People are always curious about world-renowned Chiva-Som Health Resort, located at the Thai royal beach resort of Hua Hin. It’s the most famous health resort and spa in Asia, thanks to its celebrity clientele of supermodels, pop stars, royalty, and Hollywood glitterati. I’ve enjoyed a few stays there over the years and while there were some things I liked and other things I didn’t like, one of the more entertaining aspects of my experience were the people I ended up spending time with while I was there.
Though Chiva-Som tends to be known for its famous guests, I didn’t see anyone I would recognize from the pages of Vanity Fair or Hello magazine during any of my stays there, I did make lots of new friends while sharing meals with the many other solo spa guests there. Like many health resorts, Chiva-Som has a “community table” in the dining room where solo travelers can join other solo travelers if they don’t feel like eating alone and want to socialize.
I joined the community table my first night and was instantly surrounded by a flock of new friends who all seemed to conform to a certain type – middle aged, high-flying, high-income and high-kilo international corporate CEOs, lawyers, or finance types who were there to recover from their fast-paced stressed-out lives. In fact most of their conversations with new people tended to start out with and revolve around how stressed they were from work and how exhausted they were from constant travelling on business trips.
It also seemed that many of my fellow spa inmates were curious about me because I didn’t fit the corporate stereotype, and, compared to the rest of them, already looked rudely healthy.
“The most popular programs are weight loss and detox because it’s the most immediate and practical goal” the handsome and fit Wellness Director told me over a fibrous lunch laden with raw green veggies and low fat fish dishes.
“Our most popular activities are personal trainers and aqua aerobics class. But as people stay for weeks or even months they start exploring our other holistic offerings like energy healing, hypnotherapy, emotional release therapy, acupuncture, or they try their first yoga or kick-boxing class. This leads to changes in both their habits and opens up their attitudes about how they approach wellness.”
Because of its fame as a world-class resort and celebrity health mecca – Elle McPherson, Kate Moss, Elizabeth Hurley, David and Victoria Beckham and Saudi Arabian royalty are some of the famous and glamorous who come here – occupancy is usually high but you would never know it from the hushed stillness of its deserted grounds.
Even on the sunniest days the swimming pool is usually deserted. That’s because everybody is sequestered inside the spa, which is a labyrinthine warren of air-conditioned, windowless treatment rooms that stretch along seemingly endless corridors. You might occasionally pass other white-robed guests padding silently along the corridors between treatments, but there’s not much talking going on since everyone is observing their own “space”.
It’s only at mealtimes that you come face-to-face with other guests at the buffet serving fat-free, oil-free, butter less, sugarless salads and soups. You also come face-to-face with great heaps of raw green stuff at the buffet. There is also an a la carte menu serving fish and meat. Portions are miniscule, intended to make you lose weight, whether you want to or not. Most guests want to.
Early mornings and sunsets were the best times to enjoy the beach or hang out on the beach terrace. One day I was enjoying the pinky-blue sunset on the beach terrace while sipping lattes with Abdul Aziz, a cheerful businessman from Kuwait whose latte was enhanced with big inhalations of Marlboro Red.
Unusually for a health resort, we were allowed to drink coffee and very limited wine, and smokers were allowed to smoke in a restricted area in the farthest corner of the beach terrace. One look at Abdul Aziz told you that he enjoyed life way too much, which is why he was there to work off the fruits of his dietary excesses. He had already lost 12 kilos in three weeks and had another month and many more kilos to go.
“I’ve been taking photos of myself every week,” he said, patting his ample tummy. “I’m thinking of starting a website showing my progress for my family and friends, what do you think?” I thought it was a great idea. He was also trying hypnotherapy to stop smoking.
Another guest from Italy was staying three months, on his second stay here. On his first stay of two months he had shed 24 kilos but gained 27 kilos after returning home. This time round he’d brought his personal chef and masseuse with him and sent them to learn low-fat cooking and massage at the Chiva-Som Academy in Bangkok while he was here working the weight off again. With all the distractions of normal life, it’s just too hard to maintain it alone at home.
Another guest was a distinguished older Middle Eastern businessman with grey hair. He didn’t speak much but when he did, it was rather interesting, such as the reason he was there. He wasn’t the least bit overweight and looked pretty good for his age though I didn’t know how old he was. I guess he was probably in his 50s or 60s.
“I have a new wife who is very, very beautiful and much, much younger than me”, he told us one day at the lunch table, “So I am here to make sure I, ahem, keep up with her. You know, I must look good for her”.
Aawwww. The other women and I thought this was sweet. We really liked this idea. I saw him working out diligently with a personal trainer in the gym every day, and found out later that he was getting laser skin rejuvenation at the resort’s medi-spa to freshen his complexion and make his face look younger.
There are sea view rooms which are normal hotel rooms and suites, and larger Thai-style villas spread around the garden. The room rate includes meals and one complimentary massage per day and a number of complimentary fitness classes.
There is an additional a la carte menu of various types of holistic therapies, emotional healing therapies, physical therapy, trainers and private fitness instruction for guests to choose from at additional cost per session.
Each guest gets a personalized wellness schedule of spa treatments and fitness sessions upon arrival. Our days revolved around this schedule and in our free time we could go out on the beach, swim, hang out by the pool, or hide out in the air conditioned sanctuary of our rooms (or in my case, villa) where we could relax, get online or watch TV.
What with so many spa sessions, fitness classes, and therapist appointments, I seemed to be busy running around from appointment to appointment, constantly checking my assigned schedule, with not much down time in between, until I discovered that some of the other guests, being corporate executives, knew how to manage their schedules much more efficiently than me.
One CEO, Mohamed, who was the owner of a luxury fashion distributor (and always looked elegant in his nice white and black workout clothes) told me that he scheduled his daily routine so that he woke up at dawn, swam in the empty beach pool at from 7 to 8 a.m., had breakfast at 8.30, then spent the morning in the spa, gym or fitness classes, took a break for lunch, took a nap and talked to his mother and family in Kuwait after lunch. Then more gym and massage in the afternoon, followed by dinner. He was staying at Chiva-Som for a month and he followed this schedule every day.
I was impressed and subsequently re-arranged my schedule so that most of the activities were scheduled in the morning and massages were after lunch so I could nap during the massage and wake up refreshed. This left the rest of the day free for me to work in my room. Sometimes I would take a late afternoon class or spa session, and then socialize at dinner time.
At the time I was recovering from a back injury and didn’t want to over exert myself, so a week’s stay was fine for me. I had a daily massage, worked out with a trainer in the gym and had a couple of sessions with a physio -therapist which involved tedious repetitive stretching for my back. I also had a reflexology session with a visiting relexologist from London, which strangely triggered some tears and a rush of sad emotions.
By the end of my week there, I didn’t lose weight but that’s no surprise since women don’t shed weight as easily and quickly as men. And I didn’t see any world famous supermodels, smokin’ hot footballers, or movie stars.
Some of the my fellow guests were just as interesting though. I haven’t told you about the giraffe-like Russian-Turkish model from London who said she worked for a diamond company. She sold diamonds to Russians, she said. “Very, Very, Beeg Beeg diamonds”, she emphasized.
Or the uptight French accountant who said he was there against his will because his mean friends had given him this health holiday to punish him. “Those fuckers,” he hissed, when he told us about it “I want my pink champagne!”. He was hilarious and kept us laughing out loud over tales of his tax-dodging clients’ attempts to hide their assets overseas, not to mention his own diet- dodging efforts to sneak off campus to eat cheeseburgers at the next door resort.
But that’s another story and that’s why meals were rather fun, for the unlikely conversations. Overall I had an amusing time spending a week in a different world with a mix of different people. Back at home at when my stay was over, I missed the relaxing daily routine of massages, classes, the gorgeous resort setting, and mostly my funny mealtime companions. I sent an email to Ellie the Italian lawyer who had been there a month and was still there : “Ellie, did Abdul Aziz take the laxatives I gave him? Tell Mohamed to make sure he takes them!”
Have you been to Chiva Som or other health resorts in Asia? What was your experience there?