Inside the wellness retreat in Thailand that could change your life

A Thai tonic for body and soul: It’s a long way to go – but this tropical wellness retreat could change your life

  • Mary Lussiana embarks on a healing journey at Kamalaya on Koh Samui 
  • The retreat has 76 villas and rooms, wellness centres, restaurants and more
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Koooo koooo, sings the male Asian koel, penetrating the tropical darkness. ‘Kik kik kik’ answers the female. It is only 5.30am but the pace and persistence of the birds wakes me.

Then the thrum of the cicadas starts; a nearby gecko chimes in with a cheerful chuck chuck chuck and before long I can hear the ‘tsk tsk tsk’ of a brush sweeping leaves. It is time for a cup of tea.

So, now I’m sitting on my terrace with a cuppa and revelling in the life-affirming nature of Kamalaya, the Wellness Sanctuary on Koh Samui. The restaurant the night before had been abuzz with happy chatter from couples and new friends on the communal table — now the flora and fauna are at it.

Founded by John (who spent 16 years as a Hindu monk) and Karina (a trained doctor in traditional Chinese medicine) Stewart more than 17 years ago to provide a place of healing, Kamalaya, which translates as ‘realm of the lotus’ (evidence of which proliferates) is a leader in an expanding wellness world. 

It sits on the southern coast of Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand, fronted by a sandy beach, behind which rise the 76 villas and rooms, wellness centres, restaurants and more. And they rise vertiginously, sneaking in, I think as I labour uphill, extra exercise by stealth.

Invigorating: Mary Lussiana checks into Kamalaya on Thailand’s Koh Samui, which was founded more than 17 years ago to provide a place of healing

The rooms sit at the top of the hill near the lap pool and the fitness centre, above which prayer flags flutter in the breeze. Villas are dotted sparingly throughout the lush vegetation of giant palms and banyan trees, frangipani, tamarind and quinine. Waterfalls run riot, ferns fringe the paths and birds sing. All the time.

The food is delicious, based on principles of Asian healing traditions and the knowledge that nutritionist Karina brings to the table. She aims to inspire rather than dictate.

As I pick at a green papaya salad, sitting under a vast wild fig tree, within sound of the waves, I get talking to Monica from New York, ‘I have come here for 13 years,’ she says. ‘There is nowhere like it. It provides me with a mental and physical reset, without which I would have burnt out long ago.’ And then a newcomer, Kim, chimes in that she will be coming here for the next 13 years, if she can.

Jane, a writer from Australia is as impressed as I am. Lunching together on banana blossom salad, we talk about why the combined role of caring mother, daughter, wife and full-time worker is one that needs its own support. 

During her stay, Mary revels in the ‘life-affirming nature of Kamalaya’. Above is the sandy beach that fronts the retreat 

‘Villas are dotted sparingly throughout the lush vegetation of giant palms and banyan trees, frangipani, tamarind and quinine,’ writes Mary 

A variety of menus is there to offer guidelines, but they are not policed. All dishes on the detox menu are vegan but with the healthy methods of cooking employed and the locally sourced, organic ingredients used in all the menus, everyone benefits.

Wine and coffee are not encouraged but there for the asking, for it is a place of generosity rather than deprivation. Only the digital detox in the restaurants is enforced.

And in amidst Kamalaya’s colour and charm is its beating heart, the wellness centre. There in the 44 treatment rooms, which climb higgledy-piggledy up and down that steep slope, more than 100 therapists and practitioners change people’s lives with their integrative healing.

Mary (not pictured) describes the wellness centre as Kamalaya’s ‘beating heart’. There are 44 treatment rooms and more than 100 therapists and practitioners 


A seven-night stay at Kamalaya on an Asian Bliss programme, inclusive of return economy flights, transfers, treatments and all meals, from £3,500 pp double/twin occupancy or from £4,000pp single occupancy. For exclusive special offers, including free treatments and activities, contact Wellbeing Escapes on info@wellbeing or 0203 735 7555.

There are 17 wellness programmes from ‘stress and burnout’ (now sadly on a par with the ever-popular detox) to ‘Asian Bliss’ the restorative programme I am doing with a harmonious blend of meditation and massage, which I am topping up with new longevity treatments of ozone therapy, to boost my energy levels and IV vitamins, to boost my immune system. 

The increased energy is almost instantaneous.

John tells me Kamalaya was inspired by his guru who used to say to people: ‘You have come to learn to be spiritual, but first you need to learn to be human.’ ‘So I want to encourage people to be their best selves, whether physically or mentally,’ he says.

But it is perhaps one of the therapists who puts Kamalaya’s philosophy most succinctly as I finish a profound reiki session, visibly moved. 

‘Yes, Kah,’ he says, using the Thai term of respect, ‘happy hormone better than medicine ’.

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