Discover the art of relaxation at one of the world’s most sublime spas.
Nantika Sonyam, my health and wellness adviser at Thailand's Chiva-Som Spa, glances at my red silk blouse and tells me that the colour corresponds with anger and frustration. Apparently, better-informed wardrobe choices will do wonders for my energy levels. Purple equates with wisdom, she notes, and is good for relaxing. Sonyam also says that my liver is congested and suggests a thorough detox via a dairy-free, meat-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free and salt-free diet.
During my four-day visit at the luxe wellness retreat in Hua Hin, the royal beach-resort town on the coast of the Gulf of Siam, Sonyam recommends that I see the spa’s acupuncturist, have stress-release therapy with the physiotherapy team and book a Chinese stomach massage, called Chi Nei Tsang, to improve digestion. I tell her that I’m committed to excelling in the art of relaxation. I plan to utterly unwind, so I make a list and tell myself “Ambereen, don’t dream it; commit!” and then stress over hitting those targets. There is the agony of vanquishing sugar, dairy and caffeine; I’m wiped after the 17-hour flight from Los Angeles to Bangkok and three-hour shuttle-bus ride; and I’m worried about my husband and my tornado of a three-year-old son. They’re 13,000 kilometres away and I’m scheduling massages at a place ranked by Condé Nast Traveller as one of the world’s best overseas destination spas.
Chiva-Som translates to “haven of life.” The spa’s philosophy, says Paul Linder, the Swiss-born general manager, is rest, relaxation and improvement. Linder, who resembles actor Tim Roth (but more debonair), plays elephant polo, wears Tom Ford suits and doesn’t perspire, even in steamy 37°C weather. I’ve lived in the California desert for seven years, and waterfalls are sloshing down my face.
For my first treatment, Chiva-Som’s Signature Spa Haven Body Cocoon, I enter a room decorated in cool shades of avocado, cream and turquoise. Thirty minutes later, I realize that the colours are intended to distract clients from the treatment’s supreme heat. The masseuse scours me with an arabica-coffee-and-shea-butter scrub. After I shower away the grinds, she “marinates” me in scented oil and then wraps me in a cocoon of plastic and towels to encourage lymphatic drainage. I start to drift off while she massages my scalp but jolt awake because I’m convinced that fire ants are holding a sock hop on my torso. Sweat stings as it runs between my breasts, pools in my belly button and splashes over my knees. I hope I’m losing weight—not water weight but real fatty-tissue weight. Yes, it’s impossible. After 20 minutes the masseuse unwraps me, and somehow I’m not wrinkled like an old wallet or covered in ant bites; I’m soft from my neck to my heels.