How the Thai spa scene is upping its game

AAt the eastern end of Bangkok’s Wat Pho temple, there’s a modest colonnade hidden behind gilded stupas, statues of naga serpents, bejeweled porticoes, and ostentatious ordination halls. Often missed by tourists, it’s a must-see, lined with 60 stone slabs, each engraved with male and female nudes annotated with acupressure points and energy lines – ancient instruction manuals on the intricacies Thai massage.

The techniques described come to life next to the Wat Pho Thai school of traditional medicine, where every Thai therapist worth their salt comes to train for the highest level Thai massage royal certification. Teachers and students test their skills on visitors who know the hour-long £9 rubs are some of the best they’ll find in the world.

In fact, my first stop when I arrive in the Thai capital is always Wat Pho Thai’s humble sister school, Wat Po Chetawan. Just outside the temple complex makes it easier to find and make an appointment, so I made a beeline last month when I returned to town — my old home — for the first time. in more than two years.

I wasn’t in town just to visit old favorites. While Thais have been perfecting personal care for centuries, during the pandemic they’ve kicked into high gear, and today new spas and programs are enhancing the country’s offering even further.

A workout in the Peninsula Bangkok's pool

A workout in the Peninsula Bangkok’s pool

Now that Thailand has scrapped all entry requirements for tourists — all those onerous tests, wearing masks and filling out forms — a visit there feels like hitting the sweet spot of the trip. Big attractions remain relatively uncrowded, while bars and restaurants are buzzing with Thais happy to socialize again. There are plenty of discount hotel deals and wellness experiences that capitalize on Thai traditions and post-pandemic travelers’ desire to improve mentally and physically (especially now, off-season).

Chiva Som, the grandmother of Thai wellness retreats adored by celebrities such as Kate Moss, Serena Williams, Liz Hurley and the Beckhams, has introduced four new preventative health programs, while in Koh Samui, Kamalaya, more spiritual, focused on reconnecting to his inner self.

And then there’s new success story Rakxa, in a lemongrass-scented suburb of Bangkok. On the menu: a potent combination of pristine private villas, TLC and the latest medicine (backed by renowned Bumrungrad Hospital). It is luxuriously furnished in shades of mossy taupe and green, interwoven with silks from Thai fabric house Jim Thompson. Rakxa’s fitness facilities wouldn’t put an Olympic Village to shame. It has cryotherapy chambers to reduce inflammation, working motion screens to identify muscle biases, and frictionless running machines. “It’s not just about training, it’s about training well,” my physiotherapist says as I wobble on a balance machine.

Yoga and Pilates sessions offer a view of a lake visited by black-and-gold narcissus flycatchers. Inside the wellness center, Jai, are all sorts of water cures, from hydrotherapy pools to Gwyneth Paltrow Goop-worthy chairs that steam your vagina (to prevent thrush, they say) .

Rakxa

Holistic treatments span all ancient traditions of Asian wisdom – Ayurvedic, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan – and you’ll find Botox, fillers and Hollywood-worthy non-surgical facelifts at the Vitalife Scientific Wellness Clinic. . I would come back for a fortnight in a flash.

These aren’t dedicated spa retreats either: Thai hotels are riding the wellness wave. My stay at The Peninsula Bangkok coincided with the hotel group’s launch of an initiative called Life Lived Best, which integrates wellness into every part of your stay at no extra cost. You can have free fitness equipment delivered to your room, participate in at least half a dozen free activities a day, stream digital coaching and guided meditations, and find cuisine free of sugars, added salt and pesticides on each menu.

It’s all easy to dive in, especially if you want to get out and explore, but, after withering under 600 days of oppressive Covid restrictions in Hong Kong (where I now live), I wanted to fully immerse myself. The Peninsula Bangkok has arguably one of the best spas in the country, so I arranged a comprehensive, bespoke three-day program. I’ve tried vinyasa yoga classes under a century-old banyan tree, meditation in the bedroom watching rice barges and long-tail boats cross the Chao Phraya River, and water aerobics in the pool. In between, I was lulled by Tibetan singing bowls (£172) and mellowed by massages and herbal compresses (£162).

I met a Thai shaman, “harmony healer” Thana Jindashotinun, who told me that he cured himself of asthma when he was eight years old and has been making others better ever since. . A master anatomist, he spent two hours twisting my limbs and ripping out tiny muscles (£100) until I felt like I was blooming, like a lotus flower.

A beach in Phuket

From there, I headed to Phuket Beach, another vacation hotspot with wellness temptations galore: Muay Thai boxing retreats, vegan bootcamps, lavish oceanside retreats, the works. Rosewood Phuket was not the first five-star resort on the island to introduce wellness programs, but it offers some of the best and has recently added a host of new holistic therapies, including chi nei tsang (massage stomach detox) and life. force the breath. The yoga took place on the beach overlooking Emerald Bay and I spent a few heavenly hours mixing my own body scrubs which were then applied by such a skilled therapist I suspect magic was involved. I emerged with toddler skin after a facial.

It only took a few days for Thailand to work its magic on me. Well, that and 2,000 years of healing arts history. Self-improvement is a continuous process. And its spas embrace that.

Lee Cobaj was a guest of the Peninsula (B&B doubles from £249; Peninsula.com), Rosewood Phuket (B&B doubles from £580; rosewoodhotels.com) and Inside Asia, which offers nine nights’ B&Bs at both hotels from £3,308. pp, including transfers, private tours and some extra meals (insideasiatours.com). Fly to Bangkok

A villa in Rosewood Phuket

A villa in Rosewood Phuket

Seven of the best spa hotels in Thailand

1. Chiva Som, Hua Nin
A celebrity favorite with an ever-changing schedule in a luxurious setting. The Double Full Board Retreat from £992 per night (chivasom.com)

2. Avani+ Hua Hin, Hua Hin
Affordable hotel in one of Bangkok’s closest beach resorts, for laser facials and more. B&B doubles from £81, facials from £71 pp (avanihotels.com)

3. Rakxa, Bangkok
Fabulous new option with superlative fitness facilities. Five nights full board with treatments from £1,568 pp (rakxawellness.com)

4. Peninsula, Bangkok
Elegant hotel with one of the best spas in the country. B&B doubles from £249 (peninsula.com)

5. Kamalaya, Koh Samui
Holistic and spiritual retreats in a lush tropical setting. Three night full board retreat for two from £2,699 (kamalaya.com)

6. Phuket Rosewood
Opt for some of the best treatments on a spoiled island for spas. B&B doubles from £580, treatments from £162 (rosewoodhotels.com)

7. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
The classic five-star offers new CBD massages thanks to the recent legalization of cannabis in Thailand. B&B doubles from £153 (mandarinoriental.com)

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