16 May, 2012

Kamalaya, Koh Samui: a detox retreat with a difference

16 May, 2012

Hong Kong’s mantra? “Work Hard. Play Hard”. The result? A city filled with professionals burning the candle at both ends. Conversation often centres around the need to detox – a word people associate with starvation inducing fast periods. To me, this approach seemed unhealthy; not holistic and restorative enough to reintroduce the balance I so desperately needed in my life. Eventually, I found a retreat that promised a wellness-focused detox. Suitcase filled with bikinis and high hopes, I set off for Kamalaya, nestled on a divine hillside in Koh Samui where I was to embark on a seven-day comprehensive detox retreat.


Day One: Exploration & Supplements
I initially feel like I could be in any luxury Koh Samui hotel. My sprawling villa has beautiful modern decor, Thai hints and a serene balcony overlooking the lush vegetation and sea beyond. Built on a steep hillside ensuring a relentless thigh workout, meandering paths lead between the reception area and main restaurant, wellness sanctuary, and finally down to the lunchtime cafe with secluded salas overlooking the pool and beach. The very essence of the place is of subtle serenity; with an environment conducive to contemplation, isolation and relaxation, this is a resort built within the surroundings, not on top of them, creating the perfect atmosphere for a retreat.

I trundled off optimistically to my wellness consultation where I receive my weeks’ schedule. Every day includes a massage, scrub, infrared sauna or all of the above, with the intention of removing toxins and restoring my body’s strength. Diet-wise, I am only allowed meals from the detox menu (essentially, vegetables). To ensure I don’t spontaneously combust, I have also been handed my armoury of tablets; vitamins need to be taken upon waking, after breakfast, mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon, after dinner and just for luck, before bed. That’s a total of 29 tablets a day, plus protein shakes and fibre sachets. Exhausted just thinking about it, I get my first massage – a soothing vitality oil massage in the blissful discreet wellness sanctuary which is the hub of the whole resort.

At dinner, there is no strict schedule of broths and smoothies but instead a menu of about twenty options, giving you a sense of variety that ensures you don’t get bored or feel starved. I had fresh cucumber and vegetable rolls to start, then delicious vegetables cooked in a lemongrass sauce. I opted to sit by myself, as part of my reason for visiting was to take time to be relaxed, peaceful and stop stressing. However, I did suspiciously eye the “community” table for those wishing to meet others and felt I would be tempted there later.

Day Two: The Making of a Spa Addict
A sunrise Tai Chi class in the yoga pavilion kick-started my Zen-like mindset. This was lucky as I needed strength of mind to bypass the buckwheat pancakes and opt instead for pumpkin paste, vegetables and a wheatgrass shot for breakfast. By mid-morning the spa was beckoning, first with a Far Infrared Sauna, which penetrates into your tissues whilst burning 600 calories in a mere thirty minutes… it felt like the 45 degree heat drew every ounce of sweat from my body. Luckily, a more relaxing detoxifying body scrub and wrap followed. All this pampering was definitely distracting me from any potential hunger! After lunch, a blissful two hours by the pool was dampened by my body starting to feel the detox effects, in the form of nausea and fatigue… but further distraction called in the form of a Chi Nei Tsang massage, which focuses on the stomach area and improves digestion. I had thought I would sit with the “others” tonight but I’m not only appreciating the physical detox but the emotional stillness and clarity of mind that being alone is bringing.

Day Three: The ups and downs of detoxing
There is no hiding the fact that my energy levels are depleted today. The veggie-only diet and supplements are making me feel bloated and nauseous but I power on through with my daily activities, including a sauna and lunch comprising of cucumber gazpacho followed by vegetable curry. The schedule of activities rescues me from my lull with an Ayuverdic massage. Every massage is a bit like a therapy session, alone in your thoughts you contemplate all aspects of your life before slowly being lulled to sleep. I end the day with a lymphatic drainage massage. For 90 minutes, my body is very gently pushed to improve the working of my lymph system and aid the elimination of toxins. I slept through almost the entire treatment in a semi-meditative state.

Day Four: Becoming part of the gang
A chat with a fellow guest on my walk down to the beach reveals that I’m now part of the Kamalaya community. I’m in on the secret – that we are all privileged to be embarking on our own journeys, whether they be detox, stress relief, weight control or just a healthy holiday, in this magnificent haven. Snippets of overheard conversation between other guests reveal many are repeat visitors. Rather than undermine the lasting effects of Kamalaya, for me it reinforces them, for when any of us is seeking guidance we will always return to the place which reset our compasses. An afternoon of beach lying and lazy swims reveal that I feel truly well here. No aches and pains, no ailments, no stress.

Day Five: Subtle differences
As I head early to the wellness sanctuary, I realise that very little is occupying my mind; I, the perennial to-do lister and OCD organisational queen, am quite happy to not have anything to do! My skin and hair also seem to be glowing, despite the fact I haven’t applied an ounce of make up since arriving, and there is a bounce in my step.  After a chilled out day, I watch the sunset blissfully before my evening lymphatic drainage massage.

Day Six: My ideal version of a busy day
By now my days feel almost meditatively ritualistic. Today differs due to lunch with the glowing Karina Stewart, one of Kamalaya’s founders. A fascinating and genuinely warm woman, her background in Chinese medicine and belief in holistic well-being shines through every aspect of the resort. She explains that their detox programme is not a short-term solution but is based on the pure science of the liver and its requirements, hence why there is no starvation or deprivation of nutrients. The abundance of choice for detoxers combined with lack of direct supervision ensures people take control and creates a more sustainable impact. I go to bed that evening contented, relaxed and lamenting the fact that tomorrow is my final day.

Day Seven: The Shining Effects of Detox
Today is my final day on the detox and I can feel its effects seeping through me. My skin is soft, supple and glowing, my stomach is settled and calm, my eyes are sparkling and I feel well and truly centred. I have no energy swings, no moods, no headaches… and for a misunderstood hypochondriac like me, that’s quite a big deal! My body feels svelte, smooth and toned. I read my post-detox instructions determined to maintain this healthy approach, not only to food, but also my mental and emotional wellbeing. I realise I’m going to deeply miss Kamalaya; the charming friendly staff, the serenity and beauty of the surroundings, the community spirit and unique emotional state brought on by being here. I have a feeling I too will graduate into being a repeat visitor; I fear nowhere else in the world would be so effective at restoring my inner peace and wellness and detoxing me of Hong Kong’s intense lifestyle.

SASSY DEAL: Exclusive to Sassy readers, book a 3 day intro to detox programme and only pay for 2 nights, as well as receiving a complimentary hand massage. To redeem the offer, simply quote SASSY on booking. Kamalaya are offering the following packages on any programme booked:

–        Stay 4, 5 or 6 nights and get 1 night free

–        Stay  7 or 8 nights and get 2 nights free

–        Stay 9 or 10 nights and get 3 nights free

For full details on packages and what they include, check the website. Valid from May 14-December 16.

Kamalaya Koh Samui, Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa, Thailand +66 (0) 77 429 800


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