I step into the lobby of Chiva-Som and Thai hospitality welcomes me with tuberose nosegays and lemongrass herbal tea, cold towels and a squishy chair. I am instructed to just sit and absorb the surrounding lush foliage, cascading water and peaceful view while I check in (and have my photo taken against protests). Chirping birds sing in my ear while someone leads me to the back of a golf cart, which transports me to my well-located petite Thai pavilion set off a small courtyard near the spa and restaurant. I set out for an exploratory walk and meander out past the pool. The 26-hour trip is a distant memory now as I dip my jet-lagged body in the warm saltwater bath that is the Gulf of Thailand on this hot and humid afternoon.
I head over to the vast spa for the first of my daily massages, past staggeringly peaceful stone Buddhas, by a pond of “think pink” and emerald lotus flowers, and a regal antique stone statue of a male and female form that I ponder frequently during my stay. After a wonderful welcoming Chiva-Som signature massage, I drag myself up from the table, trying to force myself to stay awake until evening, and float on one of the two heated waterbeds in a dark room adjacent to the women’s Jacuzzi. My long slumber is very peaceful that night.
Slightly jet-lagged, I rise early that first morning in the pitch black dark of my room and slide the wood and rice paper paneled doors open to the tub and “kitchen” area of my suite. I turn on the electric kettle and squeeze fresh lime into a celadon tea cup with hot water.
Located along the shores of a dreamy beach in Hua Hin, Chiva-Som is a world away in spirit, but less than three hours as the crow flies from Bangkok. The first order of business is a Wellness Consultation where a schedule is created for your chosen retreat. Would I follow the path to inner peace, elevate my fitness level to peak performance levels, complete a yoga retreat, detox my body and soul, or strive for eternal youth? Such are the painstaking retreat choices.
Instead of focusing on one area like detox or peak performance, I ask for a little of everything. All stays include the delicious organic food that Chiva-Som is known for, as well as a daily massage. You choose the rest from a bountiful array of daily exercise options, Chinese medicine, physical therapy, visiting consultants, psychologists, or Niranlada, a U.S. board-certified-staffed medi-spa.
My Taste of Chiva-Som
Chiva-Som is a paradise that has a scent all its own. The smell of Thai food mixes with the fragrance of plumeria, tuberose, orchids and people sweating in 100-degree heat bathed in citronella. The food here is extraordinary. Most days I take my breakfast, lunch and dinner outdoors at A Taste of Siam, Chiva-Som’s pool and beachfront dining area. In the morning, abundant fresh fruits and alternating fresh-squeezed juices beckon, and lunch brings an organic salad display featuring varied lettuces, legumes, nuts, homemade dressings, and two vegetarian options of hot foods like Pad Thai or mushroom risotto cakes. There is a daily soup (the tomato is delicious, but the almond cashew became my favorite), rich and filling, sans cream of course. The coconut sorbet has chunks of fresh white sweet meat and is made from peak ripened fruit. On Saturdays, the beachfront bar transforms into a candlelit feast of barbecued prawns, whole grilled fish, chicken breast cooked over the fire, and even steak, grilled to perfection as well as the traditional red and green Thai curries. I never feel deprived as I enjoy the daily small portioned desserts.
Within 24 hours of my arrival, I already feel a sense of calm and balance wash over me. I greet each day with a solitary walk along the beach alternating directions at dawn, and 7 a.m. tai chi in the outdoor pavilion overlooking the garden. I think I’m doing well following “A,” whose real name must be too hard for us westerners to pronounce, when he admonishes me so kindly, “slow, relaxed, more slowly please. If you focus too hard, you miss everything.” Just as he says that I chuckle to myself as a critter scurries by the edge of a path in the distance. Perhaps some things are meant to be missed? I later have a private session with him where I learn his real name is Surachai. He educates me about many of tai chi’s mental and physical benefits. tai chi is like kung fu in slow motion, but powerful, centered and slow, he explains. I ask him if the incense they burn outside my door each morning is for my protection or for mosquitoes. “It’s for your protection, from mosquitoes,” A says, giggling.
I relax and push myself simultaneously with daily yoga, TRX and Freeform personal training. I take a stretching class, and have my first Chi Nei Tsang organ massage where my wise practitioner pronounces my organs unstuck and healthy. I book a private pranayama breathing class in a hut, and choose my daily massage from the four options; Signature Massage with essential oils, Thai, Reflexology or Invigorating. If you like to get slapped around, then the Invigorating massage is for you. The music is interesting. The gym bellows out George Thorogood and the Beastie Boys while the massage room plays an instrumental version of “God Bless America” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and it isn’t even Christmas.
In the spa, I alternate between the steam room and the icy cold plunge pool and nap in the lounge chairs daydreaming through the floor to ceiling glass windows. I read an entire book in the first couple of days, uninterrupted by my phone, noise or my daughter’s needs. The giant tasks that loomed before my departure are a distant memory now. Chiva-Som reminded me incessantly of how poor I am at the art of doing nothing and why so many of the Eastern modalities are called a practice. I want to practice all that I took with me from Chiva-Som constantly when I return home.