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Destinations

Why an escape to Thailand's Chiva Som Resort was the best investment I made for my wellbeing

Nadia art director Tanya Wong invests in rest at a dreamy wellness resort in Thailand.

By Tanya Wong
As much as I enjoy an intrepid adventure – exploring the sights, sounds, cultural experiences and discoveries outside my everyday world – I often find myself returning home happy, but also up-to-the-eyeballs exhausted and no more rested than before I left.
Squeezing in as much as I can on these trips leaves little opportunity for actual relaxation, and that old joke of 'needing a holiday to get over your holiday' definitely springs to mind.
Chiva Som is the perfect antidote to that predicament.
Meaning 'haven of life' in Thai, the resort offers guests the ultimate healing holiday. Dedicated to improving your health and wellbeing, they take a holistic approach to helping you restore and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul.
Here was my chance to finally embrace relaxation and embark on a journey of a different kind, with the emphasis on slowing down, resting and nurturing my way back into balance.
The tranquil view from one of the guest suites – with not a chirping phone to be heard, thanks to a digital ban in all public areas.
From the moment I stepped foot in Chiva Som's seven acres of peaceful, lush grounds, in Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand, there was an air of calm and a genuine sense of caring from the staff.
After a warm welcome, the journey to improved wellness started immediately.
I was asked to sign an agreement not to carry or use any devices or cameras in the public areas of the grounds, all part of what General Manager Vaipanya Kongkwanyuen described as their complementary 'digital detox' programme.
This was followed by a thorough one-on-one consultation with my personal health and wellness advisor to determine what goals I wanted to achieve during my stay.
My usual Monday-to-Friday grind often leaves me in a perpetual state of tiredness, which results in a fair bit of stress and anxiety.
So number one on my to-do list was: decompress and uncoil my tightly wound body and mind as much as possible.
My advisor, Ann, created a bespoke programme based on the 13 core 'retreats' at Chiva Som.
These retreats have different focuses, from general improvements to physical and mental wellbeing, fitness, detoxing and weight loss, to beauty, relaxation, and emotional and spiritual healing.
I was told that every retreat draws on elements from the six main wellness modalities: physiotherapy, holistic health, nutrition, fitness,
spa, and aesthetic beauty.
I was booked for four nights – already I wished it was for longer!
My Natural Renewal schedule was dotted with one-on-one activities with expert staff, including a guided meditation in an open-air pavilion, acupuncture and a 'super stretch' class, where a personal trainer put me through a challenging combination of stretches and muscle manipulation to refresh my weary body, in between my muffled yelps and groans.
Next up was a mindfulness-based stress-release consultation.
During this session, the full depth of my emotions was plumbed and measured via heart and breath rates, and I was shown how a simple breathing technique could calm the nervous system.
Like most of us, I'd heard about the benefits of breathing mindfully, but it wasn't until I saw the science behind it that the light bulb went off.
It's this union of science and holistic healing that Chiva Som does so effectively and which sets it apart from others.
And then there were the massages. Oh… yes.
From the seemingly endless range on offer, my programme included both the familiar (the trusty Thai foot massage) and the entirely untested.
In the latter category was the 'stress-release therapy', which lay somewhere between a physiotherapy appointment and a beauty treatment.
Designed for those of us who toil at computers, tension is eased and blood circulation is increased by coating your arms in layers of heated paraffin wax, then snugly covering them in plastic wrap and what feels like giant oven mitts.
Meanwhile, the deepest knots in my shoulders, neck and back were being so well tended to by the therapist that I promptly fell asleep.
Once the wax was removed, she applied the same expert touch to my hands and arms.
Ahhhh.
Another unknown was the 'crystal massage and quantum healing treatment' which turned out to be the surprise highlight of my stay.
Perhaps a bit left-field for some, I found it a unique and memorable experience.
A personal selection of crystals was chosen by the holistic therapist to help "realign energy for a deeper calmness".
Warm rose quartz and white jade were incorporated into my massage, to relieve muscular tension and "release trapped emotions".
At the end, a cold set of the same crystals was placed at different points on my face and temples for varying lengths of time.
What was unusual about this treatment was that, as relaxed as I was, I also felt as though I was dreaming deeply throughout the massage. And I experienced frequent twitching and jolting from conscious to dream state and back again.
My therapist explained that those sensations, like little electric sparks, were the blocked energy moving through my body and the release of trapped emotions.
I left feeling unusually energised, with the tension in my neck and shoulders noticeably eased.
If all this wasn't enough, each day of treatments and activities always concluded with a Chiva Som signature massage.
Heaping luxury upon luxury, I was also assigned a personal butler to help me with anything I needed.
She'd somehow always quietly appear out of nowhere to ask if I'd like a hot bath waiting for me on my return from the evening massage – to which the answer was always an emphatic, "Yes, please".
I started to wonder how I could possibly give all this up and return to normal life.
The cuisine at Chiva Som was always exceptionally fresh, nutritious, beautifully presented and perfectly proportioned.
For something a little more formal, the Emerald Room offered a western-style menu served in a quiet ambience.
During my first meal (lobster and sweet-potato gnocchi), an egg timer, set for 15 minutes, was placed on the table.
The smiling waiter explained that it was to encourage slower eating and proper digestion.
Although it took me by surprise, it was yet another subtle reminder of the little things you can do to improve your quality of life.
A second restaurant, Taste of Siam, is located at the beach's edge and caters more to Thai taste buds.
Every Saturday is 'feast night' with barbecued seafood such as rock lobster, giant prawns, scallops and sea bass, accompanied by salads, vegetables and delectable little desserts. Let's just say this was my 'cheat night'.
A hothouse and organic gardens help supply the kitchens with just-picked produce.
The culture of care at Chiva Som extends beyond the resort to the community and environment.
One of its core beliefs is that personal wellbeing and environmental wellbeing are equally important.
At the resort, water- and energy-saving technologies are employed along with carbon off-setting. Food waste is distributed to local farms for animal feed, plant waste is made into fertiliser, plastic, metal and glass are recycled, and waste water is purified and used to irrigated the grounds.
Two organic gardens supplement the produce used in the resort kitchens.
Chiva Som is also the driving force behind environmental wellness projects like the recently completed Krailart Niwate Mangrove Ecosystem Preservation & Education Centre.
In collaboration with the Hua Hin community and Silpakorn University, the centre's aim is to preserve the last remaining mangrove forest in Hua Hin and restore it to its former glory.
Over 5000 trees have been planted and a kilometre-long elevated boardwalk constructed, providing a place for the community to run, walk, relax and learn about the mangrove's eco system.
While Chiva Som is impressive on so many levels, what makes this place truly special is the personalised attention to detail – the feeling that you are being nurtured in every way possible by people who genuinely care.
For instance, my butler, noticing I had a lingering cough, burned eucalyptus oil in my room every day, then checked in to see if I was improving.
It's no wonder guests return to the resort year after year. Chiva Som may have found itself another regular right here.

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