Whether it’s pounds or programming you’re looking to lose, feel the weight drop as you take in the blue jewel tones of the Gulf of Thailand through swaying palms at Kamalaya Koh Samui. Voted ‘2018 Worldwide Health & Wellness Destination of the Year’ at the World Spa & Wellness Awards (for the second year running), Kamalaya melds eastern and western healing therapies, beautiful island vistas, and delicious healthy cuisine to deliver a one-of-a-kind holistic lifestyle experience.
Kamalaya translates as ‘Lotus Realm’, a fitting description for a place dedicated to helping you leave behind your mental chatter and move from ‘doing’ to ‘being’. Kamalaya founders John and Karina Stewart (a former Himalayan yogi and practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, respectively) built Kamalaya around a centuries-old cave once used by Buddhist monks as a meditation site. The accumulated energy from centuries of prayer and meditation is strong across the resort, which integrates surrounding nature into a lush tropical labryrinth of villas, perched lounges, plunge pools, Thai spirit houses and treatment pavilions.
All the details have been considered at Kamalaya, down to the lemongrass ice cubes in your traditional Thai iced butterfly pea flower tea on arrival. Guests start their stay with a complimentary wellness consultation that includes bioelectrical impedance analysis, which measures your body composition and cellular vitality to guide treatment and activity recommendations. While it’s possible to stay at Kamalaya just for the food and daily group classes and purchase treatments a la carte, we highly recommend booking a wellness package to structure your stay (which will include a 20% built-in discount on food, beverages and treatments as well as roundtrip airport transfer). What you do and how much or little of it is completely optional, and if you’ve purchased a package and don’t want a certain included treatment, it can be exchanged for another of similar value.
Kamalaya’s overarching goal is to rebalance guests, and given that most of us are overly stimulated, the focus is more on doing less than on rigorous fitness, with detox, relaxation and weight loss programs particularly favored. Packages run for 3, 5, 7, or 10 days (or longer if you choose) and range from three tiers of detox programming (introductory cleansing to more ascetic regimes for experienced detoxers), the Balance & Revitalize program to address adrenal burnout, and the ‘Asian Bliss’ program, which is exactly what it sounds like – pampering heaven combining Ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and traditional Thai mind-body therapies. Those seeking a more active experience can tailor an Optimal Fitness personal training program with the help of a Kamalaya fitness expert, who will guide the selection of complementary treatments such as massage and infrared sauna sessions as well as individual yoga, stretching and aquatic classes. Many programs include nutritional and herbal supplementation to aid in detoxification and restore balance. Kamalaya also offers a Sleep Enhancement program as a standalone or add-on option to any package. If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, you can work with a Kamalaya health advisor to design a program for your specific needs.
It’s worth mentioning Kamalaya’s ‘Life Enhancement’ and ‘Embracing Change’ offerings, which finetune the resort’s overall emphasis on releasing negative experiences and thought patterns and cultivating mental-emotional expansion (several members of the Kamalaya team are former monks and spiritual teachers). ‘Life Enhancement’ involves mentoring and stress management with experienced personal coaches that help participants explore their emotional habits and respond more effectively to challenges. This program includes a group component (with a maximum of 12 people) and presents a new perspective on mental and emotional flexibility each day. ‘Embracing Change’ provides guests with support in making life changes and getting through situations such as relationship break-ups, work related difficulties, anxiety and grief, as well as for targeting behaviors like emotionally-driven eating.
All programs include significant time in the Wellness Sanctuary, a lattice of private treatment rooms nestled into the green hillside with panoramic palm tree-framed views. With a menu of over 70 therapies from reiki to reflexology, there’s plenty to choose from if your included treatments don’t satisfy you. Kamalaya has drawn on the expertise of its diverse team of therapists to integrate traditional healing modalities into unique treatments, like the acupressure facial massage combining Thai marma point principles, heated herbal compresses and cranial sacral techniques, or the Asian hand massage inspired by Korean hand acupuncture and designed to open the lung and heart energy channels along Chinese meridiens. Try to time your treatments so you can watch the sun set through the palms.
With the resort often at full occupancy, scheduling your preferred treatments or time slots can actually become a bit of a problem, so don’t wait to make alterations to your schedule. Programs not only include a choice of passive wellness treatments but also activities like pilates, qigong, muay thai, lifestyle detox talks, meditation training and every conceivable type of yoga and pranayama. On top of this you’ll probably want to take advantage of visiting specialists in fields such as astrology & palmistry, biofeedback, neurolinguistic programming, polarity therapy, kundalini awakening, and chakra clearing. Unlike some health resorts, Kamalaya’s visiting practitioners provide periodic overviews of their speciality, which are helpful in deciding whether to take the plunge. Don’t forget to leave room in your schedule for some free time at the beach, lap pool, steam cavern, or simply enjoying stunning views of Gulf of Thailand from a treadmill or recliner, depending on your mood. Diving, snorkeling, cultural tours, cruises and other activities outside of Kamalaya can be arranged at additional charge, and there is a free shuttle to nearby Lamai beach. (While great for sunbathing, the water at Kamalaya’s private beach is very shallow and not ideal for swimming.)
Food at Kamalaya merges eastern and western cuisines but is always nutrient-rich, seasonal, and absolutely delicious. The menu is organic where ever possible and features extensive vegetarian and vegan choices as well as seafood, poultry and lamb dishes which would be superlative even for a retreat without a detox or health focus. Alcohol isn’t included, but is available for purchase. Those on a detox program are limited to designated anti-inflammatory and low carb vegetarian dishes supplemented with a 100g portion of lean protein, but the cuisine is so flavorful that guests on non-detox programs often avail themselves of the detox options, and many have reported losing 10 pounds in three weeks. It’s easy to spend the entire morning at breakfast sampling the endless array of fresh nut, seed and rice milks, ordering everything from Chinese chive cakes to fluffy omelettes to buckwheat pancakes with sugarless fruit spreads, and spooning honey straight from the beehive to cleanse your palate from a shot of wheatgrass, gotu kola, turmeric, ginger and coriander.
One of the most pleasurable ways to escape the heat is to suffuse your system throughout the day with fresh juice – classic green and fruit options are available but we recommend exploring the full menu of signature tonics and medicinal teas, delivered to where ever you are on-grounds. The probiotic papaya and bee pollen blends with yoghurt or almond milk (pumpkin or sunflower seed milk for detoxers) make a good meal replacement, while the Kamalaya detox juice of fresh holy basil leaves, raw coconut water, and pineapple hits the spot any time of day and GABA-rich mulberry tea is the perfect nightcap to support blood pressure balance and reduce inflammation in the brain.
Kamalaya offers a wide range of accommodation overlooking the aquamarine sea and outlying islands, from cozy single ‘Hillside Rooms’ to open plan suites and private pool villas. Be warned, your room is the only place you’ll be able to use wifi, which is 100 baht an hour, 300 baht per day, or 1,000 baht (about $30) for your whole stay. Revenues from this nominal fee, charged to emphasize the importance of digital detox, go to charity.
Kamalaya patrons, many of whom are repeat guests, are a mix of single wellness travelers, couples and friends, who can mingle over meals at the ‘community table’ (although dining alone is common and not at all awkward). While children are permitted, no special facilities or services are available and children below 16 can’t receive treatments or access the lap pool or fitness center.
A strong emphasis on spiritual growth and mind body alignment has been woven into every aspect of the Kamalaya experience, so if this isn’t your thing or you’re looking for a more active retreat, it may not be the best fit. But if you’re at a place where an inward-focused journey to health and perspective in beautiful tropical surroundings sounds appealing, we recommend planning your trip now – Kamalaya books up fast.