The Times Body & Soul - It's a Jungle Out There
Mary Ann Sieghart gets back to nature in a totally tropical retreat
Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa, Koh Samui, Thailand. Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary, Thailand, This is not a spa for superficial "pampering"; indeed, apart from the odd manicure and pedicure, beauty doesn't feature. It is a place to make you feel happy and well, inside as well as out. The initial consultation, if you are prepared to open up, will cover your emotional and spiritual well-being, not just your physical woes, and the treatments are designed to treat the whole person.
To persuade my husband, a spa virgin, that spa holidays aren't sissy and can be fun. I lured him there with the promise of manly kite-surfing in a nearby cove but, after the first few blissed-out hours, it was never mentioned again.
The resort is exquisitely beautiful, built in a jungle ravine which leads down to a private, crescent beach with views of a collection of islands. A stream tumbles down the hillside through rocks and vegetation into natural pools with lotus blossoms. The two infinity swimming pools mingle with natural pools and are artfully decorated with granite boulders.
Rooms, suites and villas are all serenely designed. There's no TV, but that's part of the point. Everything else is provided and a lot of thought has gone into lighting and comfort. Lunch is served at tables built out over the natural pools, with dragonflies and hummingbirds for company. The treatment centre and yoga pavilions are built into the hill with glorious sea views, and some massages are given in the open air. There is a lovely steam room carved out of the rock overlooking the sea, with three little plunge pools of different temperatures.
Quality of experience
This is where Kamalaya really scores. Not just the therapists, but all the staff are incredibly warm, caring and open-hearted. You really believe that they want you to be happy. There's none of the surly, jobsworth treatment that you can often encounter at British and European spas.
My husband arrived with what seemed like an incurably bad back and, after acupuncture and Ayurvedic hot-oil treatment, felt transformed. I loved Shirodhara, a therapy in which hot oil is poured gently on to your forehead and then trickled through your scalp - insanely relaxing - and cranio-sacral therapy, which sent me into a delicious sleep.
There are free classes in everything from yoga to meditation, t'ai chi, breathing, Pilates and qi gong. You can go on an "adventure hike" or do "mind and body conditioning" before breakfast. I joined some of the Yoga Synergy classes and learnt a lot about breathing techniques and how to improve my practice. Since then, for the first time, I have found the discipline to practise yoga every morning at home.
Treatments are tailored to your needs, but you can choose a Relax and Renew, Ideal Weight or Balance and Revitalise package, or you can join a Detox or Yoga Synergy retreat.
The film producer Oliver Stone came for a week and liked it so much that he stayed for a month. But this is not a place for celebrity-spotting. Most people want to blend in with the landscape. Few bother to dress for dinner, and if you want to eat in pyjamas or a sarong, no one minds. Glamour would seem out of place here.
The majority of guests are British, topped up by Australians, Germans and people from Hong Kong. Many find themselves so chilled-out that they end up extending their stay.
This is a delicious mixture of Western, fusion and Thai cuisine. There is a detox menu so good that we sometimes chose from it even though we weren't there to lose weight. The other menu is fabulous and even contains a wicked chocolate soufflà©.
Kamalaya is excellent value compared with other Thai spas; it is about half the price of Chiva-Som, for instance. If you can afford only a hillside room, rather than a villa, you will still have a comfortable stay.
Need to know
I travelled on an Erna Low Body & Soul holiday. You fly to Bangkok and then change planes for a hop to Koh Samui. Sevennight packages start at Â£1,160 per person, including flights. Call 020-7594 0290 or visit www.bodyandsoulholidays.com