Finding balance at Thailand’s storied wellness retreats

Written by Travel Adventures

Sunshine would have been too much after three years that felt like one long dark tunnel. I arrive, exhausted, on Koh Samui during a monsoon, the wet jungle swaying with the energy of renewal. That night, a lullaby of raindrops helps me drift off to sleep. The far-off storm flashing on the horizon expels my subliminal rage. I awaken, refreshed, to birdsong.

Rage is one of many emotions that have compacted inside me like coal. For years I have suppressed feeling, lived day to day, hour to hour firefighting, awaiting a break in the clouds. The pandemic had promised to be a productive time for redrafting my novel, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. It transpired that my octogenarian father, who suffered from Parkinson’s, had been tricked out of his longtime home and wine estate in Piedmont by the very family he had bankrolled and employed all his life. Due to loopholes, destroyed documents, and the painfully slow Italian legal system, we were told the situation was hopeless.

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The spa at Kamalaya

Christopher Wise

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An herbal compress used during traditional Thai massage at Kamalaya’s spa

Christopher Wise

I moved into my father’s house to defend his rights. I taught myself Italian law, investigated, tracked down documents and witnesses. Weeks turned into months, then years. Both of my parents became fully dependent on me. There is no way to explain the trauma, isolation and loss of identity that can come from being a caregiver. Simple tasks become monumental feats. Complex logistics, emergency room visits, medications, incontinence, repetition and aggression became my life. I mined every inch of my being for patience, annihilating myself and my needs until I was numb.

But my suppressed side, anaesthetized every night by red wine, always woke me at 3 a.m. The next day I would jack myself up on caffeine and nicotine, ignoring my back problems, chronic allergies and migraines. I buried my grief: over losing a father figure, my childhood home, my book, the baby I had planned (now impractical), and the brutal three-year-wide bite that had been taken out of life. While packing up my father’s estate, I was overcome with an urgent desire to flush the poison of the previous three years from my cells.

My solution is the trip to Koh Samui, to visit Absolute Sanctuary, but I almost don’t make it. My father has had a bad fall. By the time I reach the lotus pink buildings and palms encircling the infinity pool, the stress is affecting my short-term memory. I hate that my fatigued spirit feels out of sync with the benevolent staff and the happiness-inducing scents of Thailand. Weak and with nothing to organise for the first time in years, I hand myself over to wellness consultant Aurelie Gauthier for a seven-day semi-fasting detox, working on the gut to help switch off an excess of cortisol and encourage serotonin production. My daily regimen includes green shots, detox juices, broth, ginger tea, and two alkalising gluten-free vegan meals. The resort has a strict no-smoking, no-alcohol policy to boot.

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The pool at Kamalaya

Chris Caldicott/Absolute Sanctuary

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Guest rooms at Absolute Sanctuary

Kamalaya Koh Samui

Propped up by nicotine and caffeine for so long, I’m hit by a tsunami of exhaustion as soon as I remove the stimulants. I go deaf in my right ear and fall into a kind of narcolepsy for days, setting my alarm for treatments to which I stagger in my pyjamas. On the second day, a caffeine-withdrawal migraine leads to uncontrollable vomiting. “You’ve been silencing your body for so long,” Aurelie explains. “This is the first time you’ve given it a chance to speak.”

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