Chiva Som – Thailand

grey Chiva Som   Thailand


I have all my clothes neatly packed in my bag ready for my 9:10am airport transfer. My next destination will be something of a detour away from the adventure hunt, a luxurious retirement present to myself being six days at the Chiva Som – Thailand . Sometime later as I walk out in the arrivals hall a suited man holding a cardboard sign shepherds me from luggage claim to a black sedan with leather interior and metallic smelling air conditioning.

Fidgeting after a long drive from Bangkok I am ushered into a spotless waiting room sporting vases full of flowers so fresh they don’t yet realise they have been cut. A submissive attendant presents me with a hot herbal concoction before a tall suited woman glides in to greet me. Wearing a healthy, relaxed aura she puts a questionnaire silently onto the black glass desk and starts quizzing me, ‘What do you want from your time here Mr Wess? What are your goals for your stay at the Chiva Som ?’ Resisting the temptation to say, ‘One of those happy massages’, I just say that I want to chill out, eat some healthy food and enjoy the surroundings.

I feel totally underdressed in my green rickshaw jeans and white top which is still red stained and sweaty after rock climbing, if my new friend notices she does not show it. Money is money I guess. My interrogation or ‘Health and Wellness Consultation’ is finalised with the lady outlining the rules, ‘For best outcomes we prefer that you do not leave the retreat…oh, and cameras are banned as we regularly have celebrities visit.’ I am photographed and think that with my scrappy beard and dirty clothes, mine must be the most mug shot style photo this camera has taken.

I am shown to a seat on a pure white golf cart which bears my muddy red rucksack like a tumour. Sitting on the buggy facing backwards we buzz our way through a manicured forest, I reveal my immaturity by sticking a little finger in my mouth and performing some inspired Dr Evil impressions. My driver pulls up safely and healthily outside a room before showing me inside, the room drips luxury and opulence. Folding my mostly grubby clothes into the closet I peruse the pillow and fruit menus, the bathroom has three different brands of shampoo depending on your hair type and preference, the bath robes are ridiculously soft and fluffy. Leaving an impressive dirt ring clinging to the lily white bath tub I crawl into bed and prepare to be transformed in the morning.

I draw floral blackout curtains back to reveal a sapphire clear day. Wandering to one of three restaurants all covered in the price I pull up a seat and inspect my fellow inmates. Quiet piano music wafts across from a grand piano nearby. I am easily the youngest captive here, most of my cellmates are overweight, busy types who fail to fake a relaxed air. It would seem that I am already the most relaxed person here, everyone else looks like they have stolen a few days out of a busy schedule to quickly recharge before they plunge back into a corporate whiteout. A waiter approaches and greets me by my preferred name (I really should have put down Sir Willy Wonka not boring old Ben) before making polite small talk as he hands me a menu.

Last night’s mugshot must have been shown at an early morning staff meeting.

Breakfast in a word, amazing. The freshest of the fresh fruit, eggs cooked exactly how I like them and freshly ground coffee, the healthy type of course. Full of antioxidants and starting to feel distinctly invigorated I wander the gardens and set about doing what you should do in a health retreat of this calibre, absolutely nothing.

By mid morning I am completely bored out of mind. I explore the cold plunge pool and the sauna but avoid the swimming pool due to an imagined risk of inhaling a stray incontinence pad. Sick of lounging in the sun I return to pace my bespoke room with its new fruit basket and the medium to hard pillows I ordered the previous night. Flipping through one hundred channels I settle on an Arnold Schwarzenegger classic while rummaging through my bounty of fruit.

Looking around the candlelit restaurant at sunset I sit by myself within earshot of a group of American business types who are currently trying to outdo each other with stories of relaxation and healthy feelings, ‘Competitive relaxation, come on guys, I am so relaxed I am not joining your little relaxation competition, wait hold on…’

I tune out and stare across the bay wondering if these Lilliputian portions of organically grown stir-fry will truly detoxify my body. Dinner finished and not yet ready to face my brochure perfect room I sneak past the guard to stroll along the beach and watch the pale moonlight play on politely orderly waves. I can hear the sound of a raucous party nearby and consider joining in but settle on buying some cigarettes to smoke on the sand as the day lazily slips away.

grey Chiva Som   Thailand

My second day at the Chiva Som is nearly a mirror image of the first, starting with the same perfect breakfast, again punctuated with fake-relaxed business people, followed by a sauna and catatonia in my room. At 1pm I have an appointment with a chap who regularly meets visitors to discuss happiness and life, he left a Buddhist temple to spread the love. An hour of being fed tired old quotes makes me realise that the path to true happiness may be to charge gullible Westerners an extortionist fee to talk under a fig tree in the heat.

The afternoon sees me braving the swimming pool before taking my seat next to the business men at the restaurant. They are now sporting white yoga-type suits and are looking far more healthy than yesterday as they compare the size of each other’s companies. I am joined by a friendly chap in his late forties who owns a construction company. Midway through a low fat, energising curry Geoff calls over a waiter and orders a glass of wine,

‘Wine! I did not know they served wine here.’

I also order a wine, then quickly another, and another. Geoff is telling me all about his busy life in the States and how he frees up a week every year to come here for a mental health break leaving his mobile phone and spouse behind. It is fantastic to have someone to chat with, however Geoff makes it hard for me to dodge explaining where I have come from. I really make an effort to avoid talking about ‘past life’ with people as frankly the subject bores me, I dodge his questions by dusting off a story about one of my least favourite customers Mrs Bonney,

‘Yeah, owned a small shop for a while, nothing as large as your company sounds though… I sure got to meet many interesting people as a pharmacist mate’

‘OK, I am listening, tell me about one’grey Chiva Som   Thailand

‘You can imagine I had the pleasure of dealing with many sick and unhappy people’

‘I can’

‘Well the best one, as far as stories go, was Mrs Bonney. Mrs Bonney was one of the very few customers who truly tested my manners over many years. She would come in reeking of alcohol, with a flotilla of grotty children in tow and make lurid comments about what she would like to do in the bedroom with me.’

‘In front of her children?’

‘Yup, and after buying her cartons of Holiday 100‘s, cigarettes, she would demand credit for her children’s medication.’

‘Good mother there’

‘For sure. Well it was my last day in the shop and I got sick of being polite. One of her mini demons had another cold and is running around my shop gleefully spraying mucous over the walls and shelves. She asked what she can do about it. With the perfect trust-me smile on my face I lent in and, very quietly so that other customers cannot hear, said, ‘Stop fucking breeding,’

‘That is brilliant, did she get mad’

‘I know it felt amazing, nope she hardly registered the insult’


‘Yup, drunk. She just asked again, No, I mean what can I do about the cold’

With dinner finished I sneak down to the beach for another cigarette before retiring to my room to watch a movie and eat the large bag of contraband potato crisps I have smuggled. This is starting to feel like grade ten camp.

Day three; my boredom is palpable. I walk around the gardens aimlessly before my mid afternoon Thai massage. I resisted getting a massage from the numerous persons of uncertain gender offering them in Patong amongst other services. I decided to wait for a proper Thai massage here by a trained masseuse.

A tiny woman hands me a pure white cotton suit just like the American business men sport, ‘Just put it on and come into room number three when you are ready’, she purrs. Inside the scented room low ambient lighting flickers over gym mats giving off a relaxing glow. The slight masseuse then asks me to lie face down on the mats, as I lay down one thought dominates my mind, ‘For Gods sake do not get an erection you idiot.’

My masseuse increases my concern by immediately straddling my bottom to begin. First she moves my right arm behind and up my back into the classic arm-lock position and massages my palm. She then continues to hold my right hand up near my left shoulder blade and gently raises my right shoulder with her free hand, this is repeated on the left side. All the time I am painfully conscious of her bottom resting on mine. My legs are stretched and contorted in a similar fashion. This delicious torture continues with me sitting upright, her back pressed to mine. Pushing her arms back through mine she pulls backwards forcing my chest out before rolling her entire body forward. This gentle motion cracks every vertebrae in my back and makes me feel like a fat paperweight, legs splayed out in front of me. I spend a whole hour with this woman in the scented room. The whole time I focus on erection un-friendly thoughts such as my fat friend’s nudey run at University and Andy’s toilet stories.

Having not showered since morning the whole experience is tainted with concerns of body odour and bad breath. I am unsure if I am supposed to make appreciative noises as my joints pop and creak or if they are frowned upon, ‘Ohhh, Hey good crack there Mi Lai!’ Just as I start to enjoy being manipulated by this small powerhouse the quiet music stops. Immediately my masseuse disentangles herself and stands up saying, ‘Thank you, you can now get dressed’ as she leaves with a businesslike stride. Sitting alone on the floor of the deathly quiet room I feel slightly violated, she didn’t even say she would call me. I slowly raise myself up off the gym mat and check my breath, finding nothing to worry about I relax, erection free.

I change out of my yoga uniform and go back to my room to attack some potato chips I smuggled in. Dinner is more of the same detox food I have become accustomed to, spiced with more how-big-is-your-business conversation. With dinner finished I again go down to the beach to sneak a cigarette. This time however, curiosity and boredom prompts me to wander a little further toward the noise. One hour later I find myself in the thick of an international beer sculling competition with a group of Irish backpackers inside a wobbly, bamboo walled bar. I lose track of time playing pool and bar hopping with my new, very lively friends. Some time around 2am sensibility catches me and I farewell the guys to find a scooter taxi home. The driver and I agree on what seems a reasonable price and we take off in a plume of black exhaust.

On the first corner my driver hits a bump and dislodges a significant portion of his rear tyre along with his passenger. I land hard on the ground bruising my hip and legs and sustain significant gravel rash down my right cheek. Crawling back onto the scooter I am dropped off outside the health retreat where I wander to my room.

Standing next to my bag which is sitting on the lobby floor I come to the conclusion that health retreats are very dangerous places; boredom will drive a man to smoke, get drunk, eat crisps and fall off scooters. In the future I will stick to my proven and much cheaper relaxation method of filling big red with dried fruit and wandering around mountains in the fresh air.

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