I’m greeted with an icy lemongrass-scented towel and a cool glass of ginger and lemongrass tea in a pavilion above a koi-filled lake. Birds twitter as a light breeze soughs through the trees. I’ve arrived at Chiva-Som, a 58-room health and wellness retreat near Hua Hin on Thailand’s gulf coast that offers comprehensive fitness programs, spa and light medical treatments.
I’m transported by golf cart along winding pathways through shady gardens to drop off my luggage in a serene dark wood traditional Thai villa. Then we scoot past massive banyan trees to the spa and health center for my initial consultation. My therapist tells me my blood pressure is a bit high and begins circling yoga and aerobics classes on the weekly schedule.
I have four days to transform my health. I begin with a back, neck and shoulder massage that de-stresses my road-weary body and erases my anxiety about whether or not I’ve selected the right treatments from the 117-page treatment menu.
The next morning, I take a stretch class and a water aerobics class, then make my way to the beachfront restaurant for salad and grilled fish with spicy cucumber dip. As people lounge in chaises around the pool, and a few hardy souls gather on the beach for boot camp, I head for a floor Pilates class followed by a Thai herbal massage. I get in a quick nap before dinner and an Oriental Stress Management seminar, which almost seems unnecessary now.
The staff here have embraced me without reservations. A spa attendant who watched me trip on a step after my massage the first day now wraps her hand lightly around my elbow and guides me around, laughing conspiratorially. The maid who cleans my villa artfully folds my pajamas as if they were Prada and places my book next to them. If I raise a hand ever so slightly in the restaurants, a waiter materializes.
The food is a mix of traditional Thai dishes and elegant Mediterranean cuisine. At Taste of Siam, the more casual beachfront café, coconut milk, ginger, lime, chilis, lemongrass and tamarind make everything taste rich and slightly naughty. Emerald specializes in more formal Mediterranean/fusion cuisine. Cooking classes include visits to the local market or to Chiva-Som’s own organic farm.
Brian Anderson, a chemistry professor who is Chiva-Som’s sustainable development coordinator, explains to me that social sustainability is as important at this resort as its push toward carbon neutrality or its organic farm, scrupulous recycling, solar panels and water conservation. Staff members and their families receive health coverage and scholarships, and they, in turn, visit schools to educate kids on health and the need to protect the development-stressed local ecosystem. The staff members’ fulfilling lives are reflected in the care they give guests.
I leave Chiva-Som wishing I’d stayed longer, but in significantly better condition than I was in when I arrived. The journey was well worth it, and the flight home is considerably shorter, thanks to the jet stream. chivasom.com
Los Angeles-based writer LAUREL DELP lived in Thailand as a child but never felt as much at home as she did at Chiva Som.