The first order of business when you arrive at Chiva-Som is to turn your phone off and tuck it deep into your bag. The use of electronic gadgets in any common area, with the exception of the library, is prohibited at the resort. Don’t even think about protesting the rule, for a few kind but firm stares from the all-seeing staff on the grounds will have you pocketing your device for good.
The resort is situated within verdant gardens on the beachfront of Hua Hin, a quaint Thai town some 185 kilometres south of Bangkok, and sprawls over nearly seven acres of land. Much of this is composed of magnificent outdoor spaces—from open-air yoga pavilions to an alfresco lobby—and natural landscape. Tall palm trees and lush shrubbery line every street, with brick stone pathways stretching out for miles and wooden bridges curving over natural pond-water, teeming with large koi fish.
Intricacies of Thai architecture and design pop out the longer you spend taking in views of the resort. Buildings and villas are topped with steeply-sloping tile roofs, ornate touches of gold sparkling in the sun. Furniture—found both in common lobbies and guest rooms—is sculpted from high-quality Thai teakwood and sturdy bamboo, while upholstery is finished with finely-printed silk. Tempting as it is to capture everything you see, the truth is that you are better off without a phone in hand, free to notice even the tiniest of details and slip into a reverie.
Like any good wellness destination, to say Chiva-Som is peaceful would be an understatement. What sets the resort apart is the keen sense of discipline that punctuates its serenity. This intrinsic rigour is built into Chiva-Som’s programme, and you feel it the second you set foot into its premises.
Life at Chiva-Som runs on a clock. Each guest’s first stop is a consultation with a health and wellness advisor. This session, which is reminiscent of a visit to your doctor’s office, involves a rundown of all the services the resort offers, a blood pressure check and an in-depth questionnaire about your health status, lifestyle and overall goals. Then, your advisor will draw up a custom plan for your stay, planned in great detail and incorporating all six of Chiva-Som’s trademark wellness modalities: spa, fitness, physiotherapy, holistic health, nutrition and aesthetic beauty. In your timetable, each hour of your day is well-utilised with few breaks in between. In some sense, the resort feels like an academy of wellness.
My own advisor, congenial as she was—we quickly discovered we had the same birthday—could barely conceal her disapproval at my completely unreasonable sleeping and eating habits. (I regularly go to bed after 3am, and skip meals all day in favour of iced lattes and a bleary-eyed feast late at night.) My new bedtime would be at 10.30pm, she urged, and I would receive a wake-up call from the front desk early in the morning to ensure I had ample time for a well-rounded breakfast before being shuttled off to the first activity of the day. I felt intimidated, and yet, taken care of in a familial way I had seldom experienced in the past.
I had requested that a majority of my schedule go toward relaxing and rejuvenating rather than something hardcore, like improving my fitness. For anyone interested in the latter, the resort offers a plethora of fitness classes daily, from aquatic boxing to reformer Pilates and HIIT classes, alongside a fully-equipped open-air gymnasium. The spa is elaborate in its offerings, with salt float pools, jacuzzis and saunas alongside a plethora of different treatment rooms.
In my case, I had the Chiva-Som Signature massage booked. It would be the first of a staggering number of spa treatments I was scheduled to receive over my three night stay. Since it was a fairly customisable full-body massage you could tweak according to your preferences, my advisor deemed it to be a suitable taste of all that was to come.
I knew from the moment my massage therapist’s experienced hands started kneading my calves that this was no ordinary massage. As I sank deeply into the large, comfortable massage bed, the pleasure-pain of the tension releasing from the knots in my body reached a blissful crescendo. The gentle music—which I got to pick out from a rolodex of relaxing tracks—lulled me into a meditative state of mind, broken only by the occasional question from my therapist to check if I was happy with her pressure and attention bestowed to certain body parts.
An intrinsic rigour is built into Chiva-Som’s programme, and you feel it the second you set foot into its premises
Trained at the Chiva-Som Academy—the wellness brand’s own massage school in Bangkok—each member of staff is instilled with a high level of skill, evident in each stroke of every treatment they perform. Beyond the technical know-how, they seem also to have an innate sense of how to care for someone. I mentioned to my very first massage therapist that I was on my period, and she recommended avoiding my abdomen during the massage.
By the time I left the resort, I had undergone six different massages with a number of treatments on top. These ranged from a hot oil head massage (perfect for anyone who, like me, suffers from eye strain and perpetual screen fatigue) to a deep stretch session that was vigorous only for my instructor, since all I had to do was lay on a mat while she twisted and pulled on my limbs till they were loose and lithe. At each treatment, my specialist or therapist would magically know that it was my time of the month, and tailor their service accordingly. With a 300-strong team—none of whom had been laid off during the pandemic—this seamless communication was no small feat.
My foot reflexologist, a matronly woman with shockingly strong hands who had been at Chiva-Som since it first opened 27 years ago, even plopped a little hot water bottle over my womb before she got to work on the balls of my feet and toes, to soothe my menstrual cramps. These little touches of care—one could even consider them love—are what truly define the Chiva-Som experience.
And yet, this is not a wellness resort that will coddle you. To achieve the full benefit of what Chiva-Som has to offer, you have to put some work in and push yourself. The food for example, was far outside of my comfort zone. Beautifully cooked, of course, but served in controlled portions and nearly devoid of excess salt, oil or sugar. Desserts are made of natural ingredients and fruits, soups are double-boiled with herbs and aromatics rather than sodium-packed stocks and sauces.
Served in-room or at the restaurant’s pristine beachfront restaurant, Taste of Siam, the resort’s cuisine is carefully designed with nutritional completeness in mind. Instead of refined carbohydrates, you’ll find quinoa and barley, while lean cuts of meat and seafood replace fattier proteins. Ingredients—especially fresh produce—are sourced majorly from Chiva Som’s own organic garden. For the calorie-conscious, this is ideal, and for those just embarking on a health journey, it is a fitting, albeit overwhelming, introduction.
You may not be spending a whole lot of private time with activities scheduled back to back to make the most of your stay, but each guest room is designed artfully—a vast light cove hollowed out right over my bed emanated a soft golden glow as effective at sending me to sleep as it was for gently waking me up—and thoughtfully, with dry and wet bathrooms separated by a double-sided mirror. In your closet, you’ll find a set of buttery-soft cotton pyjamas, good for lounging or traipsing to the spa in.
Once you have gotten accustomed to the pace and luxury of life at Chiva-Som, it is a difficult place to leave. But the principles that ground the resort are meant to stay with you long-term. The lengthier retreats, which can extend beyond a week and lean into a month, are built to be transformative in nature, imbuing guests with healthy habits and wellness practices that they can take with them far beyond the time of their stay.
For the average digital nomad who takes no breaks unless forced, a mere three nights are more than enough to leave a mark. The gently-scolding advice from your advisor, the careful administrations of your massage therapist and the rigorous daily schedule—they demand that you take charge of your wellness and find your full potential within the resort’s idyllic walls, no matter what it takes.