For those of us who love Thailand we already know what makes this country so special. It’s a glorious cocktail of stunning scenery, fabulous food and tropical delights. But above all else, it’s the Thai people who make this country live up to the tag, Amazing Thailand. For the many repeat visitors to the Land of Smiles there is a simple sentiment that sums it all up: “Thailand is my happy place”.
Whether you are visiting Thailand for the first time or fifteenth time, holidays here are good for your body and soul. Travelling in Thailand is the perfect opportunity to destress, chill out and recharge. And there are few better places to do that than the palm-fringed beaches of Ko Samui. From the moment you arrive at Samui’s charming tropical airport, you know you are in for a treat.
Top up with Vitamin Sea
We may joke about the need to visit the beach to top up with ‘Vitamin Sea’, but there is more than a grain of truth in this. Research has proven that being in or near the sea has positive benefits for our wellbeing. This concept of ‘blue therapy’ is part of the reason which makes Ko Samui an ideal destination for a health and wellness holiday. The simple act of walking along a beach in Thailand is therapeutic. Dip your toes in the warm water, go for a swim and forget about your worries.
Some visitors just want a holiday in Thailand where they ‘fly and flop’ and there is much to be said for the merits of this style of travel. The thought of lounging by the pool bar and doing nothing more strenuous than slapping on sunscreen and reading a good book does hold a certain appeal.
Conversely, spending at least some time being active and exercising during your holiday can actually help you relax more because it releases endorphins. One of the simplest ways to feel the benefit is with an early morning yoga session. Watching the sunrise with a gentle sea breeze wafting through the coconut palms is the perfect start to the day.
Don’t worry if, like me, you’re a yoga virgin. As I discovered on my recent stay at the Celes Hotel on Ko Samui, yoga isn’t just for young and lithe types in leotards. Even short, middle-aged chubby blokes like me can do it. Maybe not as well as the young and lithe types in leotards, but it proved to be far more enjoyable than I anticipated and left me feeling energised for the day.
Many hotels on Ko Samui will offer yoga sessions with professional instructors. Look out too for other healthy activities like paddle-boarding or kayaking.
Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is Thailand’s national sport. And at various locations on Ko Samui, there is the chance to try your hand at Muay Thai training. If you’re travelling to Ko Samui and serious about your sport, check out gyms like Superpro or Lamai Muay Thai.
Some hotels on the island also offer the chance to let you hit the pads as part of a Muay Thai fitness workout. And what better place than the Thai Fight Hotel. Opened in November 2022, Thai Fight Hotel is situated at the southern end of Lamai Beach a short left hook away from the phallic rock formations of Hin Ta and Hin Yai.
Describing itself as the first ever Muay Thai hotel in the world, it’s certainly the place to stay for anybody interested in Thai boxing. With fabulous artwork and clever Muay Thai touches in the decor, this is an impressive hotel where the views pack a punch too. There is the option to train one-on-one with famous Muay Thai fighters and after all those exertions you can indulge in a luxurious spa treatment.
Not only does Thai food taste good, it does you good. There is real science behind the notion of Thai food as medicine. Ingredients commonly used in Thai cuisine have been proven to boost the immune system and provide various health benefits. Chilli is rich in vitamins A and C which help to boost your immunity and metabolism. Lemongrass is full of antioxidants while turmeric contains curcumin which can help the body’s immune system.
“Food is our best medicine. The best hospital is our kitchen … Thai people are very lucky because we have many food ingredients that can help strengthen immunity.”Prof. Dr. Prachya Kongthaweelert, Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University
Local dishes in Samui also make use of the island’s natural abundance of coconuts and fresh seafood. Coconut milk is not only lactose-free, but also has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Whether you have an active day planned or not, it’s important to keep properly hydrated during your travels in Thailand. Drinking coconut water is an excellent way to replace the fluids and electrolytes you will lose in the tropical heat of Samui.
There are multiple benefits to eating fish. This includes shellfish which are low in fat and a good source of essential minerals like zinc. When you dine on Samui, the perfect way to do it is to combine your fresh seafood with ocean views to supplement your ‘Vitamin Sea’. Try the original Sabienglae restaurant at Lamai Beach or the second branch at Bangrak Beach.
Baan Suan Lung Khai might not have sea views, but it does enjoy a picturesque setting in a coconut grove. With its location away from the main tourist areas, this restaurant has more of a local feel compared to many of the other quality restaurants on the island. Feast on Samui favourites like wai kua (squid simmered in coconut milk), gaeng som (spicy fish curry), fresh crab, giant prawns and other seafood delights.
Traditional Thai medicine and therapies
Traditional Thai medicine takes a preventative approach with the principle that it is better to treat the cause of a health issue before it can turn into anything serious. There are four main components to traditional Thai medicine to maintain good health:
- Correct diet
- Herbal medicine
As part of this approach to wellbeing, traditional Thai massage plays an important role to clear the energy channels that run throughout the body. This in turn has a positive impact on body and soul. There are lots of options on Ko Samui where you can treat yourself to traditional Thai massage and therapies. At the most basic level, you can get an open-air massage under the shade of a bamboo sala overlooking the beach. Although many of the staff working here are good at what they do, the quality of the massage and training of the masseuse can still be hit and miss.
At the other end of the scale, there are the professional spa treatments with fully qualified therapists at locations like the Celes Reviv Spa. Of course you pay more for this, but you do get luxurious treatment and a guarantee of quality.
Wellness retreats and holistic health
If you would like to undergo a more comprehensive health check or detox, you are spoiled for choice on Ko Samui with world-class facilities at various venues including Absolute Sanctuary and Kamalaya. A relatively new addition to this list of outstanding options on Ko Samui is Miskawaan.
Miskawaan uses what they term functional medicine which takes a different approach to the more conventional methods normally used in the West. Functional medicine providers spend time listening to the patient and identifying the underlying triggers that are causing issues. This could be a range of things including poor diet, allergens or stress. Based on those triggers, a tailor-made plan is then drawn up to tackle the issues holistically.
With a serene beachfront location on Maenam Beach, the facilities at Miskawaan include a rehabilitation and wellness centre and separate luxury villas where guests can enjoy an extended stay.
Celes Samui is another option for a wellness retreat on Ko Samui. For their onsite clinic, the hotel has collaborated with Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS) to provide customised treatments to meet the needs of individual patients.
The various luxury health packages on offer on Ko Samui can be an excellent way to boost your health, but there are other more budget-friendly alternatives available. These also enable you to directly support the local community.
With coconut palms all over the island, it’s no surprise that Ko Samui has the nickname of ‘Coconut Island’. There was a time when the humble coconut was the mainstay of the local economy. The advent of tourism changed that, but coconuts still play a key role in island life. To find out more, visit the Coconut Museum. This is a sanuk day out for all the family with the chance to join in with workshops and make a variety of coconut products.
The importance of herbs in Thai cooking is showcased at the delightful Honey Rose Herb Garden & Art. Get up close and personal with the various herbs used in your favourite Thai dishes and learn more about their medicinal properties and why they are so good for your health. There is also the option for guided tours and hands-on workshops.
The garden also includes an art space with paintings and sculptures from local and international artists.
Thailand Meaningful Wellness
As part of a new marketing project, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is focusing on health and wellness with the launch of a new website, Thailand Meaningful Wellness. The site includes a variety of health and wellness packages available at locations around Thailand including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Krabi, Phang Nga and Phuket.
To help with the Thailand Meaningful Wellness project, I was invited to Ko Samui in July 2023 as part of a hosted weekend trip with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. I covered all my own additional costs for travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and my accommodation in Bangkok before and after the trip.
Always do your own research and use your own discretion before deciding what medical treatments, therapies or exercise goals are suitable for you.