It didn’t take long for the magic of celebrity-fave wellness retreat, Kamalaya, to weave its charm. One night, in fact. I realised that for the first time in what felt like forever, there was no chatter – not around me, nor in my head. That elusive peace, which had been so hard to find in my busy everyday life at home, did still exist.
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It was daylight when I entered Kamalaya’s Wellness Centre for my 90-minute massage, but dark when I left. The surroundings – and I – had transformed as day turned to night. Lanterns draped in Spanish moss lit the paths, making it feel like I was moving through an enchanted village. One that’s shrouded in an esoteric energy forged from the physical and spiritual healing that’s taken place here for more than a decade.
Many of Kamalaya’s guests have been here before – it’s not unusual to meet somebody who has visited 10 or 12 times. I joined the returnee club in late 2016, checking in nearly seven years after my first visit. The lush retreat is spectacular, with the resort and facilities cascading down unspoiled terrain to a private beach on Thailand’s second largest island of Koh Samui.
Checking in will have your wellness levels rising on the spot. Like everything at Kamalaya the accommodation is discreetly integrated into the landscape through a relaxed, tropical design. You can peace out in a cosy hillside room or seaview suite, or splash out on a beachfront pool villa, perfect for couples on their way to relaxation and reconnection.
Choosing your own path to wellness is part of the experience, with 13 packages to choose from under the core programmes of detox, healthy lifestyle, stress and burnout, yoga and emotional balance. On my last visit I chose to detox, but in the intervening years Kamalaya introduced a brand new state-of-the-art fitness centre, including a 25-metre lap pool, so this time I booked in for the basic optimal fitness programme (found under healthy lifestyle).
All programmes offer a choice of accommodation plus generous wellness inclusions (an initial consultation, meals and access to numerous group fitness classes), and then they vary. My programme included a fitness assessment plus three personal training sessions, four far infrared saunas to help burn calories and detox, and three different types of massages.
More than 300 staff keep Kamalaya running, with a third of them in the Wellness Centre alone. The highly experienced team includes naturopaths, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, Ayurvedic specialists, certified nurses, personal mentors, meditation instructors and even western doctors. I happily put myself in their capable hands...
After recording my weight, blood pressure and height I was hooked up to a machine measuring bio-impedance body composition, hydration levels and the health of cells, before meeting with a naturopath to discuss the results. I loved being able to compare a snapshot of how my body is currently functioning with my last report, still on file all these years later.
“Do you have any stress-relief practices at home?” the naturopath asked during our candid Q&A. My answer of “red wine” didn’t seem to be what she was looking for – although she did admit it’s a typical response!
I left our meeting armed with fresh resolve plus a booklet of information and my personal itinerary, beginning with a PT session for the fitness assessment that would dictate my personalised programme.
Complementing the expert guidance from trainers is the stunning gymnasium – if there was one this beautiful at home working out every day would be easy. A session on a treadmill or bike rewards you with a kickstarted metabolism and views of the calming blue ocean, scattered with emerald-green islands.
Downstairs, the natural surrounds are breathtaking and peppered with large granite boulders that make up part of the natural topography. For the first time in a long time, I woke up looking forward to my sessions at the gym.
Beyond the gym, all guests have access to regular classes throughout their stay: an open-air yoga pavilion is designed to take in gorgeous views, the lap pool hosts regular aqua-fit classes, and ‘mentors’ run the life- enhancement programme and offer regular meditation and stress-management talks.
Getting well really works up a healthy appetite, which is lucky because the food is superb. The main restaurant, Soma, serves breakfast, dinner and dazzling ocean views, while down by the beach and adjacent to the main swimming pool, Amrita Café is a must for lunch.
The cuisine is unlike any I’ve eaten anywhere else in the world – truly unique, incredibly fresh and creative in its fusion of nutrient-rich foods and world-class gourmet cooking methods. As clichéd as the word ‘inspiring’ may be when it comes to food, it’s the perfect way to describe the award-winning meals. Kamalaya co-founder Katrina Stewart is a doctor in Chinese medicine, and she works tirelessly with her executive chefs to create the health-giving and extensive menu, from exotic salads and delicious vegetarian meals to fresh seafood, lamb and poultry. Oh, and mouthwatering desserts. Drinks include a large range of teas, juices and even beer and wine. What you can and cannot eat will depend on your programme.
Give yourself at least seven days at Kamalaya. You’ll spend the first day or two getting over the international travel – I found I hit my stride around day three. I’d planned to get out and enjoy Koh Samui, but although transfers to local Lamai Beach were offered I didn’t leave the resort once in my five-day stay.
My best tip? Come here with your partner. With so many programmes on offer, both ‘he’ and ‘she’ will easily find one to suit. Kamalaya says it’s “a place to reconnect”, and so it is – I left feeling much more centred and focused, and was able to tackle my busy life back at home in a more balanced way. Considering around half the guests in residence were couples, I suspect the reconnecting happens on all kinds of levels.