Nov 22, 2019
By Jeninne Lee-St. John
A few things I learned the last time I was in Phuket: I carry my right shoulder higher than my left, causing muscle inflammation; I need to work on equalizing my single-leg balance because when I throw a teep (a muay Thai push kick) with my left foot I’m 100-percent more likely to lose my balance than when I do it with my right; and an orchestra of a couple dozen frogs makes for the best massage soundtrack you could imagine.
Spa-resort pioneer Banyan Tree just turned 25 and as part of the celebrations, they inaugurated Spa Sanctuary in their Phuket property, one of the island’s original five-star beachheads. It’s a secluded cluster of 12 pool villas where residents have exclusive access to all the wellness activities and classes they can handle, plus daily complimentary massages or facials in-room—which, in this case, means the dedicated spa salas on the grounds of your own personal fiefdom.
A look at the daily schedule is borderline overwhelming. There are 50 activities that rotate through. Do I want to work on aligning my posture or stretching my spine? Do I want to go hard-core with power ropes, learn some healthy Thai recipes that are easy to make at home, and wrap up the day with a sleep meditation? How can I schedule everything so that I have plenty of buffer for the buckets of bubbly at breakfast? It’s dizzying enough to make you want to just collapse in the sun- loungers outside, or the Jacuzzi beds in the pool, or the actual Jacuzzi next to the pool and wait for their superfoods-packed afternoon tea set to be delivered… or your massage therapist to show up. Not that that’s a problem—your personal wellness concierge is happy to book you a structured, tailored wellness course, or as many or as few individual activities as you like. There’s no pressure, no guilt, just an emphasis on mindfulness and the desire for you to optimize your time in whatever way best suits your health needs. It’s a broader understanding of a wellness retreat and imparts a fantastic sense of freedom. To wit: one afternoon my friend and I just rode our basket bikes in figure-eights up and down the little hills of the Sanctuary’s tree-shaded neighborhood, like my brother and I used to in our cul-de-sac as kids.
All while pedaling, though, I made sure to clench my abs, lengthen my neck and relax my shoulders, as I had been reminded in posture- alignment class. All such seminars are interactive and personalized, and taught by physiotherapists; in this one we worked with foam blocks and exercise bands to relearn how to sit up straight. In “Sole Foundation” class we dipped our feet in paint and blotted them on white paper like babies on Mother’s Day to see where we carried our weight. Our mat pilates instructor, Rajesh, took no prisoners, and wasn’t about to let anyone off the hook just because they were on vacation. He seemed fully invested in his guests getting tangible benefits from this program, not just offering taster classes dumbed down to the lowest-level student. Muay Thai instructor Em, a former professional boxer, was great at reading the room, tailoring each person’s sparring to their skill and fitness level. When we took a private class with him outside by the spa pool, we silenced a rapt audience of toddlers en route to the kids’ club. A real, open-air muay Thai ring is being built on the property and set to launch first quarter of 2020.
The villas are charming, of the old Lanna style (admittedly a bit dated, but the host of perks more than counters any aesthetic quibbles), with a covered porch for daybeds—a great place to partake of your included in-room breakfast—facing the 11.5-meter-long pool, above which towers the open-air spa sala, a flight up, and beyond that a lily pad–filled lagoon. With the living room monopolizing the hero shots fronting the vast yard and pool, the bedroom is hidden in the back, a floorplan I found puzzling until I opened the door. The bed floats on a platform, has no headboard, just romantic gossamer drapes, and faces away from the door instead into another garden, which surrounds you on three sides out walls of windows. It makes for an immersively Zen sleeping arrangement. In keeping with the feng shui focus on water, the shower is massive and doubles as a steam room, and a stone bath awaits outside.
In-room spa treatments begin with a coriander foot wash (the only place on my body I’m comfortable with that herb, to be honest), after which your therapist leads you up to the elevated sala. Fans and mild incense ward off any concern of bugs, and if you don’t want to choose among their playlists of chill music, birdsong during the day and the croaking of frogs at night create a lulling, live 360-degree chorus. Indeed, the sanctuary program makes a strong effort to address all your wellbeing needs, body, mind and heart. Hence the “Evening Dance” option on the activities list. Opt for that and the staff will deliver to your villa a couple of cocktails and an iPad playing slow-dance music, along with a long-stemmed rose. When you’re on a trip with your pal, it feels like a funny middle-school slumber-party interlude, but as a catalyst for couple’s time, it’s an endearingly adorable effort, modern tech facilitating old-school “Wonderful Tonight”– style romance. When the music stops, the frogs’ll be happy to take over.
banyantree.com; Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary Phuket villas from Bt22,600 per night.