How many of you have had a weekend away at a spa somewhere? You know, one of those getaways that offer attractive weekend promotion rates. Somewhere you can just drive off to on a Friday night and get low rates for a couple of evening’s accommodation plus a spa package included? I would imagine, seeing that you are reading this on Samui, the answer is a lot! There are probably quite a few of you, reading this, who have already done exactly that.
As it happens, the island of Samui has turned out to be quite an interesting place. It began as a back-packers’ hide-away in the 1970s. It later acquired an airport and an influx of package tourists. A lot of development then occurred – new hotels and resorts, condominiums, hypermarkets, fast food chains, international rent-a-car outlets, multiplex cinemas, a couple of shopping malls, all of the multinational 5-star hotel names, and lots of other stuff besides.
Yet it did not bow down. Samui refused to turn into a citified neon-and-chrome hi-rise playground such as Pattaya or Phuket. There is still only one main road. Nearly all the ongoing development is low rise and around the coast – leaving most of the old rustic villages still in place. And there’s mile after mile of roads with nothing on either side, unspoiled beaches to discover, remote tracks upland to breath-taking viewpoints, and a tropical island feel that is simply dreamy. As one newcomer once put it, “After looking on the internet I was expecting downtown Miami. Instead there’s a lovely little unspoiled island!”
And so, back to where we began at the start of this story. In the process of all this development, several things happened. Cuisines from all nations appeared. Samui became food-heaven, with restaurants popping up ranging from ethnic to 5-star. That came first, with every resort bannering its signature restaurant, and doing its utmost to attract foodies in from outside. But close on its heels came the Samui spa phenomenon. Yes, there were already dedicated stand-alone spas, one or two of them even emerging from out of the macrobiotic post-hippy vibe of the ’80s. But suddenly, in the space of little more than a decade, as with signature restaurants, every resort just had to have a spa. And, as with restaurants, these ranged from the appalling to the superb!
It all depends on what you want. Take your back home weekend bargain spa getaway. On Samui there are hundreds of these. Just about every resort is offering you massages and a range of well-being treatments from facials to pedicures to eyebrow plucking and bikini and leg waxes.
Many will have a steam room or sauna or a plunge pool, too. A few years ago, we featured the general manager of a Samui hotel who had previously worked all his life in Las Vegas. He was amazed at our island. He stated without hesitation that there was a better range of quality international cuisine here, and much more of it. If he were still here today, he would be saying the same thing about our spas.
Spas on Samui come in three flavours. The in-house day-to-day kind has already been mentioned. But do be careful here. There is a tendency for resort owners to cut corners. The most expensive item is staff wages. It is far cheaper to hire a young Thai woman who speaks little or no English and has minimal training, than to take on an experienced and time-served professional. It has been known for just such as masseuse to vigorously apply a coconut scrub to a hairy European male. The result? He had to shave his body to rid himself of the congealed and tangled lumps of body hair and coconut. (Hotel manager’s response: “. . . but it’s always been OK for women . . .”)
The second kind is more reputable. Take a 5-star resort. Their signature spas take some beating – yet are welcomingly open to visitors from outside. Even before you begin, you’ll be questioned and assessed as to your medical condition and your personality type. This is an holistic approach: whatever treatment or package you want will be tailored to your physical and psychic constitution. And then you can opt for a simple massage or something more esoteric, together with type-matched aromatherapy included. Typically, a spa of this integrity will also include a range of alternative therapies, such as Ayurvedic treatments and/or reiki, too.
Finally, there are the live-in spas, most of which specialise in detox and cleansing. But all of them are easy-going enough to offer short courses and treatments as well. Plus they all have excellent restaurants, with both veggie and happy food – usually also beers and wines, if they’re laid-back. Such places are often said to be great social levellers, where you will find a millionaire sitting on equal terms next to a truck driver. Social status means nothing. Because they’ll both be discussing the weather, the difference between iPhones and Android, what’s on TV tonight, and then without a hitch they’ll start comparing their bodily functions!
Try looking on Google for ‘Samui spa packages’ or add the word holidays to it. There are thousands of listings. And every one of them undoubtedly ranges from the diabolical to the divine. Who can tell? You just have to try it and see. (Alternatively, you could cut out some of the indecision and look at the excellent Samui Spa Guide instead for an unbiased look at some of the best.)
At one time places throughout Europe emerged as ‘spa’ towns – the Roman conquerors liked their comforts. But what is certain is that our little Samui is now a spa haven. And that means a whole lot more than merely sitting around all day in a hot mineral spring, as it used to do, back in the age of the Caesars.
Rob De Wet