagne manicures, celebrity-style detox centres and masseuse-thronged sans of Koh Samui's more popular strips lies a secret garden with an agenda all of its own.
Translating as 'Lotus Realm', Kamalaya's upmarket wellness sanctuary offers a distinctly different kind of retreat experience for soul-seekers and self-indulgent sybarites alike. Located on a quiet corner of the island nestled in a boulder-strewn ravine with luscious tropical gardens trickling down to an idyllic lagoon of pools and secluded beach, Kamalaya's picturesque natural ambience provides a powerfully rejuvenating space.
Following a turbulent ferry trip and a few too many nights away from my own bed, I arrived feeling literally and metaphorically 'travel sick'. Not really in the mood for forging new spiritual paths or serious soul mining. But things evolve fast a Kamalaya and even as I stepped onto the cool stone floor of my palatial villa the serenity was tangible.
Ease the Strain
My fellow guests were a distinctly colourful variety of upmarket, well-travelled and exceptionally chic soul-seekers hailing from a variety of far-flung locations including Kathmandu, Hong Kong and the UK. Although opening its warm embrace to everyone with the cash to splash, Kamalaya's chic oasis of style and substance has obviously already cut a swathe among a niche-market of spiritual tourists and tastefully expert hedonists.
Centred around a tiny café temple that once served Buddhist monks as a place of meditative retreat, at the heart of the site is the wellness sanctuary and holistic spa. Open to the elements and charged with an ambience of peaceful pampering, the spa offers a comprehensive range of alternative therapies as well as breathtaking sunset views over the bay.
Despite the sacred surrounds, Zen-inspired design and emphasis on the holistic approach, what Kamalaya offers is about as far from the ascetic experience as imaginable. In fact guests are encouraged to explore the 'transformative' angel of their holiday as much or as little as they choose and retreats range from yoga to detox, ideal weight and even golf packages.
The variety of relaxation and rejuvenation programmes available draw on both Oriental and Western holistic healing practices. Each begins with a medical and personal wellness consultation to assess your needs, which may prescribe anything from gentle nurturing to fitness motivation. Expert help is also at hand from all manner of doctors and therapists including acupuncturists, Ayurvedic therapists and visiting spiritual gurus. For the more energetic or experimental guest, the daily programme of complimentary activities also provides outdoor pursuits such as adventure hikes in the surrounding hills or kayaking.
As part of my 'Relax and Renew' 3-day package I enjoyed some gentle nurturing in the hands of my reassuringly informed wellness consultant and encouraging nurse, followed by several sessions of intense hands-on healing on the massage bed, deep breaths in the steam room and passive meditation in those idyllic natural surrounds. I could also have chosen to attend any number of complimentary 'Holistic Activity' classes involving anything from yo9ga to chi gong or spirit dance. Instead I opted to simply succumb to the allure of the beautiful rock pools and boulder-filled steam room where ginger tea and the sunset views are but a hop and skip through the foliage away.
A Little Extra Effort
Even those averse to exercise might find that the hillside settlement makes the steep climbs from the beach and back, and beautiful views that accompany them, irresistible. Buggies are available around the site but, even as a self-confessed lounge lizard on holidays, I enjoyed the rewards for my legs and lunges in form of the pretty paths winding though the foliage. There are other discoveries to be made too, in the form of the art gallery and gift shop, tucked away under the trees and supplying retail therapies such as pampering products, artistic artifacts and pretty trinkets from across the globe.
Although I opted for a beach-bum approach to my three-day package of pampering, special touches such as a glass of iced-water and freshly made beach-bed ready for when I emerged from the waves are a perfect example of Kamalaya's intricate attention to detail. Hands-on therapies notwithstanding, the simple combination of service and surrounds makes for a naturally nurturing ambience for every guest. The beautifully designed spacious and secluded villas are also the epitome of this exceptionally sensitive approach with elegant, earthy interiors that emphasise the stylishly serene along and with the height of comfort.
Sate the Palate
As part of its commitment to the 'middle path', Kamalaya also promotes feasting rather than fasting - even on detox retreats. Bucking the trends elsewhere on the island, detoxing here involves eating plenty of food and the menu features an imaginative array of detox dishes such as Thai soups and vegetables with reduced herbal ragouts, or huge raw salads - German chef Kai can even knock-up sugar and wheat-free birthday cakes.
For non-fasters the truly imaginative menus thoroughly indulge the senses and tantalize the taste buds as well as satisfying the belly. Breakfast is a celebration in itself with a gloriously healthy buffet of tropical fruits, freshly prepared juices, yoghurts, breads, jams, grains and salad ingredients. Breakfast and dinner are served in the restaurant atop the hill while the barbecue or a la carte lunch is served in romantic salas by the pool.
After my Kamalaya experience I bounced back to Bangkok with a renewed energy for the rigours of the real-world and my gypsy spirit fully intact. In contrast to its competitors what Kamalaya provides is a place to truly relinquish control, re-balance the senses and ultimately gain a sense of well-being that lasts long after you shake the last grains of sand from your shoes. And it's souvenirs such as these that make all the difference.
Check the Kamalaya website for events, retreats, guests and special offer packages/internet rates.
Rooms from 200 US$ per night with breakfast, wellness consultation and complimentary use of facilities/daily holistic activities.
Tel: +66 (0)77 429 800 | www.kamalaya.com
For bookings and enquiries visit www.kamalaya.com or call +66 (0)77 429 800.