Part 1: Bangkok
ALONG THE GULF
OF THAILAND, 185 km south of
Bangkok, the village of Hua Hin offers a glimpse into Thailand’s
early days of destination tourism. Thanks to the efforts of King
Rama VII during the 1920s, the resort community took shape in a
way that contrasts with the rapid and relatively recent development
of Phuket and similar spots, its design reflecting the respect for
natural landscape and local customs rather than mass-produced tourism.
While not as flashy as its newer cousins, Hua Hin has
authenticity in its favour, offering a sense that real people live
and work there beyond the industry of tourism. At one end of a locally
populated beach with sand that feels like powdered sugar, one will
find Monkey Island, an area streaked with hiking trails that lead
up to a Buddha and temple alive with playful populations of the
namesake creatures. The Sofitel Centara Grand Resort and Villas,
said to have launched Hua Hin as a resort area internationally,
offers one of the area’s best high tea services, good for
relaxing in the evening after an eventful day exploring everything
the area has to offer.
Downtown Hua Hin bustles after hours with its own night
market. Carpeting several downtown blocks with street food indulgences,
inexpensive souvenirs and rolling cocktail bars, interesting buried
treasures can also be found in the mix. Finding Shoes, a delightful
shop which carries inexpensive but beautifully made leather sandals
with floral cutouts, is worth a peek. Twenty minutes in the other
direction, there’s the unique Cicada Market, an upscale alternative
to the traditional Asian night market that stages only on weekends.
Selection of goods features handcrafted jewellery, shoes, home textiles,
clothing and objets d’art, all sold by their creators
in a tidy maze of open air boutiques alongside live jazz performances
and a neatly organized restaurant area with proper tables and chairs.
If visitors need a break from all the shopping, Chiva
Som, one of Southeast Asia’s most respected spa and wellness
resorts, lies at the heart of this oasis. There is no question that
Chiva Som is a luxury resort, any doubts quenched by the nicely
stocked Mercedes limo that collects guests from the airport or their
Bangkok hotel. While the resort looks deceptively compact at first
glance, it opens out, like a lotus blossom, embracing visitors into
a multi-dimensional sensory experience.
With Chiva Som’s main mission being to send visitors
home in better health than when when they first arrived, personalization
takes priority over pretension. The hotel’s acclaimed kitchen
caters not only to vegans and vegetarians, but also kosher, diabetic
and any other personalized diet. Although the sparely elegant design
of the rooms, public areas and landscaping are inspired by a Thai
Buddhist æsthetic of and indulgent comfort, resort business
development director Sharon Menzies says that the holistic approach
of the programs remain free of any kind of religious influence.
This is not the resort that sells itself as a
honeymoon destination, Menzies says pointedly. There
is no [hard] liquor on premise. Treatments are less about pampering
and more about clients finding balance, and learning habits they
can carry over into their real world and marriage. However,
for couples who want a more thoughtful honeymoon or serene renewing
of vows, this is an ideal place. Visitors are able to gain a more
intimate view of their own and their loved one’s health issues
dietary needs and fitness goals. These realizations in turn allow
for a better care over both body and spirit. The resort notes that
they also have fertility experts on hand for couples who want to
start planning families.
Shortly after arrival, a counsellor at the spa has visitors
fill out a simple assessment form in order to promptly set the personalized
wellness plans into motion. The counsellors will most likely steer
visitors away from the treatments they would be most likely to select
off a spa menu if left to their own devices. While a body scrub
and line-erasing facial may sound more tantalizing due to familiarity,
as I experienced, treatments such as reiki, a Thai digestion-focused
massage, tend to be more appropriate for long-term well-being. The
reiki practitioner who worked on me was practically psychic: she
had me figured out even though we did not have any conversations!
The results were quite enlightening and habit changing, and the
lemongrass iced tea served across the resort as an accompaniment
to meals and workouts proved quite wonderful as well.
An array of fitness classes, suitable to all tastes,
are available at the resort. Yoga and stretching, Thai boxing, mountain
biking, hiking, aqua fitness, pilates, tai chi chuan, Shaolin wushu
and even a golf clinic launched in early 2010 are all modifiable
to a variety of fitness levels, the lush jungle greenery and laid-back
fitness instructors only adding to the enticement of the programmes.
The workouts are not negated by the meals available, as often happens
at resorts. Food served on premise is both delicious and informatively
presented with cards explicitly stating calories and nutritional
benefits in detail. Through its Thai menu selections are not as
hot and spicy as street food, they still prove flavourful, satisfying
and sophisticated, and you can of course add more peppers as desired.
Where the hotel newsletter and web site offer try
this at home recipes, cooking classes further empower and
motivate visitors to make changes in their diets without sacrificing
flavour. They additionally provide the added experience of shopping
the local food markets for base ingredients and spices with the
While the close-knit, family-style approach of the staff,
the plush, romantic ambiance of the common areas and the resort’s
close proximity to golf and shopping make Chiva Som seem like idea
spot for a small executive retreat or bridesmaids’ retreat,
Menzies cautions that the resort is best experienced solo or only
with your significant other. She reemphasizes that the spa experience
is not about the quick fix of a fruity body scrub or facial with
high-end European products but rather about the first step towards
a lifetime of wellness. She also says that although they have a
shuttle to the markets, the staff encourages visitors to spend as
much of their time on property as possible.
We want each visitor to have a tailored experience
that will have meaning to them when they leave, and we do not want
cliques to form among guests, she says. We respect the
wishes of guests who want to remain solitary during the course of
what can be a highly personal and introspective time of healing.
However, for more social solitaires or couples we offer activities,
guest speaker sessions and talk tables in our dining
areas, where they can meet people from all over the world. The privacy
element is also important, as we also offer medi-spa treatments
and packages where visitors can recover in a private setting if
Besides a customized approach for maintaining the face
and body that is their fortune, guaranteed anonymity and freedom
from the prying eyes of the paparazzi and red carpet pressures act
as an alluring feature for celebrities and captains of industry.
The no photography on premise policy can be quite appealing
for all guests, providing an egalitarian approach to the luxury
health retreat experience. Menzies explains that this is accomplished
in part due to the 95 per cent Thai staff who treat everyone equally
as a valued guest, regardless of whether they are top A-listers
from Japan, Europe, Australasia or the US
or just people who come to escape the craziness of everyday life.
However, there are celebrities who openly sing the resort’s
praises. Famous guests who serve as brand ambassadors include Elle
Macpherson, Elizabeth Hurley and Collette Dinnigan. Hurley and Dinnigan
even have items from their beach fashion lines for sale at the resort’s
boutique alongside Chiva Som’s branded line of food products,
spa beauty remedies, fitness and meditation DVDs
and hard-to-find items such as jewellery from southeast Asian designers
and stingray leather goods.
Though group outings are discouraged as the reason for
one’s first trip to Chiva Som, Menzies mentions that the resort
is looking into the possibility of hosting small executive retreats.
These group events would come with strict conditions such as restricting
the group to eight or fewer guests, and the ground rule that all
money, planning and strategy related items be left at the Mercedes
limo door. If you go with associates, the idea is to learn
good life practices that will counterbalance the less than healthy
habits and pitfalls that come with your career, Menzies adds.
Everything here is hands-on, from fitness plans to dietary
plans, skin care, counteracting stress and so on. If you come with
a small group to bond, the idea is to know yourself first before
you apply your new life lessons to the rest of the world.
MAY BE a logical starting point when exploring Thailand’s
history and culture, smaller towns that help fuel its economy add
another intriguing perspective. This is particularly true if you
happen to be a fan of Thai food, reported to be one of the fastest-growing
ethnic cuisines worldwide. Thai food ranked sixth in an international
survey developed by the Kellogg School of Management and Sasin Institute
to test the popularity of international foods worldwide.
Followers of Tommy Tang’s Easy Thai Cooking
television series inform you that if you want to truly get to know
Thailand’s cuisine, you have to go to the source. This advice
rings especially true when it comes to Thai Hom Mali Rice, formerly
known as jasmine rice. Though Chiang Mai and Bangkok offer everything
from the in-your-face sensory allure of street food to posh fine
dining, a short stay the agricultural town of Nakhon Sawanthe
Thai capital of its global rice industry and site of the 2011 Thailand
Rice Conventionis a real eye-opener.
The route between Bangkok and Nakhon Sawan is dotted
with rest areas that deftly splice together the mentality of an
old-fashioned truck stop and mall food court. A rest area near Singh
City, for example, includes a sweets bakery where everything
is made from fish including pound cake and ice cream. If only gefilte
fish makers could get in on their secrets! The Singh City stop also
features Coffee D, a local chain that offers a refreshing, if not
more conventional taste of the Thai heartland through excellent
green and Ceylon (black) varieties of Thai iced tea brewed through
an espresso machine.
Even with Nakhon Sawan’s agricultural underpinning,
there is still culture to be found in environs. From Central Park’s
green, sprawling sibling, Sawan Park, to impressive waterfalls such
as Namtok Nang Nuan and Namtok Mae Krasa to Buddhist compounds and
local museums such as Chan Sen Ancient City and Chan Sen Musuem,
the variety to be found in Thai culture is visible throughout. The
Bonito Chinos Hotel embodies the town’s humble-but-ambitious
attitude with a décor that emulates big city boutique hotels.
Its Pink Peony restaurant stays true to Nakhon Sawan’s agricultural
roots as it serves up Thailand’s version of the country-style
breakfast that could have been prepared by somebody’s mother
in the morning rustic but excellent family-style dinners at night.
The variety of experiences available in Thailand, from
wellness resorts to agricultural towns, enchants visitors to escape
urban life and take the time to breathe and rediscover themselves.
Nearby Monkey Island
| Related articles
||A perfect haven
away from home
Janejit Sooksombatisatian rates the Twinpalms Phuket
resort as one of the worlds ﬁnest, an unforgettable
experience with a dose of professionalism at every turn photographed
by Tanya Sooksombatisatian and courtesy Twinpalms
Lucire at Asias best luxury hotel, the Regent
Bangkoka haven in the Thai heat with a concierges
database that includes astrologers and amenities that are
the business in the city by Jack Yan