Spas with a Difference

With the highest percentage of spas per square mile in the world, Thailand – that timeless land of sea, sand and sun – is pretty much synonymous with pampering and is known to have the best health resorts in the world. But such profusion results in a glut of choice which makes deciding on a place to spoil oneself a chore in itself. Like hedging a bet certain places have more appeal than others, with some having superior design and others boasting better treatments. So whether you’ve bitten the bullet and laid a wager or not, our carefully-selected list of top 10 Thai spas should obligingly assist you in your pampering quest and hopefully guide you to the money.


Chiva-Som is a place where relaxation and rejuvenation are an obligatory prerequisite. Over the past 15 years this self-professed ‘destination spa’ has racked up a considerable number of awards for good reason. Guests don’t come here to be spoilt by your conventional body massage – they come here to escape, to be revitalised and to be healed. Upon check-in, personalised programmes and treatments are designed for all visitors and, blending Eastern philosophies with Western diagnostic skills, these are then followed through for the course of the visit. The resort also specialises in healthy spa cuisine, with many organic ingredients even grown on site.
In a Nut Shell:
58 rooms and suites, 70 treatment rooms, a kinesis studio, a gym, a Watsu pool, a flotation pool, an outdoor swimming pool, a bathing pavilion with a Kneipp bath, a sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and an indoor swimming pool all set on a picture-perfect seven-acre plot on the water’s edge of Hua Hin.
What sweetens the kitty:
There are over 150 specialist treatments on offer with the on-site Niranlada medi-spa even offering Botox and laser skin rejuvenation.

Dheva Spa, Chiang Mai

Considering this place is named after the goddess of spiritual enlightenment, the vast collection of accolades it has managed to rack up really come as no surprise. Dheva Spa is set amidst lush tropical environs in the secluded grounds of Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi. With a rustic and exotic sensibility, the palatial 3,100 square-metre sanctuary is modelled on an ancient Mandalay palace and at the heart there lays an exquisite seven-tiered roof which symbolises the seven steps needed to attain nirvana. During construction, 150 specialised Chiang Mai artisans worked on the spa for a period of three and a half years, and authentic sculptures and carvings now scatter the resort. It is against this backdrop that the first-class rituals and treatments are carried out, performed in tranquil treatment rooms complete with Thai silks, polished teak wood and marble tiles.
In a Nut Shell:
More like a wellness compound or a mini-resort in its own right, Dheva Spa has 18 treatment suites plus a modern fitness centre. On site also are private colour therapy whirlpools, steam rooms, an Ayurvedic centre, and even an Aquatherapy area complete with a hydrotherapy room, a Vichy shower, a heated scrub table, a Hammam, a Rhassoul and a Watsu pool (Google is your friend ). There is also a herbal garden featuring organic herbs that are used in treatments and in meals.
What sweetens the kitty:
Although they specialise in exclusive Northern Thai treatments and offer some of the best Ayurvedic treatments in the world, the full range of treatments are drawn from three continents, with their origins spanning over 4,000 years, including all sorts of exotic hard-to-pronounce treatments.

Away Spa – W Retreat Koh Samui

W Retreat Koh Samui is not only W’s first foray into the Thai hotel market, but it is also their first entry into the Thai spa scene – and what an entrance it is! Following the concept of their pre-existing AWAY® spas, the ease-inducing venue is full of W’s signature idiosyncrasy and hipness, with refreshingly bright, naturally-illuminated interiors standing out in stark contrast to the average gloomy treatment room on offer at cookie-cutter spa joints. With a fair balance between indoor and outdoor spaces, there are seven creatively-named treatment rooms (i.e. ‘Thaim Out’) nestled within five luxurious pavilions.
In a Nut Shell:
Adorned with neutral colours and natural materials, the interior has a distinct sense of calmness and coolness, which is complemented by playful scents, imaginative sounds and energising light. The spa boasts Asia’s first Thaimazcal® treatment facility which fuses local Thai spa ingredients with Mexican tribal rituals (exfoliation under a waterfall anyone?). There is also a nutrient-supplying juice bar called Tonic.
What sweetens the kitty:
There are an equal number of progressive and traditional treatments available here. Some of the more interesting offerings include combination massages, healing body wraps, purifying facials and couple packages. There are also manicures, pedicures, yoga and detoxifying programmes.

Banyan Tree Phuket

A spa article would not be complete without some reference to Banyan Tree, who are a group of firsts. They not only pioneered the Asian luxury spa resort concept, but they can also be credited as the creators of the pool villa. With award-winning resorts now sprinkled all around Asia and the world, these comfort specialists know what they are doing. For evidence of this one need look no further than their flagship destination resort, which started it all – Banyan Tree Phuket. While perfect as a resort, it is even better as a spa, but the two concepts blur into one here, where there are 150 exquisite villas in six different categories. The highlights of the accommodation offerings are the Double Pool Villas and the Spa Pool Villas, which feature bedrooms surrounded by lily ponds, private steam rooms, outdoor sunken baths, swimming pools and jet-pools. Oh yeah, and did we forget to mention the well-equipped spa itself is one of the best in Phuket, if not the whole of Thailand?
In a Nut Shell:
While one would certainly come here for the specialist treatments and expert therapists, it is really the top service and lush environs that make it what it is, with elegant open-air pavilions, serene lagoons, and lush coconut groves and gardens being the perfect backdrop for a perfect pampering.
What sweetens the kitty:
The fineness of the Banyan Tree spa experience is in the training of its spa therapists. With all the therapists having undergone training at the Banyan Tree Spa Academy Phuket one can be sure they are, literally, in good hands. Touting their resort as a place for physical, mental and spiritual renewal, Banyan Tree focuses on a non-clinical and holistic approach to their treatments, emphasising a ‘high-touch, low-tech’ approach that takes a lot of influence from traditional Eastern healing therapies.

Six Senses Sanctuary, Phuket

Building on more than 15 years of experience as a global pampering leader, the aptly named Six Senses Sanctuary really is sensational in every sense of the word. Covering an area of over 3,000 square meters, it is the only resort on Naka Yai – a picturesque island covered in pristine beaches of fine white sand and shady coconut groves located a mere 25-minute drive and five-minute boat ride away from Phuket Airport. The convenient travel time is nothing compared to what is on offer though, as the resort specialises in multi-day integrated health programmes which focus on preventative wellness and lifestyle-enriching programmes and treatments.
In a Nut Shell:
Guests don’t come to the Six Senses Sanctuary for massages. They come here to get healed and back into balance. It is more of a place to help one through a mid-life crisis or reassess their entire existence (in a good way). As they state themselves, it is a destination spa to provide “a cocoon of nurturing surroundings to help cultivate wellness, where guests are transformed – like caterpillar to butterfly – toward a new stage in life.”
What sweetens the kitty:
Assimilating Indonesian, Indian, Thai and Chinese healing traditions, Six Senses Sanctuary centres on therapeutic and curative therapies which aim to balance the mind and calm the spirit. Japanese treatments can also be found, on offer alongside a diverse array of treatments such as Chinese acupuncture, Ayurvedic massages and more.

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai

Although the golden triangle is recognised as a main production centre for a certain type of psychedelic drug, there are plenty of other more natural ways to get high here, and the experts at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai are some of the best suppliers to go to for this. With spacious exquisite Lanna-style pavilions overlooking terraced rice fields and mountains in the beautiful Mae Rim Valley, the distinctive location of this resort puts one in a relaxed state of mind before they have even checked in. Disguised as a traditional village of northern Thailand, this resort has acclimatised to the culture perfectly, and one can feast on authentic Thai dishes, explore traditional artwork and experience some textbook treatments from masterful therapists – all in the same day.
In a Nut Shell:
Surrounded by rice paddies and frequented by the resident hotel water buffalo (who may or may not be able to give massages), this is a place of absolute tranquility. The top-notch Garden Pavilion rooms have deep-soaking tubs and outdoor salas complete with Thai daybeds.
What sweetens the kitty:
With a strong focus on Eastern therapies, a lot of the treatments here build on thousand-year-old traditions. Alternative treatments are offered up alongside time-honoured Ayurvedic, Thai and Indian massage techniques.

Chi, the spa at Shangri-La Bangkok

Although urban city hotels often have lacking spa facilities, the Chi spa at the Shangri-La Bangkok pleads to differ, with the 1,000 square metre spa featuring some of the biggest spa suites in Bangkok. The Garden Suite is one of the largest in the city and measures over 107 square metres, coming complete with its own garden area and an infinity bath set into a lotus pond.
In a Nut Shell:
With a focus on atmospherics, the design of this spa was inspired by the architectural principles of a Tibetan temple, using Himalayan artefacts and design elements, whilst applying the Chinese principles of harmony and balance. The suites also come with expansive views of the Chao Phraya River and private access to a secluded swimming pool and outdoor Jacuzzi.
What sweetens the kitty:
All the spa treatments here have been based around the Chinese philosophy of the five elements, which aims to bring metal, water, wood, fire and earth into balance. Signature therapies include the Chi Balance, the Chi Healing Stone Massage, the Yin Yang Couples Massage, Element Vitality, the Sen Chi, the Tsangpo Ritual, the Thai Herbal Harmony and a selection of other revitalising spa rituals.

Anantara Spa, Anantara Bophut Resort and Spa, Koh Samui

From the moment one enters through the stone pillar walls (dramatically illuminated by flaming torches at night) at the entrance of the Anantara Spa in Anantara Bophut Koh Samui, one gets the sense that this place is miles apart from your everyday spa. Further in one is greeted by private glass-walled treatment rooms with bamboo exterior walls set amidst lush water gardens. All of the spa suites are set within private courtyards and the treatment beds have been positioned to look onto the landscaped outdoor areas.
In a Nut Shell:
Like a Thai version of Alice’s secret wonderland garden, this harmonious sanctuary is lavishly set amidst 3,100 square metres of lush tropical greenery, masterfully planned by the award-winning landscaping master Bill Bensley. A deep, outdoor terrazzo bath designed for two and a dual alfresco rain shower are some of the suite highlights.
What sweetens the kitty:
The trained therapists infuse natural elements of Southeast Asia into the treatments here, which tactfully integrate traditional essences such as sandalwood, ylang ylang, patchouli, mandarin, lavender, lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon, bergamot and natural ingredients like yogurt and coffee beans. The signature treatment is the 3-hour ‘Culture of Anantara’ which starts off with a four-hand massage (by two therapists, duh!) and then moves onto a scrub and a steam bath.

The Spa at Rayavadee Resort, Krabi

Frequented by A-listers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss and Colin Farrell, this is the kind of place that should be on your do-before-you-die inventory. Set at the foot of breathtaking limestone cliffs and situated amongst 20 acres of mature untouched coconut plantations, the resort is a treat for the senses before one even gets to the spa. However, the spa is an attraction in itself, with their extensive range of therapies drawing on ancient Thai healing traditions and a philosophy of well-being that aims to ease the body, mind and spirit.
In a Nut Shell:
With dramatic limestone cliffs towering over the resort and the spa, Rayavadee is a spiritual place for the mind and soul. Adjacent to three beaches, the resort is a real retreat and that is what makes the spa so good as well. Personalised treatments can be arranged in-room, and there are even eight luxurious Spa Pavilions (decked out with exotic gardens and outdoor Jacuzzis), plus Hydro-Pool Pavilions as well.
What sweetens the kitty:
The Rayavadee Spa offers revitalising facials and scrubs, energising body wraps, soothing massages, salon treatments and spa packages that can be individually-customised as well. Recommended are the deep tissue Revitalizing Massage, the Aromatherapy treatments and the unique night time candlelit massage.

Coqoon Spa, Indigo Pearl, Phuket

With intentionally oxidised furnishings and features running throughout, this Bill Bensley-landscaped resort is guided by design and it would only make sense that their spa would follow suit. While there were already a whole bunch of quality treatments on offer, the design stakes of the spa increased two-fold this year, with the opening of the stunning Nest treatment suites which are, in essence, oversized nests suspended midair and accessed only by a bridge. Now branded as the Coqoon Spa, the spa is one of the more distinctive in Thailand and the soon-to-be opened spa suites will further secure this standing.
In a Nut Shell:
The surroundings for the treatments on offer here include eight double rooms, six immaculately presented deluxe treatment rooms, plus a luxurious spa suite (complete with a private swimming pool, steam showers, a sauna, a Jacuzzi and a waterproof shower treatment table). There is also a beauty salon on hand for the more vainly inclined.
What sweetens the kitty:
Drawing on timeless Asian herbal remedies, Coqoon Spa uses a perfect blend of specially selected ingredients and essential oils. Using Anne Sémonin branded products, the treatments and ingredients encourage harmony for all kinds of skin types.

Originally published in Kiosk Magazine, January 2012
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