Phuket leads the way in healthy holidays
Thai resorts offer top sports facilities for those who prefer fitness training to buffets, says Rachel Jacqueline
Island holidays are usually about relaxing, departing from routine and indulging yourself at a luxury retreat. "Healthy" they generally are not, as sunset cocktails, seafood buffets and hours lazing in the sun become the daily regime. But as concerns about our well-being grow, even our breaks are becoming infused with healthy alternatives. And Phuket, in Thailand, is leading the way.
Offering your not-so-ordinary holiday is Thanyapura, one of the province's new hotels, just 15 minutes from the airport. From the outside, there is little to suggest that it is a dedicated sports hotel where guests receive free access to a 50-metre pool, six tennis courts, running track, full-sized multipurpose pitch, boxing ring, state of the art gym and a Powerplate studio.
Typical guests range from weekend warriors to the athletic elite - Hong Kong's triathlon team trained there in December, attracted by the opportunity to do intensive workouts in a relaxed environment.
"People come to prepare for races. We have swim training, track training and cycle camps on offer from experts," says hotel president Robert Huack.
Families seeking an alternative holiday have also been flocking to Thanyapura, which hosts an integrative health centre where guests can enjoy the latest anti-ageing treatments, and even a fully equipped kids' club. Think healthy holiday village meets a top-notch sports club.
"We recently had a top Hong Kong executive stay here for two weeks with his wife just to get healthy," says Huack. "Most of our food is organic and he and his family worked out in the morning and then spent the afternoon at the beach."
Thailand's tourism authority predicts the country will become the world's leading health and wellness destination, generating a significant portion of the total expected tourism revenue of US$67 billion in 2014.
Phuket is leading the way, thanks to its accessibility (there are daily flights from Asia and Europe), infrastructure, and a growing pool of expatriate expertise attracted by the opportunity of building their careers in paradise.
Aleenta Resort and Spa Phuket, Phang Nga is one resort jumping on board the burgeoning health movement on the island.
Situated on the secluded Natai beach, 20 minutes north of the airport, on the main island just over Sarasin bridge, the small luxury boutique hotel has started offering personalised yoga classes to guests. It also offers detox, or a least a form of it.
"We offer a luxury variation of the detox, yoga and spa buffet," says Paul Counihan, director of sales and marketing for AMHS Hotels. The hotel has an in-house yoga teacher who offers free yoga to guests before breakfast on the sand three mornings a week.
If guests elect for an Aleenta detox, they will be nourished with fruit juices and fresh, locally sourced vegetarian dishes throughout the day, while being cleansed and massaged at the hotel spa. Five national parks within a 45-minutes radius offer rafting, mud-biking and trekking - the resort does tours for those looking for a dash of adventure.
In the hills above Patong beach, alternative therapy is being combined with five-star pampering at Avista Hideaway Resort and Spa. The luxury hotel offers authentic Ayurvedic treatments by trained Ayurveda doctor, Alvin James. On arrival, guests are offered a complimentary Ayurvedic assessment after which they choose from a tailored treatment package of several days up to a few weeks.
Hailing from Kerala in India, where Ayurveda began, James explains that the popular style of Indian remedy, offered by many spas these days, involves more than simple massage.
"There are three stages to authentic Ayurvedic treatment: massages, cleansing through specific processes and then a diet regimen," he says. "It is this combination of therapies which cleanses the body."
The resort is the brainchild of Ramesh Khendry, who spends more than a third of his life travelling.
"I wanted to create a space where busy executives could enjoy a holiday while also creating more balance," he says. "A kind of place I would like to take my family and unwind, and look after my health amid beautiful nature."
Wider health issues are being tackled on the island. Phuket's revitalising geography inspired its choice as a location for Bhavana Phuket, Asia's first internationally certified rehabilitation centre, says founder and CEO Dr Kai Goh. Operating since August 2011, Bhavana is the only rehab and detox centre to receive an official Thai government hospital licence to dispense medication.
A registered psychiatrist who specialises in addictions, Goh was inspired to establish an Asian clinic several years ago, after he discovered that many of his patients in Britain and the United States were travelling to Asia to receive treatment. He chose Phuket as a location because he felt it had a lot to offer, he says.
"All the different boxes that you need to tick are in Phuket," says Goh. These include world-class medical professionals, infrastructure and an internationally recognised standard of service.
As a destination, Thailand is cheaper than other countries in the region.
"The Bhavana centre gives people a proper timeout from their enabling environment in an idyllic destination."
As health and wellness gain greater importance in our lives, it seems they will become more prominent in our holidays, too.
Besides, what better way is there to address the needs of your body, mind and soul than in an exotic location, with a cocktail still in close reach?