29 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2023 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Doctor’s orders

First person

Doctor’s orders

Can a partnership with an internationally recognised hospital elevate a wellness retreat? Neena Dhillon travels to Bangkok’s RAKxa to see how science is revolutionising the experience there

Chaotic city sounds fade as you approach the green-carpeted island Photo: RAKxa
RAKxa’s 62 villas are managed by Minor Photo: RAKxa
Rest and Reset packages are most popular with international guests Photo: RAKxa
“Teas are a delight,” says Dhillon; and green juices help to cleanse the digestive system Photo: RAKxa
Photo: RAKxa
Fitness tests cover cardio, muscle power, balance and rotation Photo: RAKxa
In-depth consultations prove to be interesting and informative Photo: RAKxa
An abdominal massage was a highlight of Dhillon’s stay Photo: RAKxa
The scientific centre features the latest high-tech equipment Photo: RAKxa

As self-indulgent as it sounds, nine days travelling around Asia to review hotel openings – my first trip since the lifting of pandemic restrictions in the region – has left me weary and irritable. On top of this, I’ve been dodging a super typhoon so a trip to Thailand’s leading wellness centre is just what the doctor ordered.

Starting with intention
A smooth transfer along Bangkok’s busy roads ends with a surprise. I’ve read that RAKxa is located in the city’s ‘green lung’ but I’m still pleasantly taken aback when the hustle and bustle suddenly fade as we enter a green-carpeted island on the lesser-known banks of the Chao Phraya River. The welcome I’m given immediately sets the tone for the stay as I’m invited to engage in a singing bowl ceremony, which is very simple, but atmospheric when combined with views of the river and the sounds of insects chirping as the sun goes down. I feel I can set an intention at least to start releasing some of the tension of the past few days. I’m squeezing a four-day entry-level programme called the Sense of RAKxa into a flying two-night visit.

Partnering with the city’s Bumrungrad Hospital through its anti-ageing arm, VitalLife, RAKxa promises to elevate the wellness experience through its mix of clinical science, technology and ancient-healing wisdom. It’s a bold claim. A quick stop at my spacious garden villa – one of 62 units managed by Minor – includes a tour from one of the 200 caring staff. I’m shown how to adjust the Saijo Denki environment system, which monitors air quality, and introduced to the green juices that will start cleaning up my digestive system. Then it’s straight to a health and wellness consultation with my personal advisor, Sarita Yurai (Khun Fon), who impresses me with her empathetic professionalism when I explain how my work routines leave me too sedentary and stressed. The consultation is comprehensive but not tiresome and, rather than overwhelming me, Khun Fon suggests two breathwork and pilates approaches that she’d like me to explore when I return home.

There are a generous number of inclusions in the programme so my first treatment is quickly administered. It’s the signature RAKxa Relaxing Massage with a scalp massage tagged on.

My back is so full of knots that my therapist has to apply firm pressure. This causes tenderness and while her English is limited, she instinctively knows that I can handle the discomfort needed to bring relief. It’s an effective treatment. First thing next morning, as typically happens when a massage has been effective, my digestive system starts to detox.

Meals are included and the food is a highlight because rather than being deprived, I feel more than satisfied by the two- or three-course carefully balanced, anti-inflammatory meals. Only white meat is served and all fresh produce is organic but some of the techniques used are reminiscent of fine dining. Teas are a delight; the mix of barley rice and butterfly pea in one blend proves both delicate and relaxing. After dinner on the first night, there’s evidence of the interconnected holistic approach taken here; Khun Fon has quietly spoken to the restaurant team and asked them to provide me with a bundle of dried turmeric and ginger to be taken in hot water in the comfort of my villa before I fall asleep.

Expert approach
With the dawn of a new day, I hop on one of the bikes provided and explore the spacious site full of verdant foliage and tranquil spots for reflection. While it’s fairly quiet during my stay, I spot mothers and daughters, a small group of friends and couples.

Today, I have a functional fitness assessment with the excellent physiotherapists at Gaya gym where I’m put through gentle paces on diagnostic machines – including Keiser, Technogym, Woodway and Huber. I’m given a score after working through six stations testing my balance, cardio, rotation, muscle power, flexibility and core stability. Results are accompanied by some suggestions on exercises that can be done against a wall to improve my shoulder stability and I’m told how I’m using certain muscles to overcompensate for the lack of strength in others. It’s sobering stuff but I feel I have options to explore at home when I return.

Before enjoying my next massage – this one to stimulate the energy points – at the 3,636sq m RAKxa Jai holistic wellness centre, I bump into ayurvedic specialist and treatment manager Dr Dinesh Singh. He explains more about the partnership with Bumrungrad Hospital and specifically how visitors come not only for preventative healthcare and longevity offerings but also to recover after surgery or procedures. In terms of wellness, people are seeking everything from weight management to advanced aesthetics and assistance with personal trauma. Whether locals are visiting for the day or an international guest is staying for a month, Dr Singh explains how all team members stay in close touch with each other to discuss clients and adjust treatments accordingly.

The traditional healing treatments I experience over the course of the day are delivered by expert therapists who clearly know their specialisms. The Zenna Tai abdominal and craniosacral body treatment is a particular highlight, with my therapist using both hands-on and hands-off healing to unblock energies and soothe the body. I’m told about tightness in the left side of my abdomen near my pancreas but I’m not too sure what to do with this information. It’s likely the language difference is a barrier to more in-depth conversations.

At the moment, the average length of stay for international guests is five nights, with the most popular programme for this demographic Rest and Reset starting at THB188,000 (US$5,726, €5,757, £4,655), while it’s two nights for domestic visitors, many of whom opt for the Deep Sleep Sensation from THB37,500 (US$1,142, €1,052, £928) to help with chronic tension and a lack of focus. Sense of RAKxa starts at THB116,000 (US$3,533, €3,253, £2,872).

Longer stays, more benefits
In the afternoon, I have my third consultation, this time in the impressive VitalLife Scientific Wellness Centre, which features the latest high-tech equipment, including a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, infrared sauna, whole-body light therapy, colon hydrotherapy, cryotherapy and an area for advanced infusions.

Meeting with the very jovial Dr Walun Vilaihong is a delight. He talks me through my medical history and lifestyle indicators, also taking my blood pressure and vitals. He’s very knowledgeable about hormonal and GI health as well as the role that toxic heavy metals in the body can play in increasing inflammation.

He recommends I have a set of tests when I return home to test some inflammatory and hormonal indicators. If I was staying longer, the doctors would be able to run diagnostics, including genetic sequencing to predict future disease risks and hormone, metal and micronutrient checks, as well as prescribing customised supplements and infusions. They could even monitor my sleeping patterns.

Even as part of my shorter programme, there’s a range of medical treatments included so I hop into the oxygen chamber for 20 minutes before a 20-minute photobiomodulation session. If I hadn’t been getting on a plane the next day, I would have been prescribed a colonic. I imagine that having this followed by personalised infusions and supplements would have given my immune system a much-needed boost. There’s even blood-ozone therapy on offer. I’m beginning to think this would be a good place to recover from a long-term illness.

While a one-day trial is available to locals interested in becoming members, starting at THB250,000 (US$7,614, €7,011, £6,190) for six months, I’m left feeling it’s impossible to properly get your head around RAKxa, or absorb maximum benefits, in anything less than three nights. Still, for many people, longer stays are a tall ask because prices are clearly targeted at high-net-worth individuals and affluent travellers. For those who are able to make the investment, though, RAKxa’s scientific, joined-up approach is likely to pay dividends.

Photo: Neena Dhillon

"Visitors come not only for preventative healthcare and longevity offerings, but also to recover after surgery" – Neena Dhillon

Originally published in Spa Business 2023 issue 1

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