Detox|Retox has had a mini makeover.
We’ll still be celebrating working out and going out on our travels, but a bit more mindfully, and with a slant towards the healthier side of things - practising the 80:20 rule in blogging if you like - as we explore the best in wellbeing from around the world.
And it feels right to re-introduce Detox|Retox as a wellness travel destination by introducing you to my favourite 'healthy holiday' on the planet: Kamalaya.
The award-winning Kamalaya is one of the world’s most beautiful retreats, a haven for high-end hippies on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand that combines luxury living with soul-affirming therapies and stunning nature.
And I can say this with absolute authority because I have visited with my husband three times in the last three years, always paying full rack rate (and it’s not often you’ll see a travel journalist writing that, especially when five-star prices are involved).
People visit Kamalaya for many reasons: to rest, to heal, to lose weight, to find themselves. The retreat’s motto is ‘Feel Life’s Potential’ and founders Karina and John Stewart have created the ultimate escape at this secluded bay.
You don’t have to be on the verge of burnout to reap the benefits of this peaceful paradise. Or going through a big break-up. Or recovering from some major trauma. Or even a card-carrying hippy. The calming energy here will work its magic on anyone.
You do however have to be prepared to splash the cash (one week's full board starts from around £2,000) and should commit to arriving with an open heart and mind.
If you do this then you can expect to grow and change in some pretty profound ways. And maybe even leave as a mung bean convert...
Inspired by ancient Asian healing philosophies including Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, food is seen as the 'first medicine' at Kamalaya and the chefs work hard to keep things interesting as well as virtuous (you'll be amazed at how many ways there actually are to cook a mung bean).
Brilliant for veggies and vegans, every mealtime includes a tonne of fancy detox options and even the 'non detox' choices are almost 100% gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free. Our favourite dishes included black cod, green soups, veggie curries and fruit carpaccio. All washed down with fresh coconut water and usually finished with a 'detox' cookie and herbal tea.
And the best news is that all this health actually tastes good. Like, really good. With no hunger pangs or feelings of deprivation to report. Even guests with zero willpower will have difficulty doing too much damage (although the unlimited smoothies could pose a problem if you're trying to steer clear of sugar).
Breakfast is a clean eater's DREAM. Our daily start included three types of green juice, gluten-free chia toast, DIY muesli topped with goji berries and bee pollen, egg white omelettes, avocado and piles of tropical fruit.
It's also possibly the biggest reason for guests breaking their digital detoxes as they secretly instagram the rainbow-coloured spread (devices are supposed to be banned from public areas).
Lunch is a chilled affair, taken by the beach or at the pretty Amrita cafe.
And dinner is the perfect opportunity to meet the other guests and any visiting experts at the communal table, with conversation topics swinging from the benefits of chlorophyll colonics to blue light healing experiences and Trump’s policies. Sound intense? Don't worry, by day four all of this will seem totally normal.
Over three visits we have tried four different room categories, from the cosy Hillside Room to a pimped-up Superior Suite, and our favourite is the Villa Sea View complete with an outdoor shower and a balcony onto the forest.
CNTraveller.com agrees with us that these mid-range rooms are actually the most covetable due to the beautiful views and proximity to the restaurants and main wellness areas. And when I say 'mid-range' I should make it clear that these are still exceptional lodgings featuring soothing design and high-end finish, with the organic products, lack of TV and booze-free mini bar the only reminders that you aren’t in a standard luxury resort.
When it opened in 2005 Kamalaya was intended as a serene space for guests to relax and connect with nature and themselves. But with fitness becoming an increasingly important part of a holistic life the retreat has introduced a shiny new gym and lap pool, both featuring views of the Gulf of Thailand, as well as fitness classes and personal trainers.
The all-inclusive schedule includes yoga, meditation, pranayama, pilates, Qi Gong and Tai Chi next to water aerobics, Power Plates, Fit Ball, and strength and resistance training.
And for a proper sweat thirty minutes in the infrared sauna designed to heat you up from the inside out delivers a guaranteed glow as it releases a few pints of toxins.
The super-sized Wellness Sanctuary offers a HUGE mix of ancient eastern treatments and more contemporary therapies, including Indian head massage, Reiki, cupping, Chinese stomach massage, lymphatic drainage, naturopathic medicine, blood analysis and even simple old facials and pedicures.
Don't panic, you won't be left to your own devices, these therapies are all considered and prescribed in accordance with any overall objectives for your stay, whether that's to address fitness, detox, stress, burnout or emotional balance.
Most treatment rooms are open air with views onto the ocean and/or jungle, and there's the option to have couples' treatments (although there's not much romantic about watching your partner being pummelled by a bald Thai man).
Not spiritual? You will be.
Kamalaya is built around a cave temple once used by Buddhist monks as a place of meditation and spiritual retreat, giving the resort an amazing healing and calming energy.
And the daily meditation and yoga classes as well as expert talks and workshops from the travelling weirdos/wonderful new-age creatures give you the opportunity to explore some new ways of looking at yourself and life.
This may be a retreat, but it's a very fancy kind of retreat, and so coffee is available. And (dairy-free) chocolate mousse. And even booze.
Most people don't drink but if you really need to toast your new, improved self then organic wine and high-end spirits are available (but not included in the all-inclusive price).
After-dinner adventures are limited, with most guests retiring by 9.30pm. But Friday night is celebrated with events ranging from lantern ceremonies on the beach to group chanting (more fun than it sounds).
And if your hectic, healthy holiday schedule allows then the sunset boat trip is a real treat.
KAMALAYA: FIRST TIME TIPS
- packages are the way to get the best value here and it's worth getting in touch and taking advice from the Wellness Sanctuary staff ahead of booking.
- this is a brilliant place for singles with lots of group classes and lots of other solo travellers.
- this is not a brilliant place for kids, they are allowed but no concessions or special facilities or services are offered (Kamalaya says: "Kamalaya is not recommended for children. The facilities and services are designed for adults who seek the time, place and expertise to improve their wellbeing.").
- this is not a mini break destination, to get the most of of the place (and yourself) they/I would recommend a minimum seven day stay.
- don’t arrive jet-lagged or hungover (or both, like we may have done post New Year in Hong Kong on our first visit). I would suggest spending a few days in Bangkok (The Sukhothai is a stylish place to start) or another Thai island (we loved Koh Tao, a couple of hours away by ferry) so you arrive ready to reap maximum benefit.
- do leave your heels at home, pretty much anything goes wardrobe wise here but the main vibe is: 'chill the hell out'.
- do take them up on the packed lunch offer for the journey home. Airline food is never our friend, especially after a week or so of pure Kamalaya health.