The here and now

Well­ness pro­grams at a Thai re­sort aim to make guests feel re­laxed and en­riched

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - NEL­LIE BLUNDELL

THE air­craft en­gines roar into life and within sec­onds I am pressed against my seat watch­ing the ground blur and rush away. I open my book.

‘‘There is psy­cho­log­i­cal plea­sure in this take­off, too, for the swift­ness of the plane’s as­cent is an ex­em­plary sym­bol of trans­for­ma­tion. The dis­play of power can in­spire us to imag­ine anal­o­gous, de­ci­sive shifts in our own lives, to imag­ine that we, too, might one day surge above much that now looms over us.’’

The book is The Art of Travel by Swiss pop philoso­pher Alain de Bot­ton and I’m tak­ing this serendip­i­tous pas­sage as a sign that the week ahead is go­ing to be good. We push through the clouds and all that looms over me seems al­ready to be fall­ing away — traf­fic j ams, alarm clocks, dead­lines, city stress.

I am on my way to Ka­malaya, a well­ness sanc­tu­ary and holis­tic spa re­sort on the south­ern coast of Thai­land’s is­land of Koh Sa­mui. On a steep hill­side of jun­gle, ris­ing up from a se­cluded la­goon, nes­tles a clus­ter of beau­ti­fully de­signed rooms, vil­las, ther­apy spa­ces and yoga halls. This is ap­par­ently the place to be if you fancy ‘‘a lifeen­rich­ing, healthy hol­i­day’’. I am not en­tirely sure what that means, but hope­fully it in­volves lots of re­lax­ation and pam­per­ing and not too much self-de­nial.

From Koh Sa­mui air­port, my taxi turns off the main road. There is no-one around, just but­ter­flies, birds and the odd doz­ing gecko. We pass a pineap­ple plan­ta­tion, a tele­vi­sion re­pair shack, a laun­dry with sheets out to dry in the damp trop­i­cal air, a few lazy dogs and lots of lanky co­conut palms. The driver pulls in be­hind a high wall and Ka­malaya is re­vealed in all its serene, wel­com­ing love­li­ness.

Na­ture is ever- present; the re­treat’s de­sign fol­lows the prin­ci­ple that a con­nec­tion to na­ture is a vi­tal, nur­tur­ing el­e­ment in­te­gral to one’s over­all health and well­be­ing. The en­tire com­plex is so in­te­grated into its sur­round­ing land­scape you can hardly tell it’s there.

Aus­tralian ar­chi­tect Robert Pow­ell worked with the ex­ist­ing trees and gran­ite boul­ders, some­times even in­cor­po­rat­ing na­ture into the rooms. There are beau­ti­ful gar­dens thick with pan­danus trees and fra­grant with ex­otic flow­ers, lo­tus ponds, wa­ter­falls, and the sil­very- blue wa­ters of the ocean be­yond.

De­spite the un­de­ni­able feel­ing that this is se­ri­ously luxe, there is no mon­u­men­tal op­u­lence, no gold taps or vaulted ceil­ings, j ust in­ti­mate spa­ces that flow into the tree­tops and draw the ocean sun­sets al­most in­doors.

I am in a Seav­iew Suite, a lovely, quiet room of cool, stone tiles and dark, pol­ished wood. The bed looks out to a bal­cony, and lush jun­gle greens clam­ber up its sides, mak­ing a home for lizards and colourful lit­tle birds.

While it is def­i­nitely serene, I can’t help but won­der just how much re­lax­ation there’s go­ing to be in this so- called healthy hol­i­day. I am about to find out. I must make my way to my well­ness con­sul­ta­tion.

Emma, an Aus­tralian natur­opath with hyp­notic green eyes, or­gan­ises my Body Bioimpedance Anal­y­sis. Us­ing a mild elec­tri­cal cur­rent she mea­sures my body com­po­si­tion, lev­els of fat and mus­cle, and the in­tegrity of over­all cell struc­ture. Mean­while, she ex­plains the com­pre­hen­sive Ka­malaya well­ness menu.

Guests can choose from a range of pro­grams fo­cused on detox, yoga, fit­ness, weight con­trol and stress and burnout. Each pro­gram, Emma says, is de­signed to pro­mote good health on mul­ti­ple lev­els, not just of body, but of mind and spirit. There are no rules and what you do, or how much, is en­tirely up to you. Some guests are at Ka­malaya for a full-scale detox. Oth­ers, like me, just want to re­ally re­lax and en­joy some trop­i­cal heat and fresh food.

Luck­ily, my BIA re­sults are not too bad so Emma sug­gests I might want to for­get the detox and take the Asian Bliss pro­gram. Phew. Over the next 61/ days, I will

2 have eight kinds of mas­sage, one tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine treat­ment, lo­tus scrub and wrap, and one ses­sion each of reiki, Pranayama med­i­ta­tion and oneon- one yoga tu­ition. I can also se­lect as many classes as I like from the weekly ac­tiv­ity sched­ule, in­clud­ing yoga, med­i­ta­tion, qi gong and stretch classes, or more vig­or­ous cir­cuit train­ing, car­dio com­bat and aqua aer­o­bics.

I sit on the bal­cony of my gue­stroom with a pair of geckos for com­pany, the three of us ad­mir­ing the view.

Ev­ery­thing is per­fect, ex­cept for the few things I can’t seem to find. There is no tele­vi­sion set, no al­co­hol in the mini bar, there isn’t even any cof­fee, just 10 types of herbal tea. But, most alarm­ing of all, there’s no wi-fi. A lux­ury re­sort with no wi-fi?

Yet even more dis­turb­ing than the ab­sence of these things is the anx­i­ety that such de­nial pro­vokes. It is true I am deeply in love with my iPhone and the in­ter­net and I also love a nice cold beer and a strong cof­fee.

At first, it’s all a lit­tle un­nerv­ing, but later it be­comes clear that the lit­tle lux­u­ries miss­ing at Ka­malaya are part of the plan to help guests let go and re­ally sur­ren­der to the here and now. Right now, though, on day one, I have an over­whelm­ing urge for cof­fee. So I sneak past re­cep­tion and head for the Fam­ily Mart, a 30-minute walk away.

I pass the plot of pineap­ples, the dogs and dry­ing sheets, pick up some Nescafe, a car­ton of milk and a bar of choco­late and head back up the hill.

Some­how, back in my room, it doesn’t taste as great as I had an­tic­i­pated. Maybe I should try to em­brace this ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter all.

First on my pro­gram is med­i­ta­tion. This is the only thing I have sched­uled that feels like it might in­volve some work, so I am quite happy to get it out of the way and move on to the mas­sages.

But strangely, this ses­sion turns out to be the one that stays in my mem­ory long af­ter I re­turn home. I am in one of about 30 ther­apy rooms dot­ted up the hill­side. Each room is fur­nished sim­ply, with beau­ti­fully painted Nepali chests, piles of tow­els, fresh flow­ers and sooth­ing mu­sic.

Smitha, from Chen­nai, is my med­i­ta­tion guide and she shows me how much time I spend in the fu­ture or the past, ei­ther with anx­i­ety, hope, de­sire or re­gret. This way of be­ing, and we all do it, she ex­plains, is the root of much of our stress and un­hap­pi­ness. I have to ad­mit she makes a lot of sense.

I re­solve, for the rest of my time at Ka­malaya, I’m go­ing to re­ally be here. But as my first mas­sage be­gins, I re­alise it’s more eas­ily said than done. Lovely Asha is from the fam­ily of Ayurveda spe­cial­ists lured here from Ker­ala for their mag­i­cal hands and tra­di­tional heal­ing pow­ers. She uses a hot com­press of herbs on my lower back and rubs a scented paste of turmeric and fra­grant oils into my skin. The sen­sa­tion is mes­meric and my mus­cles be­gin to melt, so why am I think­ing back to a con­ver­sa­tion I had in the of­fice be­fore I left for my hol­i­day?

Ev­ery few min­utes I find I’m in the fu­ture or the past and ad­mon­ish my­self for wast­ing what pre­cious lit­tle time I have here. What a shame to ex­pe­ri­ence this mo­ment only af­ter I’ve de­parted, look­ing back with misty nos­tal­gia.

As the days pass, I get bet­ter at be­ing present in each mo­ment, un­til one day some­thing strange hap­pens. I am alone in the Alchemy Lounge. Be­yond the rail­ing, the val­ley drops down to­wards the sea. An enor­mous emer­ald­green but­ter­fly floats by. An­other soon fol­lows, of vel­vety ma­genta and black. A king­fisher flashes a blue wing. The stream washes the stones on its way to the sea. The ocean and the sky above it change slowly from turquoise to blue, to laven­der and to grey.

It oc­curs to me sud­denly that I have been sit­ting in the same spot for 55 min­utes. That is al­most an hour with­out a book, a news­pa­per, my iPhone, my emails, Face­book, Google, a glass of wine or a cup of cof­fee. Noth­ing but me, the geckos and the dy­ing day in a spec­tac­u­lar show of colour and sound.

I feel as if I’ve passed through some­thing to find my­self in an­other place, where I’m able to com­pletely sur­ren­der to ex­pe­ri­ences as they hap­pen. As the chat­ter in my head grows quiet, my senses open to all the tiny and exquisitely beau­ti­ful things oc­cur­ring around me all the time. Nel­lie Blundell was a guest of Ka­malaya.


Clock­wise from above: med­i­ta­tion is at the cen­tre of Ka­malaya’s life-en­rich­ing, healthy hol­i­days; tai chi on the beach; awak­en­ing med­i­ta­tion room; the ter­raced re­sort

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