Ganesha – the jolly elephant-headed god of new beginnings – greets guests. By the lotus pond in the lobby, they sip cups of blue butterfly pea tea beneath the serene gaze of a reclining Buddha. Even for those who have just stumbled in from a lengthy journey, it’s impossible to resist being enveloped by a nurturing sense of calm.
Kamalaya, which turns 16 this year, is the brainchild of a former monk and dealer in Asian art, who was inspired by the discovery of a hermit’s cave in these wooded grounds. It forms the heart of the retreat, in which bedrooms and villas are tucked amid granite boulders, lush vegetation, ponds and waterfalls that tumble from the top of a hill down to the Gulf of Thailand. One can only wonder at the logistics of building here, on steep land where more than 40 species of medicinal plants grow wild.
A walk with a herbalist brings a new respect for the benefits of mulberry, tulsi, the moringa tree and other exotic flora. The setting of the wellness centre is glorious. Sure, there are saunas, steam rooms (a rather splendid one in a cave), gym, Pilates studio, yoga pavilions surrounded by fluttering prayer flags and instructors to bring visitors to the peak of fitness. But Kamalaya triumphs for the range of its programmes, which expertly combine Ayurvedic, Chinese, Indian and Thai therapies, along with more prosaic Western diagnostics, to ensure the optimal outcome. In the week-long Balance and Revitalise itinerary there’s a blend of soothing shirodhara and reiki, along with the more vigorous chi nei tsang, the hugely beneficial Taoist deep abdominal massage that unblocks qi and leaves you walking on air. Among the more sought-after offerings is Personal Mentoring, from which even the most sceptical derive benefit.