Koh Chang is the second largest island in Thailand, Phuket being the first. To me, its steep jungle-covered peeks look like Jurassic Park, but the Thais see the shape of a herd of Elephants – hence its name which translates to ‘Elephant Island’. We arrived in the evening by ferry, enjoyed a quick dip in the sea on a stunning stretch of white sandy beach, the water as warm as a bath, before heading inland to The Spa Koh Chang Resort.
First impressions were of log cabins on stilts among the trees, set around a serene lake with mountains beyond. I stayed in an Upper Hill Cottage (under £50 a night in ‘Green’ (monsoon) Season, £80 in high), which has its own private wooden balcony dangling over the jungle. My bathroom had a huge marble bath – almost a plunge pool – with lovely local products in gorgeous bottles (sadly not for sale) and a sweet little gekko lizard throbbing on my shower window. You don’t get that in London!
Sadly there wasn’t a bar – this is a detox retreat with actual fasting packages – so early to bed with a cup of ginger tea and up at 7am for a Thai Oil Massage. The usual Natural Spa area was closed for renovations, so we were led to a wooden stilted hut strutting out over a mangrove swamp. There were four beds, so privacy was not an option. Although traditional Thai massages can be done fully clothed, this one was with herbal oil, so we were given dinky disposable underwear and a sheet, and changed in the one toilet. My therapist Pum made me presciently aware of every single part of my body. She attended to places I’d entirely forgotten about (most of which hurt), crawling along my body pressing and pulling, tapping and rubbing, bending my legs like bows, folding me up like a piece of paper, ending each section with a double-clap, and eventually rewarding me with an utterly blissful oil massage. It was a bit like sinking into a hot bath after a boxing match. I felt totally connected to every single part of my body – to paraphrase the Buddha ‘I am awake’. I loved having my fingers pulled and what felt like my face being rearranged, and the head massage was wonderful.
Straight after, feeling zingy and alive, we joined a meditation and yoga classin an open-sided space amid gigantic palm leaves filled with the exotic bird and monkey cries of the jungle. Our beautiful teacher Evelyn spoke in a clear and soothing voice and led us through a mindful meditation, focusing on the breath and getting us completely mentally ready for the fantastic yoga class to follow – sun salutations, stretches, tree and warrior poses bookended by some deep relaxation and breathing, and dotted with some Buddhist philosophy. “Each pose is temporary” helped me let go of my perfectionism and simply enjoy each position in the moment.
After breakfast, I tried the lovely aroma steam room and waterfall shower, followed by a dip in the vivid blue-tiled swimming pool – sea salted and chlorine free – surrounded by sun decks and platform pagodas with beds and loungers jutting over the lake. You can lie in the Jacuzzi and gaze at breath-taking views of the surrounding trees and mountains beyond. There are also shady hammock nooks if you fancy a siesta after all that heavy spa-ing.
Lunch was a buffet with a selection of raw vegetarian sushi, which you can learn to make in one of the food classes here, traditional spicy Thai dishes and healthy smoothies. There were also some devilishly delicious deserts, including something sublime involving caramelised banana and cream.
To me this was the kind of spa resort I could imagine trendy North London ladies flocking to for a yearly detox in their Birkenstocks. Count me in! Price-wise it’s reasonable – about £800 for a two week yoga retreat that includes spa treatments and facilities, food, and activities on the island, although you pay extra for the room. However, we Brits also have to factor in the flight from London to Trat plus transport from the airport to the ferry.