Thailand has long been a source of inspiration for those in the spa industry. One only has to look at the numerous Thai-themed spas and Thai treatments cropping up everywhere to realize the profound impact this Southeast Asian country has had on the industry. Embodying one of the best spa experiences the country has to offer is Chiva-Som International Health Resort, located in the royal beach resort town of Hua Hin, approximately 130 miles south of Bangkok.
Tropical fl owers are just part of the property's breathtaking natural beauty.
Chiva-Som, which means "Haven of Life" in Sanskrit, has developed somewhat of a cult following among its spa-goers as evidenced by the high number (42 percent) of returning guests. According to marketing executive Narumol Keadpukdee, one guest, in particular, has visited as many as 35 times. What's the appeal? Aside from the beautiful setting, Chiva-Som offers spa-goers an opportunity to enact real changes in their lives. "Most are seeking life-changing experiences to improve their well-being and vitality," says Keadpukdee. And there is no shortage of activities, treatments, and programs to help them do just that.
To get the most out of their stay, guests undergo a health and wellness consultation with a holistic health expert upon arrival. The session is used to determine what activities and treatments will be most beneficial in helping them achieve their goals. "Chiva-Som is truly holistic in its approach with the belief that the combined health of the mind, body, and spirit leads to personal fulfillment," says Keadpukdee. "We combine traditional Asian therapies with Western health and wellness practices. Careful attention is paid to creating treatments and programs that are personalized to the needs and desires of every guest."
Guests can fill their days with various activities, such as early morning yoga in the outdoor pavilion (top left), leisurely strolls (top right), and a soak in the petal-strewn plunge pool.
Specialized retreats (starting at $1,650) are available for guests who visit Chiva-Som with a specific goal in mind. For example, the Detox Retreat is ideal for guests interested in participating in Chiva-Som's popular three-day monitored cleanse, which consists of a light fruit, vegetable, and juice fast and herbal detox supplements. The retreat, available as a 5-, 7-, 10-, 14-, 21-, and 28-night program, includes an individual health and wellness consultation, three meals per day, a choice of daily massage, participation in daily fitness and leisure activities, and use of the Water Therapy Suites, which include steam, sauna, and Jacuzzi. Various detoxifying treatments, such as the Cleansing Body Cocoon, a Lymphatic Massage, and Reflexology, are also included, with the number and selection based on the length of the chosen program. Although the Detox Retreat is the spa's most popular, a host of other retreats are also available, such as the Chiva-Som Experience Retreat, which allows the greatest flexibility in regards to treatment choices; the Anti-Aging Retreat, which offers a preventative approach to aging; and the Physical Remedy Retreat, which helps correct bad habits that may be causing chronic aches and pains in the body.
Regardless of the program chosen, guests can easily fill their days with the numerous activities offered. In fact, finding time to take advantage of it all can be downright overwhelming for first-timers. "The biggest challenge is introducing all the services to guests on their first visit," says general manager Paul Linder. "We have so much to offer that sometimes guests miss some therapies or facilities that would help them." Although the average length of stay is seven days, it's not surprising that some guests end up extending their visits to take advantage of all the spa has to offer. "We work hard to introduce everything as soon as possible via the initial health and wellness consultation," says Linder. "But with so much going on—classes, treatments, cuisine, socializing—it is hard to introduce everything, and we understand guests need a gentle introduction on their first few days. It's one reason why guests can enjoy repeat visits to Chiva-Som. There is always something new to discover about themselves or us."
Many guests opt to stay in the comfortable Thai pavilions (here and far right) that can be found nestled around a peaceful pond.
The sense of community found at Chiva-Som also encourages guests to try treatments or activities they might otherwise forego. Those visiting solo, of which approximately 30 percent of the guests are, often share their experiences over dinner at the Talkers' Table, which is reserved at Emerald Restaurant for spa-goers interested in dining with others. It's not at all uncommon to find appointments with certain therapists or healers completely booked following an enthusiastic endorsement of them at the Talkers' Table.
With 408 full-time staff members, including 82 therapists, Chiva-Som is able to accommodate 114 guests at one time. Most of them are avid spa-goers who frequently visit destination spas throughout the world. Although the majority of guests are Australian and British, the fastest growing market is American spa-goers. Meeting and exceeding guests' high expectations has become standard practice at Chiva-Som. This is supported by the fact that it was named World's Best Destination Spa in 2006 by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine. That's just one of the many accolades the spa has received. "Our goal is to maintain our position as the world's best destination spa and to ensure we continue to attract guests from every corner of the world," says Linder. "To do this, we have to ensure our staff are experienced in the latest techniques and that we introduce services that can more deeply assist each guest."
Chiva-Som's Thai sculptures and its soothing water garden with floating flowers help create an inviting retreat while also giving it a sense of place.
On the agenda this year is the introduction of more diagnostic services, which allow guests to gauge the state of their health as well as stress levels. Blood testing, body composition analysis, nutritional analysis, and physiotherapy are just some of the medical services available. According to Linder, the spa also plans to introduce more holistic treatments, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), energy rebalancing, and naturopathy. "Although we provide these services now, demand is more than supply, so we are adding more of these treatments," says Linder. "Such treatments are sought after because they lead to significant lifestyle improvements."
Combining traditional Asian therapies with Western health and wellness techniques, Chiva-Som successfully bridges the two worlds with a diverse menu that reflects its progressive philosophy. Guests can indulge in numerous therapeutic treatments, many of which use Chiva-Som's own line of natural products, as well as opt for a variety of medically oriented treatments, such as Botox, Restylane, Thermage, and more, available at Chiva-Som's Niranlada Medi-Spa.
Produce from Chiva-Som's organic garden is used to create the spa's healthy and award-winning cuisine.
Because nutrition plays such a key role in the way people look and feel, guests are encouraged to adopt healthy eating habits that they can incorporate into their everyday lives once they return home. Chiva-Som's award-winning spa cuisine makes it easy to cut out fat and salt. Using ingredients from Chiva-Som's own organic garden, master chef Paisarn Cheewinsiriwat blends Thai and Western cuisine to create inventive dishes that are as delicious as they are healthy. Although guests can dine on international cuisine at Emerald Restaurant, those looking for more authentic Thai spa cuisine will find it at the Taste of Siam Restaurant, situated near the beach.
For those who just can't get enough of the cuisine and everything else Chiva-Som has to offer, there is an individual 10-year membership ($16,000) or an individual lifetime membership ($32,000), which includes a 40 percent discount off high season rates (excluding December 20–January 15); a 20 percent discount off all Health & Wellness treatments; priority booking; VIP check-in; a complimentary room every fourth night; and one upgrade per year, depending on availability at the time of arrival. Currently, Chiva-Som has 500 members, many of whom are anxiously awaiting the completion of the 115-room Chiva-Som Khao Kho property in Thailand's picturesque mountainous province of Petchaboon in 2008.
Clockwise from above: Indigenous ingredients are used to create medicine that fuses together modern Western and ancient Eastern philosophies of diagnosis and healing; ancient Thai recipes provide inspiration for treatments; Thai carvings are found in the resort's lobby.
Although there are many reasons to return, there is one that stands out above all others. "I am proud to say that the most valuable and important factor that makes Chiva-Som so unique is our greatest asset—our own staff," says general manager Paul Linder. "They deliver heartfelt service that people have come to know and expect and welcome guests as their relatives, not just as visitors. They work hard to make sure each guest, whether returning or new, has a positive personal experience, and it is this that brings guests back time and time again." —Heather Mikesell